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Byrne Identity: Harbaugh, Teammates Rescue Matt Elam

Posted Dec 20, 2013

Rookie Matt Elam was shook after the media attention surrounding his Calvin Johnson comment.

Harbs And Teammates Rescue Matt Elam

“We had his back.” – Lardarius Webb 

“I’ve got him. I’ll talk to Matt.” 

That’s what Chad Steele, the Ravens’ director of public relations, told me a week ago yesterday. 

He was talking about rookie safety Matt Elam’s quote calling Lions’ superstar Calvin Johnson “old” in an interview last week. Elam had poked the Lion, and the entire sports world was focusing on our rookie. Every show on ESPN, which was carrying our game against the Lions, and the NFL Network put the “old” quote in headlines. … over and over again. 

It shook Elam. Steele and the rest of us wanted to make sure Matt didn’t do that again. 

“I didn’t have to talk with Elam,” Steele said later. “Webby said they would take care of it, and we didn’t have to get involved.” 

“Matt’s young, and he has to learn from someone on the team just like I learned from Ed Reed and Ray Lewis,” Webb explained. “It’s our responsibility; guys like me and James (Ihedigbo) need to teach him the right way of doing things. Sometimes you have to mess up to learn. It all comes with experience. In the end, this helps be a better professional. That’s how our leadership works around here. 

“I know the type of guy Matt is,” Webb continued. “He’s a good person, a great guy. He loves football, and he loves to compete. We didn’t like it that he gave them something for their billboards and meetings, but we had his back. He’ll know how to handle those types of interviews from now on. He’s growing – on and off the field. I love watching him play.” 

Elam Was Shook

“I said all these good things about him (Johnson), but I knew I made a mistake. I felt like I let everybody down,” Elam told me yesterday. “Our guys in the secondary told me the negativity I created. But, they also told me that they had my back, and they were going to help me back me it up, even though I said something I should have not said. That gave me some relief.”

Elam got even more relief at the team meeting that started last Thursday’s Detroit preparation. John Harbaugh opened that session talking about Elam’s “Johnson is old” comment. 

Here’s how the head coach started the meeting: “We received a good reminder,” he said as he walked over to Matt Elam. “You made a mistake. They looked for a sound bite, and you gave them one,” he said lightly which got the team going a bit. “But, we’ve got your back – all of us. We have your back. We’ll overcome what you said, Matt,” said Harbs, adding to the laughter in the room. ”We’re a team. We’re a team.” 

Elam could finally smile for the first time in 24 hours. “When Coach Harbs said that, it was such a relief. There was such a lot of negativity, and some of my teammates were rubbing it in and asking what the head coach said to me. It was a big relief to hear it from the head coach – and in front of the whole team. They had my back even though I had done something wrong,” Elam said. 

“We had already told him, but when John did that in front of the team, you could see the tension lift from Matt,” Webb observed. 

The Interception 

Elam, however, was still worried about what he said as the Monday night game at Detroit drew closer. “My words were still out there, and I knew everybody would be watching on Monday night. My comment gave more fuel to the fire. I had made the mistake, but I wanted to show everyone that I’m not a slacker. … that I just made a rookie mistake. I didn’t want to make another one in the game. I had to show the world.” 

After Justin Tucker’s historic 61-yard field goal that gave the Ravens the 18-16 winning margin, there were still 38 seconds left in the game, and the Lions had all three timeouts left. Plenty of time to get into field goal position for Detroit. We all saw what happened. On the Lions’ next play, Matthew Stafford’s deep pass was intercepted by you know who – Matt Elam. 

“If anyone got that pick, we wanted it to be Matt,” Webb said. “He had an awesome game: 10 tackles, an interception and a tackle for loss. We were all happy for the pup.” 

Harbaugh was excited too. “I’m proud of Matt for the way he handled the whole thing. He learned a lesson about how to deal with the media, certainly, but he did the thing he needed to do. He played. He trusted his teammates. He believed. He had faith.” 

Elam was, well, elated: “I said something stupid and crazy at the beginning of the week, and then I got the pick to clinch the game. That was the real relief. I can really move on now.” 

Word Of The Day 

After most practices, Coach Harbaugh has some member of the team offer the “Word of the Day.” Harbs has done this for the last two seasons. Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery spoke last Thursday (12/12) and had the team shouting by the end of his presentation. After talking about the focus and hard work needed to beat the Lions and stay in the playoff chase, Montgomery said: “When I say something, I want you to say, “Work to be done!” 

Montgomery: “Offense!” 

Team: “Work to be done.” 

Montgomery: “That’s not good enough. OFFENSE!” 

Team: (Now shouting) “Work to be done!” 


“Work to be done!” 

“Special teams!” 

“Work to be done!” 

“Offensive coordinator!” 

“Work to be done!” (The shouts were now at roar level.) 

“Defensive coordinator!” 

“Work to be done!”  

“Special Teams Coordinator” 

“Work to be done.” 



Interesting Tom Brady Stat

In eight career starts against the Ravens, including playoffs, Tom Brady has a 57.7 completion percentage and a -2 touchdown-to-interception ratio – both of which are his worst marks against any NFL opponent. 

Well, there’s work to be to done Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Let’s beat the Patriots. 

Talk with you next week,


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