Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron
September 27, 2012
Maybe embattled Ravens cornerback Cary Williams shouldn't be benched just yet.
I'm not going to sit here and try to convince you that one interception of a rookie quarterback -- one who has thrown several of them now -- that was returned for a touchdown should be enough for you to place your faith back in Cary Williams, who has been clinging to his starting spot ever since he earned it last summer. Williams has been picked on all season -- that's what happens when the alternative is attacking stick-to-you-like-glue cornerback Lardarius Webb -- and his struggles to get his head around and knock down the football were glaring in Sunday night's win over Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Brady targeted Williams 12 times and completed eight passes. Entering Thursday's game, Williams had been targeted 26 times, according to Pro Football Focus, which was tied for the fourth most in the NFL. Even Brandon Weeden beat him for a couple of completions, including a 43-yard gain, before Williams made the play that Ravens coach John Harbaugh said was the difference in the 23-16 victory.
The Ravens couldn't seem to put away the Browns, a winless AFC North rival that was trying to make a memorable impression on a nationally televised showcase game. After falling behind 9-0 in the second quarter, the Browns scratched and clawed their way back into the game, and with the third quarter nearing its end, they crossed midfield trailing by just six points. It was 3rd-and-5, so who else was Weeden going to try to exploit? As rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin ran an out route to his left, Weeden locked in on him and swung a pass out to him. Williams pounced on it and outraced Webb as he went 63 yards to the end zone to put the Ravens up, 23-10. The embattled cornerback later said that getting the first interception of his career was "a surreal feeling," like he couldn't feel the ball in his hands as made the play of the game.
"[The team has] always been there for me, and they're going to continue to be there for me regardless of whether I have a good game or a bad game," Williams said. "It's hard to play at a high level each and every week. Sometimes you're going to get balls caught on you. What you've got to do is bounce back."
His teammates and his coach said they are proud of him for doing just that, and even though Harbaugh said that "he wasn't under heat in our building" this week, Williams might not have the tightest grasp on his starting spot. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees admitted Tuesday that there was some consideration given to starting second-year cornerback Jimmy Smith against the Browns, though it might have just been coach-speak. Smith, a 2011 first-round draft pick, is eventually going to be asked to sink or swim out on an island full-time. But Smith, who has played more than half of the team's defensive snaps in 2012, hasn't done enough to supplant Williams, which is equally as surprising as it is disappointing. Smith may one day live up to his draft status, but since he hasn't yet, Williams will continue to be in there. He has the size and talent to be successful in this league, and he showed a flash of it against the Browns on Thursday night. Maybe this will be a turning point for the 27-year-old's season. Or maybe it was just a fluke -- a bad decision by a quarterback with four NFL games under his belt. If quarterbacks are still abusing him a couple of weeks from now, then it might be time to take the plunge with Smith.