The “Iron Horse” will keep galloping.
Brandon Carr’s consecutive starts streak will continue, even with the return of Jimmy Smith from suspension and emergence of second-year cornerback Marlon Humphrey. Safety Eric Weddle announced the news to reporters Thursday, but said it's "not even a topic" among the players.
“I know Brandon is going to be out there to start the game,” Weddle said. “We’re not going to be the team, or defensive coordinator, to not have Brandon out there for the amazing streak he has – and he’s earned it, he’s playing at a high level.”
Carr has started every single game of his 11-year career – a staggering 164 straight.
It’s the NFL’s longest active streak among defensive players, 28 games ahead of Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin. Only Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (196 games) has a longer streak.
From a production standpoint, there’s no reason for Carr to take a seat. He’s coming off one of his best games in recent memory, where he broke up a touchdown pass to Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and surrendered just two catches for 23 yards all night, per Pro Football Focus (PFF).
Carr got the Ravens defense’s best grade in Pittsburgh and is Baltimore’s fourth-highest graded defensive player so far this season, according to PFF.
But there’s no denying the talent of Smith and Humphrey either. They’re obviously starter-worthy and could be among the best tandems in the league. They’re in and entering, respectively, the primes of their careers.
Thus, Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale was asked Thursday how he plans to handle who starts, especially given the significance of Carr’s streak.
“I am not going to be the answer to that trivia question – who stopped his streak,” Martindale said. “There will always be a way that he’s going to run out there.
“He is such a pro that, if he can’t go because of injury or whatever, it’s not like I have to do this because of the streak, because he doesn’t want to let his teammates down. Obviously, you saw the way he played against Pittsburgh. It was phenomenal.”
As long as Carr is on the field for the first snap, he gets the start. After that, it appears the Ravens will rotate their cornerbacks, including slot cornerback Tavon Young. Carr, Smith or Humphrey could even shift inside if Baltimore wants, Martindale said.
One would think it’s a pride issue among the cornerbacks – who starts and who doesn’t. But it shows a little bit about how tight-knit the group is that they genuinely don’t seem to care.
“Honestly, he could start every single game. I don’t give a damn,” Smith said. “What do I care? It’s the best streak in the NFL.”
“Does not starting not make me ‘the guy’? I respect that consecutive starts streak. I wish I could get something like that. If we only had one safety on the field, we’d start Brandon at safety on that play. He needs to keep that streak going.”
Humphrey has the same outlook. He was the Ravens’ first-round pick last season and has quickly become a premier cornerback. Last week, he was given the assignment of containing All-Pro Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, and Humphrey (for the most part) won.
“It doesn’t matter how big or small your role can be, just doing something that can contribute to the team is always favorable,” Humphrey said. “I think you can be ‘the guy’ whether you get a few snaps, get a lot of snaps.”
The truth is all three cornerbacks – Carr, Smith and Humphrey – are going to see a lot of snaps. And, as Weddle said Thursday, the Ravens are likely going to “ease” Smith back in after missing a month of action.
Carr, who was listed with a knee issue on Wednesday’s injury report, wasn’t in the locker room Wednesday or Thursday to speak with the media. But a couple weeks ago, Carr was asked how he would approach the day when he’s told that his streak will end, and he spoke from the heart about it.
“I’ve been trying to prepare myself,” Carr said. “I’ve been asking myself, ‘What does that streak mean to you at this point?’ I try not to get too attached to things in life.”
Carr talked about how excited he’s been to watch Humphrey blossom. When the Ravens played in Green Bay last year, Carr got off to a bit of a rough start while Humphrey was looking good. Carr told his coaches they should stick with Humphrey, and when the rookie got his first career interception later in the game, Carr sprinted down the sideline to celebrate with him.
When Carr came into the league in 2008 as a fifth-round pick out of Grand Valley State, Kansas City Chiefs veteran cornerback Patrick Surtain mentored him. Surtain, a three-time Pro Bowler, had started every game he played in over the previous seven years. When Surtain went down with an injury in the second game of the season, Carr took over as a permanent starter and hasn’t looked back.
Now, 11 seasons later, Carr realizes he’s closer to the end of his streak and career, but he’s doing everything he can to hang on and help his team at the same time.
“My foundation was laid when I came into the league by veterans who looked out for me, so I have to give back,” Carr said. “I’m realistic. I don’t have any pride issues at this point. The clock is ticking and I just want to win.”