Suggs' status up in the air for title tilt

OWINGS MILLS -- Speaking in a soft voice barely above a whisper and wearing a sad look on his face with a sling supporting his right arm, Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs cast serious doubt regarding his status for Sunday's AFC title game.

Due to a damaged right shoulder that he injured against the Tennessee Titans, Suggs hasn't practiced all week and is expected to be a game-time decision against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If Suggs manages to play, he might need to wear a special harness to hold the shoulder in place.

"I'm doing whatever I can, I have never missed a game here," said Suggs, who has appeared in 96 consecutive regular-season games. "So, I definitely don't want to start with the AFC championship. I really can't honestly answer the question for you. Come Sunday, we'll see. .. It's really painful."

Unlike his usual jovial interview style where topics involving alleged bounties on wide receiver Hines Ward or the rivalry with the hated Steelers would likely have dominated the conversation, a downcast Suggs was much more serious than usual and never cracked a smile. He almost seemed like he was on the verge of tears.

"This game is bigger than all that nonsense," Suggs said Thursday. "This game is 10 times bigger than cheap shots and playing with an injury or not playing with an injury. This game is that important. It's so important that I would consider sitting out to win it."

However, it's uncertain how bad Suggs' shoulder actually is considering the ever-changing story surrounding the injury.

Days after vowing that he would play against the Steelers during postgame interviews in Nashville, Tenn., last Saturday, Suggs began expressing pessimism about his outlook.

He wasn't seen wearing a sling Wednesday and seemed to be in pain while taking off his shirt with his left arm even though his right arm remained immobile. He wore the sling Thursday for his group interview, but wasn't wearing it when he left the practice field earlier that day. Could Suggs be sandbagging about the extent of the injury? Could Suggs, an enthusiastic movie buff who regularly plays the latest DVDs on the television at his locker, have been performing for the cameras on his own whim or someone else's suggestion?

It's not uncommon for NFL teams to go to great lengths to try to create confusion through the media on whether a star player is healthy enough to play. This would be a somewhat elaborate ruse.

Suggs was vague when describing the injury, which is believed to be at least a partially dislocated shoulder. He didn't detail the results of his magnetic resonance imaging exam.

"I can't remember," Suggs said. "I was so distraught when they told me. It's not good. It could be major ligament damage. We just have to wait and see."

Suggs admitted that there's a risk of doing further damage to the shoulder. "It's a big chance that it could get worse especially if it's a smash-mouth game," he said. "We're not playing the Colts, we're not playing a finesse team here. It's going to be a physical game and they said, 'There's a chance you could aggravate it more than it already is.'"

Suggs injured his shoulder sacking Titans quarterback Kerry Collins. He awkwardly popped out his shoulder in the second quarter of the Ravens' 13-10 win, but didn't return.

"It's the freakiest thing I've ever seen," Suggs said. "I looked at the play, and it didn't look like anything tragic happened. I just knew I couldn't do anything with it. I missed that game, but, hopefully, I can play for this one."

Suggs said he doesn't know if he'll need to have surgery to repair the shoulder during the offseason. And he said he was optimistic about Sunday until he saw his MRI results.

"I was like, 'Oh yeah, it's just a little bruise, it's not going to hurt come Wednesday,'" Suggs said. "Then, we got the MRI and it said something different. I messed it up."

If Suggs is sidelined, the Ravens will be missing a key component of the defense. He leads the team with eight sacks, registered a career-high 102 tackles and returned two interceptions for touchdowns. It would take a committee approach to replace Suggs, including young linebackers Edgar Jones and Jameel McClain and reserve defensive end Marques Douglas.

"If I feel like me being out there will hinder us and that we would be playing with 10, then the decision is obvious: I can't go," Suggs said. "I can possibly hurt my team by playing. If I'm not ready, then don't throw me out there."

Of course, if Suggs is able to play, there's no guarantee that his shoulder will hold up. As he noted, he won't know until the initial hit how it's going to feel.

When asked if using a harness would allow him to play, Suggs replied: "I don't know, I don't know what kind of device they can have for me. I'm not a doctor. If they're got something that can magically stop me from using my shoulder to tackle somebody then.."

The Ravens would like to have Suggs on the field even at less than his normal capabilities.

"If he's close to being healthy, being 100 percent, and that might be 50, we'll take him," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "It's funny because you see his personality, the kind of young man he is, and maybe you don't think there's a serious side to him.

"On Sundays, he's all business. In the NFL, durability is probably as important as athletic ability. He's got both of those traits."

Nonetheless, Suggs' teammates are expecting him to be in the lineup.

"Oh yeah, of course," free safety Ed Reed said. "You would have to strap him down."

Added Ward: "Suggs, he's a talent. Next to Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, he's really their heart and soul. He's the one who gets guys going. He's got a constant motor and just doesn't stop. I'll be anything he's going to be on the field. There's no way he can miss this game."

Months after dealing with the fallout of his comments about bounties on Ward and rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall by backing off those remarks after being admonished by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and vice president of football operations Ray Anderson, Suggs found himself reluctantly discussing the first major injury of his career.

"I didn't even want to come talk to you guys," Suggs said. "This is the first time I've really been injured. Everybody plays hurt, anybody can play hurt, but there's a good chance I possibly won't even get to line up and play for the championship with my team. Not ever missing a game in the past and to make this my first one, it's not really something I'm going to be happy about."

