The Ravens stamped themselves as a contender in this year's playoff race yesterday with another historic run by Ed Reed.
The Pro Bowl free safety broke his NFL record with an 108-yard interception return for a touchdown, highlighting the Ravens' 36-7 rout of the Philadelphia Eagles before 71,379 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Reed's runback in the fourth quarter eclipsed his previous record -- 106 yards in November 2004 -- and gave the Ravens a platform to declare themselves a major contender in the AFC postseason hunt.
"We're on a mission," said Reed, whose two interceptions contributed to the Ravens' season-best five take-aways. "It's to get to the next level and the playoffs. I'm not satisfied until we get to the Super Bowl and win it."
The Ravens (7-4) won for the fifth time in six games and kept themselves within one game of the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3).
But the statement wasn't that the Ravens beat the Eagles (5-5-1). It was how they beat them.
In the first half, the defense hammered the Eagles so hard that quarterback Donovan McNabb was benched. In the fourth quarter, the Ravens delivered 24 points that caused the rest of the Eagles to call it quits.
No play in the fourth quarter was bigger than Reed's dramatic return.
With the Ravens ahead 22-7, Reed picked off Philadelphia backup quarterback Kevin Kolb in the end zone and immediately broke up the sideline.
Reed made his first cutback to sidestep Kolb and then pushed running back Brian Westbrook off to the side. He eluded a diving tackle by lineman Todd Herremans, leaving one more Eagle to beat.
After faking out tight end Brent Celek at the Philadelphia 20-yard line, Reed jaunted the rest of the way for his 10th career touchdown.
"I might be a little biased, [but] he's one of the greatest football players I've seen," linebacker Ray Lewis said of Reed.
The most intriguing part of the record-setting run came before Reed touched the ball.
Philadelphia had second-and-goal at the Ravens' 1-yard line, which seemed to suggest the Eagles would run the ball. But backup safety Haruki Nakamura pointed out to Reed that wide receiver Reggie Brown, instead of a tight end, was lining up at the end of the line, tipping Philadelphia's hand that a pass was coming.
Remaining patient, Reed kept his eye on Brown running his route before running in front of him to make his 37th career interception, tops in team history.
"The quarterback never even saw me come from behind," said Reed, who ended an eight-game interception drought (the second-longest of his seven-year career).
The touchdown offered some redemption for Reed.
In the second quarter, Reed intercepted McNabb and ran 43 yards to the Philadelphia 6, where he surprisingly tried to flip the ball to cornerback Samari Rolle in a crowd.
Reed's lateral was ruled an illegal forward pass, a penalty that was offset by a personal foul on Eagles lineman Jon Runyan. Three plays later, the Ravens converted Reed's interception into a touchdown when Daniel Wilcox made a one-handed catch in the end zone to put the Ravens up 10-0.
"It was a terrible pitch," Reed said. "I usually don't lateral the ball that bad."
Asked whether coach John Harbaugh had to talk to Reed about his mistake, Reed said: "I kind of went up to him and said, 'My bad.' In certain situations, you're supposed to have the ball tucked."
Instead of criticizing Reed, Harbaugh only applauded him after the game and pointed out how Reed affected the victory even more.
In the third quarter, Reed lined up over the slot on the punt team, which drew the attention of the Eagles' blocking to the outside. That opened a clear path for Jameel McClain, who ran unblocked up the middle to block the punt and record a safety.
So, Reed played a role in 16 points being scored (the touchdown the Ravens scored after his first interception, the safety and his interception return for a touchdown).
"I don't know if a guy could play a better football game," Harbaugh said.
Reed's performance is underscored by the fact that he could have decided not to play this season. He has been limited since training camp with a nerve impingement in his neck and left shoulder.
"My doctor told me an average guy wouldn't be playing right now," Reed said.
Reed, though, isn't focused on his injury. He has his sights set on returning to the playoffs and winning his first postseason game.
The Ravens' final five regular-season games are against the Cincinnati Bengals (1-9-1), Washington Redskins (7-4), Steelers, Dallas Cowboys (7-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7).
"It's going to be a tough road ahead," Reed said. "We've got an uphill battle."
Big play Ed
Some of Ed Reed's biggest plays as a Raven:
Returned interception 108 yards against the Eagles to break his NFL record and seal the victory.
Took handoff from cornerback Samari Rolle after an interception to race 25 yards for the score.
Returned interception 106 yards against the Cleveland Browns to set an NFL record for longest interception return.
Had a sack, forced fumble and fumble return for a touchdown on same play against the Washington Redskins.
Intercepted two passes against Browns, returned one 53 yards for a TD.
AFC playoff picture