FOX Sports Exclusive
Ravens need lotta Ngata on defense
OWINGS MILLS, Md.
He wore a white, sleeveless shirt bearing the slogan “Embrace the Grind.”
It’s not as if Haloti Ngata had much other choice this season.
There would be only one person who would blame the Baltimore Ravens star defensive tackle for sitting out games so his battered body could heal. That would be Ngata himself.
So through injuries that would have sidelined others, Ngata has persevered. He has missed only one contest this season. Even then, Ngata was active, but his services weren’t needed in last month’s 55-20 blowout of Oakland.
“Playing through injuries sucks, but I just don’t want to leave our guys out there with me being pretty much the only (defensive lineman) that has been here longer than three years,” Ngata told FOXSports.com before Wednesday’s practice at Ravens headquarters. “I feel like I have to be out there and try to help as much as I can.
“Playing injured probably wouldn’t be the best thing for me or the team. But mentally, I think it’s for the best.”
At this point, the Ravens need all the defensive bodies they can get – even if they’re not 100 percent healthy like Ngata.
Baltimore’s defense has taken a tumble from its usual high standard entering the FOX America’s Game of the Week against the visiting New York Giants (4:25 p.m. ET Sunday). Injuries are the biggest reason, especially among linebackers and defensive backs. Standouts like Ray Lewis (triceps), Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon/biceps) and Lardarius Webb (knee/injured reserve) are among those forced to miss significant playing time.
“Linebackers are up that haven’t played together for a while and you probably never thought would play together,” said Ngata, referring to the eight different starters Baltimore has fielded at that position. “And then we’ll have a DB go down and a guy who never played with that group comes up.
“You’re shuffling so many guys in and out. We’ve had inconsistency there where you don’t know what you’re going to get. And I think a lot of guys – especially myself -- start to try and cover up for some guys by trying to do more than your job. It’s hurting us more than helping us doing that.”
Ngata acknowledges his own play is down from recent seasons, when he had established himself as one of the league’s top interior defensive forces. Ngata sees that when watching video of his performances ever since hurting his shoulder and spraining his right knee in Week 6 against Dallas.
“That goes in my mind all the time,” said Ngata, an All-Pro selection the past four years. “If I were 100 percent, there are definitely plays I would have made. I’ve been down on myself a bunch the past couple of weeks just not making tackles I know I could make or getting off blocks I know I can get off of.”
Compounding his frustration are three consecutive Baltimore losses that have dropped the Ravens (9-5) from front-runner status for the AFC’s No. 2 playoff seed to a potential wild-card spot without a victory in the next two games. A lopsided 34-17 home loss to Denver Sunday was the season’s low point.
Ngata, though, has found comfort away from the field by spending time with his children.
“No matter what, win or lose, I’m just happy to be around them,” said Ngata, 28. “That’s where it starts. After a loss, I go home and play with my kids. Then I go to the film, watch what I’ve done, see what I can correct and move on. We definitely have to do that this week.”
The Giants (8-6) also are seeking fixes after a 34-0 loss to Atlanta marked the team’s first shutout since the 2005 playoffs. That performance was a far cry from the previous Sunday, when New York scored 52 points in a rout of New Orleans.
“If they get hot, you’re in trouble,” Ngata said. “They’ve been really good at times this year and at times really bad. Hopefully, we can keep them cold, because with their offense, they can just start running the score up on you. It’s over before you know it.”
Fortunately for the Ravens, Ngata said he is beginning to feel spry once again. Lewis may be getting close to a return, which would provide a boost from both a football and emotional standpoint. And by defeating the Giants and securing the AFC North title, Baltimore can give the walking wounded a much-needed rest in what would become a meaningless Week 17 game in Cincinnati.
“We can’t focus on anything else but this game,” Ngata said. “We can’t worry about what Cincinnati or the other (teams) are doing. We’ll worry when the time comes.”
That’s another slogan Ngata’s team would be wise to embrace.