The names on the backs of the jerseys may change, but the big plays still are being made.
The Baltimore Ravens played just one more heart-wrenching game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the best rivalry in the NFL. Normally, it is a chess-match between the Ravens Ray Lewis and the Steelers Ben Roethlisberger. However, Sunday night, both guys were watching the game play out while standing in street clothes on opposite sidelines.
Instead, the other 22 players on the field determined the outcome, with a bunch of no-names on the Ravens having a huge hand in the final score. Many Ravens fans have rarely if ever heard of some of these guys and few knew they were capable of affecting such a critical game, yet they definitely did.
Cornerback Chris Johnson was just signed to the team last week but was literally forced into game action due to the loss of not only Lardarius Webb but also Jimmy Smith, who underwent sports-hernia surgery. Johnson is a eight-year NFL veteran but was not even the best-known Chris Johnson in the league. He was instrumental in forcing the Steelers first fumble which was recovered and returned by Ed Reed, setting up the Ravens first points of the game on a Justin Tucker field goal.
CB Corey Graham was originally signed as a free agent for his Special Teams play but has played sparingly in nickel and dime packages. Sunday, he started in Jimmy Smith's place and picked off a Byron Leftwich pass, returning it to set up the Ravens second score, another Tucker field goal.
Late in the game, safety James Ihedigbo blitzed from the right side and left untouched, slammed Leftwich to the ground for a huge key sack on third down, forcing the Steelers to punt. Ihedigbo figures to get the start once Ed Reed's one-game suspension appeal is heard and expected to be denied.
These three guys are part of the defensive unit that has been decimated by injuries this season. Regardless of their so-called low NFL ranking, they are #1 in the league at stopping teams inside their Red Zone. Opponents still fear the Ravens and despite the loss of Ray Lewis and others, the Ravens defense is always a threat to create game-changing turnovers regardless of what the names on the backs of the jerseys say.
Just ask guys named Johnson, Graham and Ihedigbo.