Serious enough to reach top, Suggs knows what's at stake Sunday

by | CBSSports.com
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Terrell Suggs says he's become a more mature football player since the Ravens last hosted a home playoff game.

That game followed the 2006 regular season, when the Ravens earned a bye and welcomed Indianapolis to Baltimore. Despite Suggs having a solid outing with seven tackles and one forced fumble, the Ravens stumbled to a 15-6 loss against the Colts.

The Ravens haven't been strangers to the playoffs since that loss, reaching the postseason in each of the last three seasons. Baltimore is 4-3 in playoff games during that time span, with all seven of those contests coming on the road.

This year, it's a different story. The Ravens bested Pittsburgh twice and won the AFC North title, earning the AFC's No. 2 seed. After a week off, the Ravens will host Houston this Sunday.

Suggs has been in this situation before. And this time, he believes a wiser version of his former self will take the field.

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"Five years ago, I was a young man," he said. "What was I, 25, 24? [He was 24.] I definitely shot out to the West Coast [during the bye week that preceded the Colts loss]. Took a five-hour flight, probably went to Vegas. I don't remember. Whereas now, I'm more mature, I'm kind of a vet, sort of. We know what's at stake, we know what we're playing for and we're just taking it all in."

Suggs is known for being a jokester, a bit of a comedian in the locker room. He'll appear on ESPN to banter back and forth with analyst Skip Bayless over whether Joe Flacco is a premier quarterback or not.

Entering the practice field, he'll sing at the top of his lungs, with his repertoire ranging from Lil Wayne to Celine Dion to Meat Loaf. He'll drop one-liners referencing movies he's recently watched, or openly talk about his love for the Star Wars franchise of films.

His best line of the season came the week prior to Baltimore's rematch with Pittsburgh in Week 8, when Suggs referenced the 2005 film The Jacket by saying, "They already declared war on us. We're taking 53 men to the apocalypse and we ain't bringing flowers."

When it gets tense in the locker room, Suggs is there to crack a joke. After a tough practice, Suggs is there to lighten the mood. "He'll do things that make you laugh so hard your side will hurt," Ravens center Matt Birk said. "That's definitely appreciated during a long season."

But it's not all fun and games for Suggs, who was much maligned following the 2009 season after signing a six-year, $62.5 million contract, the richest contract for a linebacker at that time. Suggs then turned in one of his worst seasons (4.5 sacks in 13 regular season games) with some folks locally wondering if he took the game seriously or not.

In the past two years, that concern has been eliminated as Suggs has emerged as one of the game's best pass-rushing linebackers. This year, he's tallied 14 sacks and forced seven fumbles, the latter a Ravens single-season franchise record.

"It's one thing to be considered a pass rusher," teammate Ray Lewis said. "It's another thing to be considered a complete defensive player. And he's become that."

Suggs also received a vote of confidence from coach John Harbaugh, who was there during the pass rusher's tumultuous 2009 season. While Suggs can be a goofball in front of a camera, Harbaugh said he brings his lunch pail to practice.

Suggs has become much more than a sack artist, earning praise as an all-around defender now. (US Presswire)  
Suggs has become much more than a sack artist, earning praise as an all-around defender now. (US Presswire)  
"There's not a harder worker in football than Terrell Suggs," Harbaugh said. "I don't think people always understand or realize that because of his personality. This guy takes it very seriously with his pass rush, run defense, studying the opposing offense and studying the particulars of the guys he goes against."

Harbaugh added, "It's hard to argue against him as the best defensive player in football right now. I'll stand on that soap box."

Suggs' personal playoff history suggests he'll reinforce those kudos on Sunday against the Texans.

The 2003 first-rounder has sacks in all but one of his seven career playoff appearances (the '06 loss to the Colts). In last year's win over Kansas City in the wild-card round, Suggs picked up two sacks. In Baltimore's divisional round loss to Pittsburgh, Suggs sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times, totaled six tackles and forced a fumble.

There's no questioning whether Suggs is playoff-ready or primed for the big stage at this juncture of his career. He's proven he belongs among the elite defenders in the league.

Suggs has repeatedly said he doesn't believe this is the best season of his career, though his statistics would indicate that. In the past, he may have been pleased with the body of work in his 2011 season to date. Now, he said his season isn't a success without a Super Bowl victory.

Lewis is the lone active Raven with a Super Bowl title. Lewis is also the only current Raven to have experienced a home playoff win -- the franchise's only home postseason win -- which came on Dec. 31, 2000 against the Broncos.

Clearly, Suggs is intent on altering that script Sunday.

"It's not enough anymore, just making it to the playoffs," Suggs said. "We've done that before. This year, we took the next step of winning the division and getting the bye and a home playoff game."

Through his play on the field, Suggs has shown he's matured as a football player. While Lewis has his stamp on Baltimore's defense, Suggs is arguably the best player on it.

He may also be nearing Lewis' class as a leader, albeit one without No. 52's searing intensity.

To wit: Suggs was asked Wednesday if the Ravens were taking the postseason more seriously, as opposed to staying loose before each game. Suggs tilted his head to the side and slyly grinned.

"Come on man, of course we're still loose," Suggs said. "Who better than me to keep the team loose? We're still loose but we all know the task at hand. We know the consequences of playing bad. We all know what we have to do and we all know the objective."

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