What made the play so remarkable was not that Peter Boulware set up a sack of Jacksonville quarterback Mark Brunell after losing his balance, but that he made the play knowing how intense the pain in his shoulder would be.
Boulware, the Baltimore Ravens' strong-side linebacker, has endured a sharp, biting pain in his tender right shoulder on nearly every play this season. Yet he continues to perform superbly.
"You go into that game, you go into that play, knowing that if you are going to make a play, it's going to hurt," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said. "If you make a tackle on a run or you get to the quarterback on a sack, as much as you want that, when you get there, it's going to hurt when you hit the guy. That takes a heck of a mind-set."
On the sack of Brunell, Boulware was turned around by Jaguars running back James Stewart and lost his leverage. With his back toward Brunell, Boulware somehow maintained his balance and started backpedaling after him. Then arching his back, he dove backward into the quarterback with his right shoulder exposed, causing Brunell to stumble as middle linebacker Ray Lewis swooped in for the sack.
That kind of grit and determination is typical of Boulware.
"He's a tough guy," fellow linebacker Jamie Sharper said. "The fact that we're not winning and he's out there playing hard shows the kind of guy Pete is. He's a good example for anybody playing in the NFL or any sport. He's a guy who's playing through injury and playing well."
Boulware wears a harness on his right shoulder that essentially forces him to play with one arm, but he still leads the AFC and is fourth in the NFL with 9 1/2 sacks.
"To me, that's what it's all about," Boulware said. "If I can't do it with two hands, I've got to find a way to get it done. I just can't make an excuse, say, 'Well, since I've only got one arm, I can't do it.' . . . To be honest with you, I think this injury has made me better in the sense that I've tightened down in a lot of the techniques that I used to take for granted. Everything I've got to do has to be perfect. My technique has to be right. I can't miss any keys, so it's really made me a more focused player."
Boulware's shoulder problems began last season. He re-injured the shoulder during minicamp in June, then exacerbated the problem during the final preseason game against the Giants. Since then, Boulware, the coaches and training staff have coaxed his shoulder through the season. So far, he has missed no games and only two starts.
But that streak may be ending. He did not start last week against Jacksonville after dislocating the shoulder early in the Cincinnati game, and it appears the injury finally has reached a point where he will be limited to pass-rush situations.
"What we're going to ask him to do is a little bit less because we're at that point in the season," Billick said. "We knew we would be here. I'm surprised we're here this late. If he can work it out through the rest of the season, it will be a huge plus."
Boulware likely will have postseason surgery to tighten the ligaments so his shoulder does not continually pop in and out. For now, he continues to receive treatment and to exercise caution.
"I'll be effective," Boulware said. "It's just a matter of me adjusting to it now because it's a different thing. Before [the shoulder], wasn't coming out at all. Now, it's coming out, which I knew was going to happen. Now, I've got to be extra careful. They've tightened my brace down a little bit. I just have to be careful more than anything else."
CAPTION: Playing through pain, Ravens linebacker Peter Boulware leads AFC and is fourth in NFL with 9 1/2 sacks.