Matt Elam made all the headlines leading into Monday night's game against the Detroit Lions.
He was the rookie safety who "called out" Detroit's All-Pro Calvin Johnson, saying that the 28-year-old receiver was "a little bit older." The comments about Johnson's age dominated the discussion, even though they came in the middle of an interview where Elam heaped praise on the receiver.
Some pundits – including former Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis – suggested that Elam poked a sleeping bear with his remarks, and that Johnson would make him pay the price.
But in the end, it was Elam who came away with the last laugh. The Ravens' first-round pick played one of his best games of the year and came up with his first career interception to seal the Ravens' 18-16 victory.
"It was a great feeling to get a team win," Elam said. "It's Monday night, everybody is going to play their best game. Everybody is watching, the season is on the line. You got to come play your best game. It was a relief for me, and it was a great feeling to get a team win."
Elam's interception came with 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter, with the Ravens clinging to a two-point lead. Kicker Justin Tucker had just booted a 61-yard field goal to give the Ravens the advantage, but Detroit had the ball with three timeouts to move down the field for a field-goal attempt of the own.
The Lions never got a chance to attempt a game-winning kick, as Elam stepped in front of an errant pass from quarterback Matthew Stafford on Detroit's first play of the series.
It was the interception he had been waiting for all season.
"I felt like I was a first-round draft bust because I hadn't made any plays," Elam said. "I was so hard on myself. I go to work every day and I work so hard. I just put everything in God's hands and he delivered. I kept the faith, and he delivered. And we were victorious."
The interception wasn't flawless, as Elam barely held onto the football. The ball bounced off his chest then he bobbled it a few times before making the catch. He was ultimately able to hold on, and now will no longer have to get razzed by his teammates for not having any interceptions.
"He finally got it at the right time," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "He almost dropped it, but he came up with it. We're proud of Matt right now."
The interception wasn't the only play Elam made on the night. He was consistently around the football and showed aggressiveness to come up and defend the run at the line of scrimmage. He finished with a team-leading 10 tackles, including one for loss, and also had a pass defensed.
He was a big reason why the Ravens left Detroit with a victory, and he outshined Johnson on a night where the receiver had one of his worst showings of the season.
"I am proud of Matt for the way he handled it," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He learned a lesson in how he deals with the media certainly, but he did the thing he needed to do. He played. He trusted his teammates and he had faith."
Monday's game was a big step for the rookie safety. He endured intense scrutiny for the first time of his and responded with one of the finest outings.
He finally made the big play that had eluded him through his first 13 NFL games, and now he hopes there are plenty more in his near future.
"I feel like I heard from a lot of guys that when you catch one interception, they come in bundles," Elam said. "I'm going to go to practice and work extra hard so that they come in bundles."