Alongside linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Ed Reed helped define a Baltimore Ravens defense that won a pair of championships and was always regarded as one of the best in the league.
Last season's Super Bowl victory marked the end of the road as teammates for Reed and Lewis. The two will get a chance to reunite this Sunday, though, when Reed's Houston Texans battle the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium after Lewis is inducted into Baltimore's Ring of Honor.
While Lewis retired after capping his 17-year career with another title, Reed joined the Texans as an unrestricted free agent in March. He has yet to play this season as he recovers from offseason hip surgery, but Houston head coach Gary Kubiak noted on Monday that Reed was very close to playing in Sunday's 30-24 overtime victory against Tennessee.
The 35-year-old Reed was the 2004 Defensive Player of the Year and a nine-time Pro Bowl selection over 11 seasons with the Ravens. He logged 606 tackles, six sacks and 61 interceptions, returning seven for touchdowns.
"We'll have to assume that he is going to play. We'd be surprised if he didn't play in this game, and we'll have to assume he's going to play the way he's played in the past," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
Lewis, now an analyst for ESPN, will be honored prior to Sunday's game. The MVP of Super Bowl XXXV won a pair of Defensive Player of the Year awards over his career, spent entirely with Baltimore, and logged 41 1/2 sacks, 31 interceptions and 13 Pro Bowl selections.
The Ravens hope that Lewis' presence will spark them against the Texans, who have needed to rally in both of their wins this season. After coming back from a club-record 21 points down in Week 1 to defeat San Diego, Houston got a one- yard touchdown run and two-point conversion from Arian Foster with 1:53 left in the fourth quarter this past weekend to force overtime against the Titans.
The Texans then drove down the field in the bonus frame and secured their four straight 2-0 start when quarterback Matt Schaub found DeAndre Hopkins in the back of the end zone from three yards out.
"It was a great ball by Schaub. He put it in the perfect position for me to go up and catch it," Hopkins said. "We practice that basically every day, the wide receivers. And practice makes perfect."
Schaub threw for 298 yards with three touchdowns and was picked off twice, while Hopkins made seven catches for 117 yards. He stepped up with No. 1 wideout Andre Johnson out with a concussion suffered late in the fourth quarter.
"It's just great character for us to find a way to win two weeks in a row like that," said Kubiak, whose club won its first five games last year. "Obviously, you're not going to get away with that in this league. I think this is a very good football team that we just played. I think they played extremely well. And we are very fortunate to get out of here with another win today."
Johnson caught eight passes for 76 yards before his exit and Kubiak said on Monday that his wideout's status for this game won't be determined until later in the week as he follows concussion protocol.
"But I think, after the game talking to him and seeing where he's at today, obviously he's doing really well," Kubiak added. "I would expect the progress to go pretty quickly if it goes like it has the last 24 hours."
The Ravens also lost a key player to injury on Sunday as Ray Rice left a 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns to a hip flexor strain in the fourth quarter.
Rice caught three passes and ran for 36 yards on 13 carries before leaving. He did not undergo an MRI on the injury, though, and Harbaugh said on Monday that he would probably rest Rice in practice this week and then see how he is on the weekend.
"That's the indication, that it's not anything that's really serious," said the Ravens coach. "They would be looking at it if they thought it was. So, we'll just be day-to-day with him."
Quarterback Joe Flacco was on the field Sunday despite his wife giving birth to the couple's second child hours earlier and helped the Ravens rally from a 6-0 halftime deficit. He threw for 211 yards, including a five-yard TD pass to wide receiver Marlon Brown in the fourth quarter.
He completed third-down passes of 16 and 18 yards on Baltimore's last scoring drive.
"Anytime you have a child, it's one of your best days," Flacco said afterwards. "The game didn't go exactly how we wanted it to, but that's how we've won football games around here. We're able to win like this, and sometimes you have to do it in an ugly way."
Following a 49-27 rout at the hands of Denver to begin the season, the Ravens avoided their first 0-2 start since 2005 under Brian Billick.
"We came into the locker room (at halftime), sat down and said we have to get it together and get this running game going. Because once the running game gets going, the passing game gets going," said Ravens back Bernard Pierce, who ran for a five-yard score in the third quarter.
