C.J. Mosley was inactive Sunday for the Ravens, but Patrick Onwuasor and Kenny Young were extremely active.
The Ravens' two young inside linebackers played pivotal roles in a 27-14 victory over the Denver Broncos.
Onwuasor had the game's biggest defensive play, an interception in the fourth quarter that stifled a potential Broncos comeback. Young, a rookie fourth-round pick from UCLA, continued to play with swagger and physicality, leading the Ravens with 10 tackles.
Onwuasor and Young knew they had to step up with the Ravens missing a three-time Pro Bowler, and Onwuasor and Young rose to the occasion. Onwuasor received a game ball from Head Coach John Harbaugh for his timely interception that helped seal the win.
"Wow, what a play," Harbaugh said. "We gave him the game ball, just because we told the guys, we've been in these situations before, where it gets tense in the end and tight at the end, and someone has to step up and make a play. He did that there."
Everything about Onwuasor's interception was impressive, from the anticipation, the catch, to the interception return. The Ravens were ahead by 13 points, but the Broncos had driven to the Ravens' 15-yard line with about nine minutes left, facing second-and-goal. As Broncos quarterback Case Keenum dropped back to pass, Onwuasor read Keenum's intentions and stepped in front of tight end Jeff Heuerman to make the pick.
"I thought it was a good pass, but the kid made a great play," Keenum said.
Keenum was right. The ball was wet in the rainy conditions, and it was not an easy catch. But Onwuasor made like a wide receiver by holding onto the ball, then he made like a running back on the return. Onwuasor avoided tacklers and sprinted down the sideline toward the end zone as the Ravens' bench went wild. Onwausor would have been credited with an 89-yard pick six, but Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon was penalized for blocking Keenum in the back, wiping out the touchdown.
"Judon might owe me some food or something," Onwuasor said.
"It was a great play by Patrick," Judon said. "I don't know if he'll forgive me, but we're boys."
However, the interception was huge, keeping the Broncos from making it a one-possession game. Denver never scored again. Remember the pregame speculation about how the Ravens' defense would fare without Mosley? After giving up 14 points in the first quarter, the Ravens pitched a shutout the rest of the way.
"We dug deep, we got three-and-outs, and everybody just came in and played ball," Onwuasor said. "It was a great effort."
Young's speed at linebacker continues to be an asset for the defense. Even when he makes a mistake, Young often overcomes it with his quickness. Young played with force, delivering several huge hits that set a physical tone for the defense. It's a style that comes naturally to Young, and instead of overthinking plays, Young is reacting to what he sees and making himself a constant presence around the ball.
Knowing he would start against the Broncos, Young made sure he was well-rested and said he had no trouble sleeping Saturday night. That was more than just confidence. Young has learned to calm himself before games by watching Mosley, who also plays fast but plays under control.
"Don't try to do too much, let the plays come to you," Young said. "I tried not to make it too difficult. I learned that from C.J. If you watch him and study him, he doesn't get too wound up. He just plays ball and trusts his instincts."
Onwuasor and Young competed for a starting spot next to Mosley during training camp. But on Sunday, Onwuasor and Young were often side-by-side, helping each other and helping the defense make plays. The competition between Young and Onwuasor benefitted both. Veteran linebacker Albert McClellan said it was important for young players to learn that lesson.
"We're waiting on C.J. to come back, we want him to come back, but this is an opportunity for those young guys to grow," McClellan said. "In other places, I'm sure people don't even help out the competition. Here, competition is healthy. When we get C.J. back, we'll really be clicking on all cylinders."
Check out all the action from the Ravens' Week 3 game against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium.