By Joe Platania
Remember how strange it seemed to have three former Tennessee Titans on the Ravens' roster?
Remember reminiscing about the battles Ray Lewis and the rest of the defense had against Steve McNair and Derrick Mason? Remember how tough it seemed to throw against Samari Rolle?
These days, those names and players are part of the fabric of daily life surrounding the Ravens.
McNair's various injuries have again become water cooler fodder, like Rolle's up-and-down 2006 season and this season's illness. But just as McNair and Rolle have become ensconced in the Ravens' ways, Mason may have a permanent place in the team's record book.
Wide receiver Derrick Mason leads the league with 56 receptions for 529 yards and two touchdowns.
Since arriving in Baltimore as an unrestricted free agent in 2005, the same year as Rolle, Mason has managed to catch 210 passes in a mostly moribund, run-first environment.
That total, which includes Mason's team-high 56 receptions this season, has him sitting at second on the team's all-time list.
Tight end Todd Heap leads with 335, but both he and Mason have had injury-plagued seasons so far. Mason, who led the team with seven catches for 78 yards and a touchdown last Sunday against the Bills, has had ankle and stomach ailments in the past few weeks. And the Ravens' pass offense this year has also been hamstrung.
"What everybody has to realize is, you just can't throw the ball down the field just for the sake of throwing the ball down the field," Mason said after Baltimore's Week 6 game against St. Louis. "The [Rams] defense dictated what we should do as an offense. We got a lot of press coverage. But we have enough guys that can get off the line of scrimmage and make plays down the field."
Despite his new role coming mostly out of the slot, Mason, who leads the NFL in receptions, still sees himself as more than just a third-down receiver.
"Most of my catches [against the Rams] were in base offense," Mason said. "So my thing is, I'm going to do what I have to do. You can't just concentrate on me, you've got to concentrate on [Mark] Clayton and [Demetrius] Williams and Todd. We've got enough quickness to make those plays down the field."
Mason showed that on what turned out to be the biggest play in the 22-3 win over the winless St. Louis Rams at M&T Bank Stadium. His 28-yard catch and run midway through the second quarter helped set up the team's first offensive touchdown in 18 series (121 plays).
Running his usual curl route from the slot, Mason got the Rams' Fakhir Brown turned around so badly that he fell down. With an opening he rarely seems to get, Mason turned the short pass into a long gain to the Rams' 36-yard line on a third-and-10 play.
Four plays later, following a St. Louis pass interference penalty, running back Willis McGahee swept around left end and scored the much-needed touchdown.
"We got in twice, but we had a penalty," Mason said. "So, we did a good job. We would've had two in the red zone, but we came out with the victory. And that's all I care about. ... Everything else is correctable and fixable."
That's true, considering how Mason is now fixed as a Raven in the minds of most.
Issue 2.43: October 25, 2007