When Ravens cornerback Maurice Canady lined up for the game-deciding fourth-down play, he looked across the line of scrimmage and saw Pro Bowl wide receiver T.Y. Hilton.
He knew immediately; the ball was coming at him.
“It would be dumb for them to throw it anywhere else,” Canady said. “He’s a great player; everybody knows he’s a great player.”
Canady fought off Hilton and broke up the pass, then took off sprinting the entire length of the field in celebration with his teammates trailing.
Canady’s play and the defense’s red-zone stop preserved the Ravens’ 23-16 win and kept Baltimore in the driver’s seat for a wild-card playoff berth. It’s the biggest play of Canady’s young career thus far, and perhaps the Ravens’ biggest defensive play of the season.
Baltimore’s defense didn’t get much pressure on Indianapolis Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett for most of the day, despite the Colts leading the league in sacks allowed entering the game. Veteran running back Frank Gore found some room on the ground and Hilton posted six catches for 100 yards.
The Colts entered the game with the league’s 31st-ranked offense, averaging 286 yards per game. They had 296 yards against the Ravens. But Baltimore’s ferocious unit, which leads the NFL in takeaways, likely expected better and didn’t get a single turnover (though it had a few chances).
“It wasn’t our best game on defense,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “But we got it done when we needed to the most.”
The Ravens were in a somewhat similar situation a year ago. On Christmas Day, the Pittsburgh Steelers marched down the field for the game-winning drive, capped by Antonio Brown’s “Immaculate Extension” that knocked the Ravens out of the playoffs.
Saturday’s stakes weren’t quite so high this year, although a loss would have left Baltimore needing help in the final week to get into the postseason. A Colts win would have been more shocking too, considering they have just three wins this season.
Regardless, the fact that the defense came through with the stop that it needed in this year’s situation, especially after feeling a familiar sting in a late loss in Pittsburgh two weeks ago, wasn’t lost on the Ravens locker room.
“It’s big. We’ve talked about it since the first day of offseason workouts. We need to finish,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We need to be a defense that, when the game is on the line, we need to be out there and be the team to win the game.”
It wasn’t just Canady. After a Sam Koch punt was blocked, the Colts had the ball at the Ravens’ 27-yard line with plenty of time to tie (or win). Three plays later, Indianapolis was on the 10-yard line, facing a second-and-3 situation.
That’s when the defense rose up. Linebacker C.J. Mosley and company stuffed Gore for a 3-yard loss. Then defensive end Willie Henry and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith brought down Brissett for a sack and loss of 4 yards.
Facing a fourth-and-10, the Colts had to pass and Canady was ready. There was contact at the top of the route, but it went both ways. Hilton pushed Canady in the back and Canady fought back.
“As he breaks, you can probably see him try to nudge me a little bit, so as soon as I felt that nudge, I knew the ball was on the way,” Canady said. “I just found the ball and made the play.”
Canady downplayed what the breakup means for him in what has been a challenging start to his career. The sixth-round pick out of Virginia was placed on injured reserve (IR) after four games last year. He injured his knee in training camp this season, putting him on the shelf for the first half of the year.
Canady was brought back off IR, using one of the Ravens’ two designations, in order to make plays like he did Saturday night.
“What a testament to his work ethic and patiently waiting his time,” Weddle said. “With the game on the line, against one of the best receivers in the league, he had really tight coverage and played his technique and fundamentals.”
Check out the scenes from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens host the Colts in week 16 of the NFL season!