Reading Carson Palmer's eyes, Ed Reed jumped in front of a pass intended for Chad Ochocinco and raced 52 yards down the sideline for a remarkable 13th-career touchdown. Against the Pro Bowl signal caller, it was Reed's fourth-career interception and second touchdown. That sunny day this past October at M&T Bank Stadium brought Ravens fans another one of his memorable defensive performances.
The spectacular game-changing plays Reed has made since he was the Ravens' No. 1 draft pick (24th overall) in 2002 have excited and thrilled this city for nearly eight seasons.
Each time it happens, we marvel at how he's able to be in a perfect position to make such a sensational play and then have the wherewithal to finish, earning his team six points on 13 different occasions. He's the only player in NFL history to score return touchdowns off an interception, a fumble recovery, a punt return and a blocked punt. His ability to react so quickly and not be fooled by the quarterback working hard to fake him out is no doubt a special talent.
"It's mentally training yourself week to week to react to certain things and not to react to other things," the five-time Pro Bowler explains. "It's really being patient and just going when the mind and body are in sync with each other."
The NFL's only unanimous All-Pro selection in 2008, Reed, 31, says now that he's late in his career, he needs to be more precise on the gridiron, because his reaction time isn't as fast as it was at the beginning of his career.
No doubt that precision is aided by the hours and hours he spends each week viewing game video of the opponent, both with his fellow defensive backs and by himself at home. Even though viewing so much film mostly benefits Reed, he cautions that over the past few years, he has actually cut back a little, especially in the latter part of the season.
"Sometimes I see something so much on tape that it makes me think it's going to come, and I'd rather just react," says Reed. "Football is purely a reactive sport, and honestly, that's when I'm at my best. I really just concentrate on knowing what we have to do."
Playing within the defense and learning how to move through it is the key, claims Reed, who alongside Ray Lewis, helps leads the unit.
"When I get a [defensive play] call [from the coaches], I have to know exactly where I'm supposed to be depending on [every detail of the play]," explains Reed. "It's a lot about memorizing exactly what's going on. Ray and I always still say to this day, 'Football's not going to change. Just keep watching tape, and eventually, something's going to click for you.'"
The film study session the entire secondary holds each week, which used to be hosted by Reed, is now held each Wednesday evening at Domonique Foxworth's house. "Sometimes there's food, sometimes there's not. One guy usually brings it or nobody brings it, but it's still fun. We get together, watch tape and communicate with each other. That's huge for us, just having a relationship with each other."
Guiding young teammates like rookie Lardarius Webb, who idolized Reed growing up, and also working with free agents such as Foxworth and Chris Carr, helping to incorporate them into the defense, is second nature to the 5-time Pro Bowler.
Ravens secondary coach Chuck Pagano has a unique perspective on Reed. In addition to coaching him for the Ravens the past two seasons, Pagano recruited and coached him at the University of Miami. He says his pupil has been making the highlight-reel plays since his days at Destrehan High School outside New Orleans.
"Athletically, he's very, very special, and he's very, very bright," says Pagano. "He's a coach on the field. His preparation gives him the ability to do that. He sees things that a lot of guys don't see.
"I love his passion, his enthusiasm, the mentality he brings to the field. The plays that he makes, that's not luck. And, the risks that he takes are calculated. There's no malice involved. There's no self-centeredness, there's no selfishness involved. It's all for one cause and one cause only, and that's to win. And it isn't for Ed Reed. He does it for his teammates."
No one can question his heart. The students at Baltimore City's Booker T. Washington Middle School certainly don't. Reed has been mentoring them since his rookie year in 2002.
"Those kids deserve so much more than they get. The little bit that I do, and I don't feel like it's a lot, there are so many other administrators that are helping them on a daily basis."
Over the years, Reed's commitment to the school has been substantial. Not only has he given his time and money, Reed has rewarded the students with Ravens tickets, based on attendance, discipline and academics. He also donates school supplies at the beginning of each school year and then provides the students and their families with holiday meals and money to spend on Christmas gifts.
"It always starts with the kids. It's [important to me] because of how I was raised and how I grew up and how I was helped," says Reed. "And I know many people around me who were in the same situation as me. I was the one guy that fought past a lot. That's all it's going to take, for one of them to say it to themselves: 'I don't want to be that guy on the [street] corner.' I did. That's all I said to myself.
"I want to give a message, just show my example, no different than to my teammates, of leadership, or just me being me. Just change one. If you can get one kid to change, that one kid might change two or three. So that's why I do it. I'm going to continue at Booker T."
He is not finished at Booker T., and he's certainly not finished on the football field. Ravens fans have that to be thankful for this holiday season.