Cary Williams endured a brutal week.
He had fallen victim to Tom Brady and the Patriots offense on Sunday. The criticism that followed was loud and pointed, and Williams' starting cornerback spot wasn't guaranteed.
But he put all that behind him Thursday night and came up with a game-changing play in the 23-16 victory over the Cleveland Browns. Williams' 63-yard interception return-for-touchdown in the third-quarter was the difference in the game, and gave the fifth-year cornerback a bit of redemption.
"Here is a guy who was under a lot of heat from [the media], but he wasn't under heat in our building because we know what kind of player he is, and he comes up big," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "You have faith in your guys and believe in your guys. I think he deserved that."
The interception, which was the first of Williams' career, gave the Ravens a two-score lead just when rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and the Browns were driving and poised to take a one-point lead. The play killed the Browns' momentum and gave the Ravens a padded lead heading into the final quarter.
The significance of the play, however, went beyond Thursday night.
"It's bigger than tonight," fellow cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "It's bigger than that play. It's bigger than this game. I'm glad he got it for him."
"I'm proud of that kid, to fight through what he has fought through," safety Ed Reed added.
After the touchdown, Williams was embraced by his teammates as he ran over to the sidelines. It was an emotional moment for the five-year veteran.
"They've always been there for me, and they're going to continue to be there for me regardless of whether I have a good game or a bad game," Williams said about his teammates.
The key for Williams coming into this game was having the ability to learn and move on from previous mistakes. Confidence is critical for corners and having a bounce-back week was big for Williams.
"It's hard to play at a high level each and every week," Williams said. "Sometimes, you're going to get balls caught on you. What you've got to do is bounce back and learn from those mistakes you made in the game and just continue to fight."
Williams even had to overcome an early mishap in Thursday's game. Wide receiver Greg Little caught a 43-yard pass down the sidelines over him – Cleveland's biggest play of the day – which helped set up the Browns lone touchdown.
"They kept messing with him, but we knew that he would eventually come through," Webb said. "He started off a little slow, but you see the big-play potential in him. He makes plays and that's why we believe in him."
After the victory, a number of Williams' teammates spoke out in support of him for the criticism that he faced leading up to Thursday's game. Williams was grateful for the support, but was more focused on the positives afterward than re-hashing the trying week.
"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Williams said. "It's a great opportunity to get some individual accolades in the game, but at the end of the day, I think that winning the game is more important."