Matt Judon made an impromptu run up the tunnel Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, like a performer leaving the stage before returning for an encore. It was a spontaneous reaction after recording a sack on three consecutive plays, something no NFL player had done in 12 years.
Judon didn't know how rare it was for a player to record three straight sacks. The Ravens' third-year outside linebacker just wanted to celebrate. Some people celebrate with Triple Sec. Judon figured a triple sack was worth celebrating, too.
"It wasn't rehearsed," Judon said. "It was just spur-of-the-moment celebrating. I almost fell, though. Don't run up those things with cleats on the concrete."
The Ravens hope Judon's pass-rushing roll continues. He has recorded at least a half-sack in three consecutive games, taking over the team lead in sacks with six, just ahead of Terrell Suggs and Za'Darius Smith, who have 5 ½ sacks apiece.
Judon's emergence as a pass rusher in December could be a key factor as the Ravens try to make a playoff run. They will be facing some dynamic quarterbacks this month, including Matt Ryan of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 9, Philip Rivers of the Los Angeles Chargers on Dec. 22, and Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns on Sept. 30.
To keep those quarterbacks from hurting them badly, the Ravens will need a pass rush. At age 26, and with his best football likely ahead of him, Judon could be the player who leads the charge. After watching Judon torment Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, Oakland Head Coach Jon Gruden came away impressed.
"Judon's going to be a heck of a player," Gruden growled. "Doggone Judon."
The Detroit Lions' Cullen Jenkins was the last player to record a sack on three straight plays in 2006. Judon's first sack Sunday led to the Ravens' first defensive touchdown of the season, when Terrell Suggs scooped up the ball following Judon's strip sack and raced 43 yards for a touchdown.
Judon had a front row seat on Suggs' return and loved it.
"He's still got it, man," Judon said. "He's a little kid. He outran everybody, I don't know how, but he did it. Those hamstrings pulled through. He doesn't have any ball security. We're going to work on that, but good for him. He made some people miss, got up the sideline and scored, and we needed that"
The Ravens had suffered through a sack drought prior to Sunday's outburst, but some of his teammates believed it was only a matter of time for Judon, who also had a key block on Cyrus Jones' 70-yard punt return for a touchdown.
"When they come, they come in bunches, when it rains, it pours," defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. "That was his time, he took advantage on all three of those sets he had. Sacks, hat trick? That's amazing. Plus, the sack fumble and then Suggs to the house? That's amazing. A guy like Judon, you see it every day in practice. He works hard, he prepares for the game, and it was bound to happen. Today, he shined."
Judon said his confidence doesn't wane when the sacks don't come. But after recording eight sacks last season, Judon wants to eclipse that number this season and solidify that he is a player on the rise. His latest performance helped support that notion. Judon wants his first taste of playoff football, and with the Ravens (6-5) fighting for a postseason spot, his effectiveness as a pass rusher could be a key for them down the stretch.
We may not see Judon run down the tunnel again. But he hopes to produce a lot more sacks.
"As a pass rusher, you never get discouraged," Judon said. "They said they'd come in bunches, and so I just kept rushing the passer. I didn't know when it was coming. I hoped it was coming, and I got a couple today. We just have to keep winning."