Here's what I believe.
If **Mark Clayton** caught Joe Flacco!(/team/roster/joe-flacco/3e20766f-6520-4ca1-9901-44389aaea8b8/ "Joe Flacco")'s pass on that 4th-and- 4 at the 7-yard line with 32 seconds left at New England last Sunday, the Ravens would have eventually scored a touchdown, and we'd be 4-0.
But, this is a game played by humans, and not every play is made. In fact, I could list 8 to 10 plays from the Ravens/Patriots game where we had players make mistakes that cost us the game. It happens all the time. It could be an offensive tackle that goes the wrong way with his protection that causes Flacco to be rushed, and Joe misses the wide open receiver down field. How about the missed tackle in the open field that allows a score?
Players are not perfect. Mistakes are made.
The greatest athlete of our time – the best competitor any of us have ever had the privilege to watch – is Michael Jordan. His career free throw percentage was 83.5%. That means he basically missed 1 out of 5 shots from 15 feet with no one guarding him, and that's with the ability to set his feet and shoot when ready. I guarantee Mark Clayton can catch more than 80 percent of the throws to him while he's stationary and no one is defending.
And that brings me to my point.
I played basketball last Monday night, the day after we lost at New England. One of my fellow competitors, who is a good guy and a very good player, came up to me and asked: "Mark Clayton doesn't get paid for yesterday's game, does he? I can't believe he dropped the pass." The guy was sarcastically serious about making the point that pros should make all the plays.
The question didn't surprise me. I could imagine other fans asking the same thing. Heck, I've heard reporters say something similar.
But, the question did irritate me. Well, it actually did more. It pissed me off.
Here's the headline:
PLAYERS AREN'T PERFECT
Despite the fact that every Ravens player is a world class athlete and better than all of us at the game of football, mistakes will be made. In fact, it's likely that at least one player of the 22 out on the field every play makes a mistake. Joe misses open receivers. **Ray** misses tackles. **Derrick** and **Todd** drop balls.
That said, Mark should have caught the ball. He knows that. And, I love the way he stepped right up after the game and offered no excuses. "The throw was perfect. I made the mistake. I let my team down. There's no excuse for it. I put this loss on my shoulders," is what Clayton told reporters after the game.
On Wednesday, 3 days after the Patriots' loss, I talked with Mark about people's reaction to his drop. "Everyone is very nice, my relatives, my friends, the coaches and especially my teammates. They're all saying the same thing: 'Hang in there. You'll get 'em next time.' I appreciate that," Clayton said. "But, I've moved on." He smiled and added, "I really don't need anyone else telling me about it. I'm a grown man. I'm all about the Bengals and the next catch. The next one is mine and the one after that, too.
"I'm not afraid of failure," Clayton continued. "If you're afraid to fail, you'll never make it to the next level. I want that situation – the game on the line – again. I want it this Sunday and the next one after that. Trust me, I'm going to make plays to help us win."
Just like he did in the season opener – with the game on the line. We all remember that one. Game tied at 24 with 2 minutes left in the game. Flacco spots Clayton deep over the middle, and Mark caught the ball over his shoulders for a 31-yard touchdown. I also remember the previous time we played the Bengals. It was last Nov. 30 in Cincinnati. The Ravens won 34-3 with Clayton catching 5 passes for 164 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown. Mark also threw a 32-yard TD pass to Derrick Mason. Pretty good day for Mark Clayton.
So, yes, Clayton got paid for last Sunday's game. And, he deserved every penny.
Hey Mark, I can't wait to watch your next opportunity.
Facing The Toughest Quarterbacks
Those of you who follow the NFL could list the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL, and most of us would list the same names. There'd be Peyton and Brady, Roethlisberger and Rivers, Palmer and Favre and so on. And, how about the stretch we're facing right now? In 6 games, we're playing against 5 Pro Bowl quarterbacks. It started with Philip Rivers at San Diego. Two weeks later, it was Tom Brady at New England. This Sunday, it's Carson Palmer of the Bengals, which is followed by a trip to Minnesota and Brett Favre. Of course, we face Peyton Manning next month. We have two tests against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, and Jay Cutler and the Bears are coming to Baltimore Dec. 20.
Whew! But hey, we're pretty good on defense. And, oh yeah, our quarterback is very good, too.
I can just hear Marvin Lewis tell his Bengals Saturday night after they arrive in Baltimore: "This is our statement game. Not theirs. We beat the Steelers already, and now it's the Ravens' turn to see who we are. Let's tell everyone the AFC North belongs to us this season."
The Bengals are good. They're one freakish Denver touchdown pass to Brandon Stokley away from being undefeated. They did beat the Steelers (23-20) two weeks ago. They won in Cleveland (23-20 in OT) last Sunday. They can make a huge statement by beating us. In fact, Carson Palmer called the game "huge" for the Bengals.
The Ravens can make a statement, too. Another Sunday. Another big game. Another AFC North showdown. Coach **John Harbaugh** says we'll be there for the kickoff. Let's go beat the Bengals.
Talk with you next week.
***Kevin Byrne*** is in his 31st NFL season and is the Ravens' senior vice president of public and community relations. He has worked in the NFL since 1977, when he was the then-youngest public relations director in the league (for the then-St. Louis Cardinals), except for the two years he was the Director of Public Affairs for TWA (Trans World Airlines). He has been with the Ravens since they began, and before that was a vice president with the Cleveland Browns. He has won a Super Bowl ring with the 2000 Ravens and an NCAA basketball championship with Al McGuire's Marquette team in '77. He was on the losing end of historic games known for the "Drive" and the "Fumble." He has worked closely and is friends with some of the best in the game: Ozzie Newsome, Brian Billick, Ray Lewis, Bill Cowher, Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Marty Schottenheimer and Shannon Sharpe to name a few.