DeShon Elliott couldn't hide his feelings behind a mask. Asked how his first career interception felt, the fourth-year safety pulled down his blue, disposable mask and flashed a huge smile.
After sitting out the past two games with a quad injury, Elliott exploded in his return to the field in Sunday's 34-6 win over the Los Angeles Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium.
Besides his interception, Elliott also logged his first sack of the season, and a pass breakup on another third-down pass. The Ravens defense as a whole had a huge game against an uber-talented Chargers offense, but Elliott was the leading man.
"He does bring a lot of energy," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He's a veteran guy, and he does notch things up a little bit from an intensity standpoint. … I think great players make everyone better."
Elliott's interception was in no way a gimme. It was a Justin Herbert laser down the seam, a strawberry ready to pierce a battleship, to borrow Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's term from this week.
But Elliott was glued to tight end Jared Cook and undercut the throw, making a catch usually reserved for a wide receiver.
Elliott had nine interceptions during his three-year career at Texas, including six in his junior season before declaring for the NFL draft. It's part of what earned him the "Joker" nickname. Yet in 25 NFL games, including 16 starts last year, he didn't pick off one pass.
"It felt great, man," Elliott said. "A long time coming, long time coming. I was dealing with a lot of adversity last year – the last couple of years – so it's a blessing to finally get my first one. Hopefully, God blesses me with a lot more."
It was Elliott's sack that helped get the party started. He blitzed off the edge and wasn't accounted for by the Chargers offensive line, paving the way for Elliott to drill Herbert on third-and-5.
Elliott also got a pass defensed on third-and-10 in the third quarter, with the Ravens leading by 19 points. Baltimore's offense scored a touchdown on the ensuing drive, essentially crushing the Chargers' hopes of a comeback win.
Elliott missed his first two NFL seasons with major injuries. He didn't like going back on the sideline. A concussion sent him out midway through the epic win over the Kansas City Chiefs. He returned to play the Detroit Lions a week later, then left that one early too with a quad injury.
"After the concussion, I was trying to go out there and play, and then I went out there and strained my quad. You can only do what you can do," Elliott said.
"That's God's timing. Whenever you're ready to go, he's going to let you go, and I think he was finally like, 'All right DeShon, it's time to go out there and play.' So, he let me go out there and do what I can do, and I'm just happy to be back – back playing with my teammates."