Few NFL wide receivers mean as much to their team as Derrick Mason means to the Ravens.
However, after suffering a shoulder injury in last Sunday's victory over the Houston Texans, Mason missed practice on Wednesday and Thursday before seeing limited work on Friday, making his status uncertain until shortly before kickoff.
But the veteran two-time Pro Bowler exhibited his mettle once again, taking the field for the 100th consecutive game. And Mason didn't just show up to earn the milestone. Not even close.
Taking his normal starting role, Mason paced the Ravens in receptions for the seventh time in 10 games, totaling seven catches for 82 yards. Six of those receptions resulted in Ravens first downs as the grittiness that has been a hallmark of his career was also the order of the day.
Mason put it simply: "They cleared me to play and I decided to play."
"I think Mason was very effective," head coach John Harbaugh noted. "He wasn't 100 percent, for sure, but that's the kind of guy Mason is."
Covered by Giants cornerback Aaron Ross for much of the day, Mason found the bulk of his success on mid-length routes along the sideline. He contributed early and often with two first downs on the Ravens' second drive of the game.
For his first catch of the day, Mason worked the left sideline for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
Later that drive, Mason again moved the chains, this time running a quick out from the slot to sustain the drive – which ultimately resulted in a blocked field goal – with a nine-yard grab on third down.
As the first quarter wound down, Mason added 16 yards and another first down, motioning in from the wide right position before heading up the field and back towards the edge to make the reception.
Mason's lone second-quarter catch picked up 15 yards and a first down along the right sideline for the Ravens en route to their first points of the day, a 38-yard Matt Stover field goal. Immediately prior to the field goal attempt, the Ravens took an unsuccessful shot at the end zone to the 5-foot-10 Mason, who made a valiant effort to reach and get a hand on the ball but was unable to reel in the pass.
Baltimore's offense came out of the halftime break on fire as Mason's three catches keyed a 79-yard drive that lasted 7:24 and culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Le'Ron McClain.
That score was made possible in part because of Mason's drive-extending efforts. With a third-and-nine situation at the Giants' 26-yard line, Mason came up with perhaps his biggest catch of the day to keep the march alive.
With Yamon Figurs in the slot, Mason lined up wide right on the play and crossed the middle of the field to find a hole in the New York zone defense for a 14-yard gain.
In spite of dropping a 30-10 decision, Mason maintained confidence the Ravens' ability to regroup in time for next week's meeting with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"We're just going to keep playing football," Mason reflected. "We've got a band of 53 guys in this room that is going to keep on fighting for one another. We're in this together – not for anybody else."
Harbaugh, in turn, tipped his hat to a gutsy performance by a true professional.
"He is a courageous man," Harbaugh concluded. "He played well."