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Byrne Identity: There Are Always New Heroes


Ran into this famous broadcaster, who had studied the Ravens thoroughly, Sunday night in Cleveland.

"You know I love John [Harbaugh], and I can see the effort your guys are making in the games, but who's going to make big plays for you the rest of the way? You have to have playmakers that make the difference in all these close games. Who's going to make them for you tomorrow night and the rest of the way?

"I just don't see them on the Ravens right now."

Truth be told, the guy had a point. Ozzie Newsome has always believed the same thing. You have to have a few players the other teams can't match. These are all great athletes in the NFL. But, there are difference makers. Where would the Patriots be without Tom Brady and Gronk? Did you watch the Carolina Panthers on Thanksgiving? What would they be without Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly? How about Aaron Rodgers last night?

The Ravens have had difference makers through the years, starting with the first two draft choices in team history, Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis.

You need players like Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, Shannon Sharpe, Joe Flacco, Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap, Torrey Smith, Marshal Yanda and Steve Smith Sr.

Difference makers. The men who can get the sack, the interception, the strip in the fourth quarter. Men who take the top off defenses or let you pound the ball with the game on the line.

If I said to that broadcaster on Sunday, "Hey, we have difference makers. Watch these guys tomorrow night: Will Hill III, Brent Urban and Kaelin Clay," he would have scoffed.

But, if your big-time players are down, others have to step up, and that trio sure did Monday on the shores of Lake Erie.

Will Hill III

Let's start with Will Hill, who went from goat to hero in a matter of seconds.

Usually, we take efforts to not put a spotlight on the defender who was the biggest culprit when the opponent makes a big/winning play, especially at the end of the game. Harbs and our assistants go out of their way to not publicly throw a player under the bus. You do that, and you risk breaking a trust that can break apart a team. The thrashing can be severe internally, but we don't have to have a public flogging.

Like some of you, I felt pretty good about beating the Browns with nine minutes left in the game after Justin Tucker's field goal gave us a 27-20 lead. Our defense had shut down Cleveland's offense in the second half – the Browns' only score came on a Matt Schaub interception. Felt even more confident when Browns starting quarterback Josh McCown left the game with a shoulder injury a few plays later.

His replacement, Austin Davis, then hit a couple of shorter passes before stunning us with a 42-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Travis Benjamin. Tie game at 27 with under two minutes to play.

Not again. "The story of our season …" I began to think while standing in our bench area. Then I heard a couple of our players ask, "What was Will [Hill III] doing?" Hill, I discovered, was responsible for keeping everything in front of him, and Benjamin not only got behind him, but ran right by him.

We didn't throw Will under the bus. He took full responsibility. He humbly and honestly told the media after the game: "I was desperate and frustrated because of their touchdown. That play with Benjamin, I should have been right there, and I wasn't. I locked in on something else I saw and made the wrong play. All my fault.

"I felt I cost us the game, and I was praying that I would get the chance to make a play, and I got my chance," the starting safety explained.

Let Will describe the winning play: "I'm on the field goal block team, and I was praying for a block when we lined up. And, if it was a block, I said to myself, 'Find it, pick it up and score.' Then, it happened. I got it, made sure I stayed in bounds and ran to the end zone. Faith and guts, that's what we have right now as a team. I had to have faith that I could make a play after giving up the touchdown. I did, and it worked."

(Later I told Will that I loved his "faith and guts" line. He said: "Coach [Harbaugh] gave us shirts with 'Faith and Guts' on it last year. It's my favorite shirt and saying." Harbs had given the shirts to the team at the start of last season's playoffs.)

Brent Urban

Urban blocked the kick with his left arm, balancing on his right arm, which was encased in a huge brace protecting the torn biceps that had put him on injured reserve/designated for return at the end of training camp. The 6-7, 295-pound Virginia graduate was playing in his first ever NFL game.

No smile was bigger than Urban's in the post-game locker room – and when Harbs awarded him a game ball. … Wow, a special moment.

A little preface: Urban injured his knee at training his rookie season in 2014 and was placed on injured reserve. Then, he tore the biceps during this season's camp. You know what that meant? Long, lonely days working by himself and a trainer – not really being part of the group.

NFL locker rooms can be frigid places when you can't help the team on the field. Ask Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs. When they got hurt, they rehabbed away from our building. They knew. You're either in the circle to help win the next game, or you're out.

"Just a wonderful feeling," Urban beamed after the game. "It's surreal. After being out so long … I'm almost speechless. Think about it, I came back, playing my first game in the NFL, and Coach gave me a game ball. It's great to feel part of a win. It's just outstanding."* *

Kaelin Clay

We liked Clay last April – a lot. We considered him a premier returner, and there was a chance we could draft him late. And, if he wasn't drafted, he was going to be a prime prospect for our rookie free agent recruitment effort. Tampa Bay changed that when it drafted Clay early in the sixth round.

Clay, of course, opened the game's scoring with an 82-yard punt return. "A lot of things have to go right for a return like that," Harbaugh said yesterday. "First, catching punts in the swirling winds in Cleveland is tough. Then, 10 guys have to make their blocks, but what Kaelin did was make the first two Browns miss him before he took off for the wall we set on the right side. It was an impressive return."

Clay, signed two weeks ago off the Lions' practice squad, explained the play: "I knew I was going to have room to catch the ball. I've been studying this punter for a while, and he booms them. The return was to the right, but I had to move a little to my left and up to make someone miss, and the rest I owe to my teammates."

Kaelin, like Will and Brent, wants to do more. "I have to prove myself every week, and that's what I want to do. I want to go out there and provide a spark for my team," he said.

All three provided huge sparks in Cleveland on Monday night. They weren't the "playmakers" some expected. But, it does show that there is still a lot of feisty talent on this team.

Let's go down to Miami and beat the Dolphins.

Talk with you next week,


P.S. And, this is whining by me. The NFL tries to avoid sending a team that played on the road for a Monday night game back on the road the following Sunday. There's some unfairness there. C'mon man! (OK, got that off my chest.)

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