Notebook: Heap making most of opportunities

Rolle a major question mark for Sunday, fans asked to not greet team at BWI or Ravens' training complex

By Aaron Wilson

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap has never caught this few passes when he has made it through an entire season without a serious injury.

The Ravens' all-time leading receiver has primarily been a blocker for new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, catching just 35 passes for 403 yards and three touchdowns in 16 games. Yet, he never complained even when his body language made it fairly obvious that he wasn't completely happy with his complementary role in the passing game.

Perhaps none of Heap's receptions have been more valuable than when he leapt to secure a 23-yard catch for a critical first down that set up Matt Stover's game-winning field goal in a 13-10 AFC divisional playoff win over the Tennessee Titans.

"It came at a point when we needed it," Heap said. "That was the biggest thing for me. As a team, we're doing the things we want to do and now we're in the AFC championship game. I can't be too worried about myself right now."

Heap has been ailing with a sore back for nearly a month, an injury that caused concern among teammates. Regardless, the former Pro Bowl selection has endured the pain and made a valuable contribution.

"The last few weeks I've played through quite a bit of pain, and it's all been worth it to get to this point," Heap said. "It's been progressively getting better, which is good, and I'll be ready to go again this week."

RYAN IN DEMAND: Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan can accept a head-coaching offer as soon as the Ravens' season is over.

He's regarded as the frontrunner for the New York Jets' vacancy and is also considered a strong candidate for the St. Louis Rams' opening. However, Ryan is hoping that it will be at least a few more weeks before he's possibly entertaining a formal offer after interviewing with the Jets and Rams last Sunday.

"I'm excited about the interviews and things like that, but again, I'm excited about coaching right now," Ryan said. "Hopefully, if the thing goes on, if there is another day to interview or whatever next week, that would be great. But I just want to get to a Super Bowl and help coach this team."

TRAINING ROOM: Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson (calf) and fullback Le'Ron McClain (ankle) returned to practice on a limited basis.

"The ankle is doing good," McClain said. "I got a little bit more work today, so I'll see how it feels in the morning."

Linebacker Terrell Suggs (right shoulder strain), defensive tackle Justin Bannan (foot), wide receiver Mark Clayton (thigh), cornerback Samari Rolle (groin/hamstring) and wide receiver Derrick Mason (knee/dislocated left shoulder) didn't practice for the second consecutive day. There's growing concern that Rolle may miss this game.

When asked how big a loss it would be if Rolle is out, free safety Ed Reed replied: "Huge. From experience, to knowing the game plan, to making plays, we definitely will miss Samari. That's also one thing that's been huge this year, that guys step up. We expect them to attack guys that haven't been in there. I would if I was playing against it. If it happens, but that's why other guys get paid."

Heap (back), Reed (knee/nerve impingement), middle linebacker Ray Lewis (shoulder) and fullback Lorenzo Neal (shoulder) were limited.

Meanwhile, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was upgraded to full participation in practice with a calf strain. Center Justin Hartwig (ankle) worked out on a limited basis after missing practice Wednesday.

CHANGE OF PLANS: Following wins over the Miami Dolphins and Titans, the Ravens were greeted by hundreds of enthusiastic fans at BWI Airport and their training complex. Because of safety issues and a request by airport authorities and Baltimore County police, the team will now board buses on the tarmac Sunday before heading to Owings Mills Mall instead of going through the airport terminal after its private charter flight touches down.

The mall is nearly a mile from team headquarters and team officials requested that fans gather outside of Boscov's, which will serve as a welcoming area for the team.

The buses are expected to arrive at the mall between 12:30 and 1 a.m. Fans will not be allowed to gather at the Ravens' offices.

QUICK HITS: With so much attention being paid to the impending free agent status of Lewis, Bart Scott and Suggs, there has been little discussion about the fact that center Jason Brown is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent after the season. "My stock with the Ravens, the best way that I can keep my stock up, is playing well out there on the football field," Brown said. "And that's all I'm focused on right now." ... Ryan couldn't resist thumbing his nose at the analysts who noted that Baltimore was on pace to allow 144 yards to Titans rookie running back Chris Johnson before he injured his ankle and left the game at halftime with 72 yards on 11 carries. "I read all the experts say we would have given up 150 yards to the running back from Tennessee," Ryan said. "Remember, he never finished the game for some reason. Whatever that reason is, they can cry all they want. Who cares? We're here. We're still playing, and they can watch us." ... Ryan praised Lewis, a two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. "Trust me, it's a heck of a lot more about Ray than it is about me," he said. "He's such a student of the game. If you really want to be great, you'll study the tapes and all that yourself. Ray probably puts in as many hours as most coaches do." ... The Ravens have been preparing diligently for anticipated cold weather in Pittsburgh on Sunday. "That started way back in the spring when we practiced outside in the rain," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We go outside when it's cold. We're trying to build an offense that is weatherproof and condition proof." ... The Ravens would like to get some snaps for rookie running back Ray Rice despite the rust factor caused by missing four games with a left shin contusion. "We haven't seen him in a while because he hasn't been healthy," Cameron said. "But we think he's an outstanding football player. He's smart. He's tough. Little more quickness in some areas than some guys. We're going to need him in this game. There's no doubt about it. He 's probably the healthiest guy we have."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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