— Standing in the Houston Texans' backfield with his arms raised toward the sky, Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs celebrated after slamming quarterback Matt Schaub to the ground.
It was the exclamation point of Suggs' surprisingly speedy return from a partially torn right Achilles tendon suffered in late April during the weekend of the NFL draft.
Although the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year wasn't happy with the Ravens' 43-13 debacle of a loss to the Texans on Sunday at Reliant Stadium, Suggs did serve notice that he has recovered from a serious injury initially expected to sideline him until much later in the season.
"It's not the start I wanted," said Suggs, who started and played more than half of the Ravens' 76 defensive snaps. "Of course, I wanted to come back for a win. I had to come back against a good team because we all know how important those games in November and December are, and I didn't want to be still knocking the rust off when it comes down the stretch to those big games.
"I had to go against a team that was going to challenge me the most, and that was Houston. When you step in the shower, you're going to get wet, and it rained. Down the stretch, there's no excuse. I don't want to hear none of that come November, December. I want to be all of Terrell Suggs for them."
Even after grappling with Texans offensive tackle Duane Brown off and on for four quarters on a surgically repaired tendon, Suggs emerged unscathed.
Besides bolting through a gap in the first quarter to sack Schaub for an 8-yard loss, Suggs contributed four tackles, two quarterback hits and a pass deflection in his first game of the year.
"He's a great player," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "Him being out there trying to help us win meant a lot to the defense. We played with a lot of emotion."
Playing well over his usual playing weight of 260 pounds, Suggs' stamina wasn't his strong suit. However, he did display a burst of quickness and was able to physically set the edge when the Texans ran directly at him.
"Sometimes it seemed like it was holding up, sometimes it seemed like it just wasn't quite there yet on different plays," Suggs said. "We're just feeling it out. I walked on, I walked off. I know a lot of people's questions was whether or not I was rushing back. I don't think I rushed back."
Suggs played roughly 30 snaps in the first half while dividing playing time with Courtney Upshaw, Paul Kruger and Albert McClellan. He remained in the game after halftime but played more sparingly.
It was a bigger workload than even coach John Harbaugh had anticipated for the five-time Pro Bowl pass rusher considering that Suggs only returned to practice Wednesday and was activated Saturday from the reserve/non-football injury list.
"It looked to me like he played really well," Harbaugh said. "He was probably in surprisingly good football shape for as little football as he's played. He's going to be a plus for us, and he's only going to get better. I didn't think he'd play a full game.
"I don't know exactly what the numbers were, but we were on the field a lot on defense so it must have been a good number of plays. We weren't keeping track. The plan was not to give him a pitch count. The plan was to take it one series at a time, three to four plays at a time, and see how he held up."
Suggs underwent surgery on May 8 with Charlotte, N.C., specialist Dr. Robert Anderson performing the procedure.
The defensive standout's presence did catch some of his teammates off guard.
"Pretty surprised," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Obviously, I'm not him, but I would have said, 'OK, we have a bye [next week]. Let's just sit him out for another one.' Pretty impressive obviously that he was able to get back that quick. I didn't think there was any way it was possibly going to happen."
Yet it did, and it wasn't a sluggish performance.
"I have to tip my hat off to him," said Brown, one of the top left tackles in the game. "It's amazing to see a guy bounce back from an injury like that so quickly. He looked like he didn't miss a beat. He's still quick, strong, fast and still very instinctive. That was a heck of an effort to get back from an injury like that."
Hours before kickoff, Suggs jogged around the field and did agility drills under the watchful eyes of Harbaugh, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and head athletic trainer Mark Smith. He was able to convince them that it was safe for him to get back on the field.
Outspoken with a colorful personality, Suggs' swaggering return immediately raised the decibel level around the defending AFC North champions.
"First way you know he's here is when you hear him in the locker room," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "He's the loudest person everywhere he goes, so we're definitely happy to have him back and to see him make some plays even though he's still working back."
Ranked third in the NFL in total defense last season when Suggs registered a career-high 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles, the Ravens were 26th in total defense heading into Sunday.
They're also without middle linebacker Ray Lewis (torn triceps) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (torn anterior cruciate ligament) after both players had surgery last week.
"That guy is a force," free safety Ed Reed said of Suggs. "For us to lose Lardarius and Ray and have that guy come back is huge."
Now, the Ravens are banking on Suggs providing confidence and leadership for a reeling defense that allowed 420 yards and 27 first downs Sunday.
"I was happy for him, he was disrupting some things," cornerback Cary Williams said. "As the year progresses, he's going to get better and he'll get back into rare form. I don't think we lost any swagger on the field, but Suggs brings his own unique personality. It's great for the secondary to see him out there being productive. He's become a premier leader on the team."
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