"We took a deep breath, got it together and went back out there and made plays."
The Ravens won each of their first five regular-season games against the Texans franchise before Houston managed a 43-13 on Oct. 21 of last year. Foster ran for 98 yards and scored twice, while Schaub threw for 256 yards with a pair of touchdowns.
Flacco was held to 147 yards passing, was sacked four times and picked off twice.
The Ravens have won both of their regular-season games at home versus the Texans and also secured a victory over Houston in Baltimore during the playoffs on Jan 15, 2012 to end the Texans' first trip to the postseason.
Reed had a late interception in the game to help seal the win for the Ravens.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
After a decade of having Reed on their side, the Ravens for the first time will have to game plan around the star safety. Harbaugh said that will be difficult to do given that Reed has yet to play this season for the Texans.
"It's a little tougher because we haven't seen him on tape, so we really don't know how he fits in their defense. We'll have to fit him into their scheme, which in a lot of ways is similar to what we've done here. So, it shouldn't be too hard to figure out where he's going to be and just envision him out there playing the way he played for us all those years," noted Harbaugh.
Reed may not be the player he once was, but a return to Baltimore should add some extra energy to his legs, assuming he can get on the field.
"No, there's nothing specific I'm looking for," Kubiak said in regards to what it would take to declare Reed ready to play. "I think it's a combination of everybody looking for those explosive movements from the middle of the field to the sideline, breaking on the ball. Those type of things. To where it looks the way it has in the past and the way Ed knows it's supposed to look."
Reed had to feel bad for his former teammates after they were lit up by Denver's Peyton Manning in Week 1. Baltimore gave up seven touchdown passes to Manning and 510 yards in total to the Broncos offense, but held the less- talented Browns to 259 yards while keeping the club out of the end zone.
The Ravens were credited with five sacks versus Cleveland, getting one each from linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs and 1 1/2 from Daryl Smith.
"You know, you've got to have a short memory. You definitely don't want to give up 49 points every week," Suggs said. "First things first, get the win and you've got to protect your home. You win your home games and you've got a good chance of making the playoffs and doing some great things."
The Texans also managed to put together a solid effort on defense in Week 2, holding the Titans to 248 yards. Defensive end J.J. Watt and linebacker Brian Cushing both had two sacks after failing to get the quarterback in Week 1.
But the duo have an excellent skill set to get to the quarterback, so the Ravens will need to stick to their ground game regardless of Rice's health. That is fine with Harbaugh, who has no problem giving the ball to the 218- pound second-year back Pierce.
"We've had confidence in Bernard since, really, the day he got here and started practicing, because he showed what he's all about. He continues to get better," said Harbaugh, noting his improvement in pass protection.
"He's becoming a complete back, and we're just very fortunate to have him on our team."
The Texans also are leaning on a two-back system with Foster and Ben Tate, but may have found another weapon in the rookie Hopkins, a first-round pick out of Clemson.
"We've been seeing it from (Johnson) for years, so you kind of just start taking greatness for granted. And then for the young boy (Hopkins) to go in there -- we've been seeing it since he got here -- what kind of hands he has and he just continues to impress," noted Foster.
The Texans saw kicker Randy Bullock miss three field goals versus the Titans, including a potential game-winner late in the fourth. That 46-year-old miss came after he failed to convert on a pair of 50-yard tries.
While admitting that Bullock has got to make kicks late to win the game, he did offer confidence in the 23-year-old and said the offense needs to get him closer.
The Ravens have had their Texans' number since the latter joined the NFL, but the tide may be turning in this series. Baltimore has certainly looked like a team with a Super Bowl hangover as it adjusts to the offseason roster overhaul.
While the Texans have had to rally in back-to-back weeks, they have been scoring points. The Ravens may have some extra juice due to Lewis' presence and the home crowd behind them, but a hampered Rice alters the game plan of a club that isn't deep at receiver and is getting little production from the tight end spot.
Johnson's status is concerning for Schaub, but he has plenty of other options as he tries to beat the Ravens' rush.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texans 20, Ravens 17