His offseason started last winter with a hint of retirement. By summer, he was diplomatically campaigning on radio for a pay raise. In the spring, he underwent invasive hip surgery.
Staying ahead of Ed Reed is a difficult proposition at any time, but over the past year, it's been impossible to predict what the Ravens' Pro Bowl safety would do next. Or in Sunday's AFC wild-card game against the Kansas City Chiefs.
In his first game back after missing six weeks on the NFL's physically-unable-to-perform list because of the surgery, he had two interceptions and caused a fumble. In the last two games, he picked off four passes and knocked down five.
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The fact he led the league with eight interceptions while playing only 10 games is just another line in his Hall of Fame resume. That he also led the team with 16 passes defensed this season is no less impressive.
For nine seasons, Reed, 32, has been one of the NFL's biggest play-makers and game-changers, a player with the exquisite ability to turn a game completely around and make it his with one acrobatic interception or one thunderous hit.
In the mind of Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, that pantheon of game-changers includes Ronnie Lott, Reggie White, Michael Haynes, Deion Sanders, Rod Woodson and, from today's game, Charles Woodson. What, Newsome was asked, is the common denominator between those players?
"Instinct which is above the norm of NFL players," Newsome said. "They just have a sense of getting themselves in a position to make the play – and then making the play."
Two weeks ago in Cleveland, Reed did what he always does. When the Browns lined up for one play, he alerted cornerback Lardarius Webb that the formation indicated a quick out to Mohamed Massaquoi and told Webb to jump the route. When Massaquoi ran a double-move to get by Webb, Reed was in the right position to intercept the pass.
He always is, it seems.
Last week against Cincinnati, Reed snuffed a Bengals' red-zone opportunity when he intercepted Carson Palmer on a tipped pass over the middle for Jordan Shipley. Reed was covering another receiver, recognized the play and reacted quickly to the tip. A shoe-string catch 6 yards deep in the end zone became a 44-yard return to the Ravens' 38.
"He just does a great job where he feels what's going on around him," said secondary coach Chuck Pagano, who helped recruit Reed out of Destrehan High in St. Rose, La., to the University of Miami. "And he gets great jumps on the ball. And then his athleticism and his range and all those other things take over from there."
Reed has a franchise-high 54 career interceptions for the Ravens and 13 career touchdowns. He is the only player in NFL history to score return touchdowns off a punt, blocked punt, interception and fumble recovery. He had an NFL-record 107-yard interception return for a touchdown against Philadelphia in 2008, and a 106-yard TD return against the Browns – and Pagano – in 2004.
His penchant for big plays started in Miami, where Reed had 21 interceptions and four blocked punts.
"What Ed is doing now is what he did at Miami," Newsome said. "You had to watch a lot of tape, but anytime there was a game-changing play that needed to be made, Ed Reed made it. That's what attracted us to him. Because you could watch two or three games, and he's just Ed Reed in the middle of the field, doing his job.
"But when you could see, probably in his senior year, four or five times that 'Ed Reed just made another play.' So what he's doing didn't start here in Baltimore. It happened at Miami, and it probably happened while he was at high school, too."
Apparently not everyone got the message. Reed fell like a shooting star to the Ravens with the 24th in the 2002 draft. While his explosive plays no longer surprise Pagano, they are still a treat for defensive coordinator Greg Mattison.
"Every time I watch him on the game tapes afterward, you just say, 'Wow, you're fortunate to be around a guy like this.' Some of the plays he makes and where he is when big plays happen, that's a special person. That's something that will probably come around once in a lifetime – guys like that."
The ability to anticipate and react to mere formations comes from endless hours studying countless tapes. Reed, like fellow Hurricane alum Ray Lewis, devotes "a couple hours" nightly to watching tape of the opposing team.
"He's always had the athletic ability and the play-making ability," Pagano said. "He's always been very, very passionate about whatever sport he was playing. He's a great competitor. And I think the thing that separates him now is his wisdom and knowledge and what he's gained through playing all these years in the NFL. He's a diligent guy when it comes to film study and preparation. I say I don't get surprised over the plays he makes because of the time he puts in, so he's always one step ahead."
To his teammates, Reed is down-to-earth and approachable. Third-year safety Haruki Nakamura worried when he was drafted in 2008 whether he would be able to communicate with Reed or Lewis, the Ravens' two future Hall of Fame players.
Both players were receptive, though, and because of his position, Nakamura got a lot of help from Reed. What particularly impressed Nakamura was Reed's love for the game.
The funny thing is, he said last year he said thinking about retiring," Nakamura said. "I'm at home and I see the interview on TV and I start laughing. I was like, 'I'll put my bottom dollar that he's going to end up at the [team's] facility next year.' That was one of those emotional [statements] after a game. … He's a very passionate guy. He loves the game and he'll be playing football."
Reed was stung by the playoff loss in Indianapolis to the Colts last year when he hinted at retirement. His request for a pay hike went nowhere, and it wasn't until April that he finally had surgery on his hip.
This season, as well as he has played, it's been obvious that Reed also is playing in pain. His latest injury was to his ribs after one of his interceptions Sunday.
"I'm trying not to let it stop me, but it's painful just dealing with it," Reed said this week. "We'll rehab up until this Sunday."
There are no doubts Reed will play against the Chiefs, such is his commitment to his teammates.
"He has a mental toughness about him to go along with who he is," Newsome said. "He has a high pain threshold. I can say this: Ed has an acute awareness of what's around him. I don't think anyone can ever sneak up on Ed Reed – in any circumstances.
"That's a rare gift when people have that. Ray has that sense of awareness, and that provides for longevity, too, because it helps you avoid that unexpected injury of that unexpected hit."Click here to order Ed Reed’s proCane Rookie Card.