'He can cover anything in the planet'

OWINGS MILLS -- The adage about water covering the majority of the earth and Baltimore Ravens star free safety Ed Reed patrolling the remaining third is an obvious exaggeration.

It only seems like Reed is bouncing around from continent to continent with how he terrorizes quarterbacks with an uncanny ability to react and intercept the football, a penchant built through instincts, intelligence and countless hours of film study.

As Baltimore (12-5) prepares for Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game against the Tennessee Titans (13-3) at LP Field, Reed's impact continues to dominate conversation at the Ravens' training complex and occupies the thoughts of Tennessee quarterback Kerry Collins.

Although Reed was snubbed by a nationwide media panel when he finished third in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year balloting behind Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and Dallas Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware, his teammates remain convinced that he's the top defender in the league.

"We know who the NFL Defensive Player of the Year is, it's got to be Ed Reed," cornerback Fabian Washington said. "The dude is amazing. He can cover anything in the planet. If it's in the air, he's going to get it. He can play the ball from sideline to sideline. If there's a better player out there, I need to see him."

Reed transformed the Ravens' initially taut wild-card game against the Miami Dolphins into a 27-9 blowout victory with his momentum-grabbing 64-yard interception return for a touchdown where he zigzagged across the field after making a Willie Mays style over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series. Reed is the Ravens' incarnation of the Say-Hey Kid.

And Reed's versatility as a centerfielder with nine interceptions to lead the NFL in the regular season and two more against the Dolphins has been remarkable, scoring four touchdowns this season and a dozen for his career. The Ravens are 27-8 when Reed intercepts a pass.

"It's just natural at this point," Reed said. "You want to score. We talk about it in defense, we do it in practice. The secret? If I tell you, I'd have to kill you. It's just doing my job."

Doing his job has involved playing through a painful nerve impingement of his neck and shoulder that endangered his season during training camp and a chronically sore hamstring.

Yet, Reed has done more than persevere. He has thrived to the tune of 10 interceptions in the past seven games to go with 40 tackles, 14 pass deflections, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.

"The challenge dealing with Reed is simply to know where he is and to understand that," Titans coach Jeff Fisher told Baltimore reporters in a conference call. "You saw him on Sunday. You may get the sense that they're all-out blitzing to one side and you've got a home run and you throw it and he's over the top. When in doubt, don't put it up down the field late because Ed's probably going to make a play."

Former Ravens teammate Deion Sanders called it the height of folly to even consider throwing the football in Reed's direction.

"Why would you throw the ball up like that when you know Ed Reed is in the middle of the field?" Sanders said while marveling over Reed's big plays during an NFL Network appearance.

Collins is understandably wary of going after Reed after watching Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington be victimized for four interceptions last weekend. Pennington had thrown just seven interceptions during the regular season, a feat of caution matched by Collins, who has a stronger arm than his Miami counterpart.

"Ed Reed is doing what he's done his whole career: find the ball," Collins said. "He's extremely smart. He studies. He knows your tendencies and plays to them. You've always got to know where he is."

Added Fisher: "There's not a whole lot you need to say to Kerry Collins other than don't throw it to Ed Reed."

Reed, though, is capable of baiting quarterbacks into believing it's safe to throw the football in his area.

During his second interception against Miami, Reed read Pennington's eyes and made an incredible break on the football to halt a drive.

"He's up 20-3 and then he totally leaves his spot and shows up in a place you would never imagine him being in," Pennington said. "That's why he's so special."

Reed has done it while enduring the pain of his injuries, especially the nerve problems, but has managed to start every game.

"It's still there," Reed said "It's still not gone."

Despite his physical limitations that have kept him from playing an expanded role in run support or as a blitzer, Reed has eased his teammates' workload. The respect he's paid by opposing quarterbacks has paid major dividends for cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Washington and strong safety Jim Leonhard.

"He makes my job a lot easier," Washington said. "We know the quarterback isn't going to throw anywhere near him. If he's on your side, then the quarterback is going to try to look him off and not go that way. If he's in the middle of the field, they're not going to throw a post route because he's going to step in front of it."

Reed's memory of opponents' patterns, audibles and favorite plays regularly comes into play on the field, his reward for time spent in darkened film rooms.

"When he sees something on film and then it comes in the game, he remembers and goes and makes the play," Rolle said.

Reed isn't necessarily confining his athletic ability strictly to the gridiron. He played baseball growing up in Louisiana and wouldn't mind reprising his outfielder skills on the baseball diamond one day a la Bo Jackson.

"I'd like to give baseball a try," Reed said.

When asked if he would try to follow in the footsteps of Michael Jordan, who unsuccessfully tried to take up the sport in the minor leagues, Reed replied: "Hopefully, not the minors, man. I'm a professional player right now. Not that I'd be better than Mike, but with a little practice I could be effective in the outfield, steal bases, pinch hit."

It's hard to doubt Reed at this point. Not with his 43 career regular-season interceptions, and five more in three playoff games, 26.6 return average that ranks first in the NFL and 1,144 interception return yards. No player since Reed was drafted in 2002 has eclipsed those figures.

The Ravens led the NFL with 26 interceptions in the regular season and rank second in pass defense.

"Ed is the man and the best football player in the world, but the rest of the NFL knows we have a very talented secondary," Washington said. "Other than Ed, we just don't have the household names."

His teammates' respect means a lot more to him than not being recognized as the top defensive player, an award he claimed in 2004. He's rather win a Super Bowl than fill up a trophy case with individual accomplishments.

"There's no disappointment," Reed said. "It's so politics now. You just play the game. You have fun. You can't worry about the accolades and the trophies. If you like trophies, there's a trophy store down the street. You can buy one."

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