Reed Leads Ravens Past Dolphins in NFL Playoffs

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 5, 2009

MIAMI, Jan. 4 -- It didn't matter that Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington scanned the field before every single play, calling for the snap only after his eyes had locked on safety Ed Reed. It didn't matter that Pennington is obsessively careful with the football, throwing just seven interceptions all season entering the playoffs, or that Reed plays a position designed to prevent havoc rather than create it.

Sunday, Reed created it. And he did it with an entertainer's aplomb. As the Ravens extended their playoff life while ending Miami's fairy-tale season with a 27-9 first-round drubbing in front of 74,240 fans at Dolphin Stadium, Reed proved to be the game's most remarkable ballhandler despite not being a ballhandler at all.

He grabbed two of the Ravens' four interceptions and silenced the crowd with a 64-yard touchdown return that involved a gallop from one sideline to the other and back. His efforts helped Baltimore land its 10th victory in 12 games and a trip to Tennessee to face the AFC South champion Titans on Saturday.

"He's the best defensive player I've ever seen play the game regardless of position," Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "The guy is 99 percent amazing and 1 percent man."

The man had a bit of a superhero sheen, or perhaps a Darth Vader look, after the game as he stood in front of his locker in a solid black Lycra undershirt and black tights down to his ankles. Reed, wearing a full beard and mustache, took reporters' questions for more than 30 minutes, happy to savor his team's first playoff victory in nearly seven years.

His heroics came just a few miles north of where he played college football for the University of Miami, whose fans he acknowledged by making a "U" gesture after the touchdown.

"This is a blessing," he said, "because this is where it all started."

The second-quarter interception he returned for a score broke a 3-3 tie and changed the feel of the game. As the intended receiver, Miami's Ted Ginn Jr., tripped, Reed ran under the ball like a wide receiver on a deep route. He gathered in the overthrown ball, ran around Miami's offensive players to the opposite sideline, then maneuvered his way back, scoring behind linebacker Terrell Suggs's block on Pennington at the 5-yard line.

Asked how much ground he covered on the run, Reed laughed.

"Oh, man, counting the zigzag?" he said. "I'm not sure. It felt like a 200 [-meter sprint] from track, so it took a while to catch my breath. I don't think I caught my breath until the third quarter."

He wasn't the only person left breathless.

"The kid's a freak," Suggs said.

Reed's second interception came in the third quarter at the Ravens 8-yard-line, where he ended both a major scoring threat and a string of eight straight completions by Pennington.

All told, Miami managed only 52 rushing yards on 21 carries (2.5 yards per play). Pennington completed 25 of 38 passes for 252 yards, but he threw virtually nothing downfield that wasn't picked off, and he was sacked three times.

As the interceptions mounted, he became increasingly conservative, relying on short tosses to his running backs or catch-and-runs to receivers at the line of scrimmage. The Dolphins were hurt by fumbles, too. Suggs recovered a Patrick Cobbs turnover in the third quarter that gave Baltimore's offense the ball at the Miami 19.

Le'Ron McClain burst into the end zone from eight yards out four plays later, giving the Ravens a 20-3 lead. Baltimore sealed the game when quarterback Joe Flacco sneaked up the middle for a five-yard scoring run with 3 minutes 53 seconds remaining.

"I certainly didn't expect for it to end this way," Pennington said.

Reed's success this season -- he led the league with nine interceptions -- came despite a slew of injuries to the Ravens' secondary. Starting strong safety Dawan Landry was lost for the season after suffering a neck injury in the second game. Three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister was placed on the injured reserve list in November, and cornerback Samari Rolle missed six games because of neck surgery. The injuries pushed strong safety Jim Leonhard and cornerback Fabian Washington -- both acquired in the offseason -- into starting roles.

Each intercepted passes Sunday, and Leonhard added seven tackles.

The 108 yards on interception returns that Reed, Washington and Leonhard accrued collectively nearly surpassed the yardage by Baltimore's receivers, who caught just nine passes from Flacco for 135 yards.

"You can't be the weakest link on this defense," said Washington, who ended Miami's opening drive of the second half with his interception near midfield. "You can't be the reason why things don't go right. So you raise your level of play. . . . Our defense is special. Everybody's defense can't do what we do."

Sunday's turnover-fest proved stunning and shattering to the Dolphins, who had rebounded from a 1-15 season last year to win the AFC East. They made the turnaround largely because they refused to squander turnovers. The 13 they surrendered matched this year's Giants for the best 16-game total in league history.

"We heard all week that they don't turn the ball over, they don't turn the ball over," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said, "but bottom line, we force turnovers, and that's the thing we did today."

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