Anquan Boldin had a look on his face in the second half of Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals that words could not possibly do justice. It might best be described as a mixture of desire, focus, self-confidence and rage.
And if you understand and appreciate the powerful role that emotion plays in professional football, it was — no exaggeration — beautiful.
Boldin caught seven passes for 145 yards in the Ravens stunning 30-27 comeback victory at M&T Bank Stadium in what was easily the best game he's played while wearing a Ravens jersey. But those numbers can't really put in proper context just how important he was in the win against Arizona, the team he spent seven seasons with before he was traded to Baltimore.
Baltimore's offense has been flat-lining of late, and in the second half on Sunday, Boldin might as well have been a human defibrillator.
He didn't just get open against Arizona's secondary, he brought the Ravens back to life by demanding the ball. He screamed for it, in fact, even when he wasn't open. When Joe Flacco threw it to him, he either caught it for a big gain or lured the Cardinals into committing a penalty. Of all the Ravens who had a hand in the biggest comeback in team history, it's fair to say that no one looked more furious, or more determined, to finish the job in the second half.
"I mean, some games are just like that," Boldin said when asked about the Ravens repeatedly targeting him. "That's one of the reasons I was brought here. There's a lot of times when you are covered. If a guy is on you, in this league, that's open. So Joe was able to put the ball in the right place, and I was able to make a play on it."
Boldin's assessment was probably a little modest. On the Ravens opening drive of the third quarter, he caught a 37-yard pass, then drew a pass interference penalty that set up a 1-yard Ray Rice touchdown that made it 27-13.
"Anquan made a couple catches, and I think in some ways it sparked everybody else," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "Then you saw Dennis [Pitta] make a couple of catches, and Ed [Dickson] make a catch or two. Once guys start making catches, and guys start getting the feeling that we can make plays, I think it really just helps everybody. Anquan was definitely the catalyst in the whole thing."
Later in the third quarter, Flacco seemed to realize Boldin could out-run or out-muscle his man — cornerback A.J. Jefferson — on pretty much every play, and the two hooked up on passes for 21, 23, 27 and 9 yards during an 88-yard drive. Boldin drew yet another pass interference penalty on Patrick Peterson, and the Ravens pulled within 24-20 on a second 1-yard TD run by Rice.
"They had his arm pinned down once or twice, and he still made catches," Harbaugh said. "It was Anquan that got us going from the jump."
Boldin, of course, shrugged off the suggestion that playing against his old team, the same team that didn't think he was worthy of a big contract extension, had anything to do with the way he played.
"For me, it doesn't matter," Boldin said. "I'm a Raven."
Perhaps understandably, no member of the Ravens seemed more appreciative of Boldin's effort against the Cardinals than offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. After the Ravens' dismal offensive showing against the Jaguars, Cameron spent a week getting flogged by both fans and the media. Standing in the locker room after the game, Cameron looked a lot like someone had removed (at least for now) a fleet of pianos from his back.
"Anquan Boldin is a star," Cameron said. "He always has been. I think you saw a lot of trust between Joe and Anquan today. You see the growth between them. 'Q' is an amazing guy on game day. I love him. He's such a team guy. He wants the ball, but he's a team guy, and that's a big part of our game."
Boldin isn't very big on showboating. He's such a intense competitor, it's rare to see him do anything after a catch other than flip the ball to the referee and jog back to the huddle for the next play. But he couldn't resist making a fist and pounding his chest a few times during the Ravens comeback. It was almost as if he was reminding his teammates, and the rest of the football world, that his team still had a heartbeat.
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