Once Helpless, Washington Now Vital

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Fabian Washington isn't afraid to admit he cried a few times after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.

It wasn't the pain of the injury or of having to go through rehabilitation. Washington felt he wasn't honoring an obligation to help get the Ravens into the playoffs.

"I know I let the team down," Washington said. "I went into a hole – big-time."

Now, just more than eight months later, the self-described "emotional guy" has undergone an emotional U-turn.

Many pundits felt the Ravens' greatest obstacle in reaching their Super Bowl aspirations would be their secondary. That was before top cornerback Domonique Foxworth suffered a season-ending ACL injury at the start of camp.

Now Washington has gone from feeling helpless to being vital in whether the Ravens' fulfill their lofty 2010 aspirations.

Washington is determined to be Baltimore's No. 1 cornerback. He may have to be.

"I knew I was going to have to have a big year," Washington said. "Now, with Domonique going down, I welcome the pressure. I put it on my back. Put all the pressure on me, I can handle it. Trust me, I can. I've been through a lot worse than pressures of football."

Washington's knee injury was the most difficult challenge he's faced during his football career. 

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Worst of all, it had horrific timing. On Nov. 22, Baltimore was trailing the rival Indianapolis Colts by two points in the fourth quarter and badly needed a stop. After Washington went down trying to tackle running back Joseph Addai, the Colts were able to run out the clock.

The loss dropped the Ravens to 5-5 and teetering perilously on the playoff edge heading into a pivotal stretch.

Luckily for Washington and the Ravens, rookie third-round draft pick Lardarius Webb stepped in and played tremendously. Washington felt his guilt fade away into relief.

Then, just a couple weeks later, Washington experienced what he described as his "darkest moment."

It came on Dec. 20 as Washington sat alone watching the Ravens play the Chicago Bears from his home in Owings Mills, Md. He had dozed off for several minutes after the game's outcome was all but determined, and when he awoke he noticed Webb wasn't playing.

Washington thought it was odd, but didn't fret. He received a call from Webb about 30 minutes after the game ended. "I did the same thing you did, Fabe," Webb immediately said.

Another torn ACL; Baltimore was going to have to go on without two of its top three cornerbacks.

"I was an emotional wreck right then," Washington said. "I was like, 'You've got to be kidding, this is unbelievable.' I felt really bad for him, but I felt even worse that I wasn't able to do anything about it."

This time Washington had to hold back his tears. He had to be strong for Webb. Washington said he's always able to put up a happy front for teammates. Deep down, it was another story.

"It was just really depressing because I knew we had a good enough team to make a run at the Super Bowl," Washington said. "Man, it was rough watching the guys."

The silver lining in Webb's injury was that it gave Washington a workout partner this offseason. After having surgery shortly after his injury, Washington immersed himself in an aggressive rehabilitation process.

He spent nearly every day this summer in the Ravens' Owings Mills training facility, arriving while the complex was still empty and leaving several hours later.

With every drill, stretch or lift, Washington and Webb competed against each other – constantly pushing one another. Washington's health quickly progressed and he miraculously shortened a conventionally year-long injury to a little over eight months.

"When I went down I was able to see how strong he was in handling the situation," Webb said. "I saw his drive to get back on the field and it helped me with my drive."

Asked if he considered his fast recovery to be a miracle, Washington shook his head.

"Nah," he said, laughing. "I've been working really hard. It paid off."

Washington began training camp on the physically unable to perform list, but just four days into it, he shed his red non-contact jersey. Washington says he may not play in every preseason game, but he's confident that he'll be ready for Week 1.

"We lost our best corner," Washington said. "They're hoping I can step in and fill that void. I have no doubt in my mind that I will."

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