Third Down Performance, Mark Clayton

Mark Clayton is no Chad Johnson when it comes to talking, but the soft-spoken receiver certainly lets his play speak for itself. And with all the attention focused on Cincinnati’s Ocho Cinco, somebody forgot to cover Ocho Nueve – especially on third down.

Clayton led all receivers with 8 catches for 73 yards, while Johnson only managed 4 for 32. Numbers aside, however, No. 89 was able to come up with tough grabs in big situations.

Though the second-year receiver never made it into the end zone himself, he was able to sustain drive after drive, enabling the Ravens to jump out to a quick lead and maintain it just long enough for a 26-20 victory over the Bengals.

“It was just executing,” said Clayton. “On third down we just need to make the plays to keep the drive going and we were able to do that”

Clayton has been clutch all year when it comes to third down, but he was particularly impressive today. Five of his eight receptions went for first downs, including three that came in third-down situations.

On Baltimore’s opening possession, the Ravens were faced with a third-and-6 at the Bengals’ 15-yard line. Clayton slipped into an opening across the middle and was able to snag a bullet from McNair for a gain of 10 yards. Two plays later, Jamal Lewis pounded the ball into the end zone to put the Ravens up 7-0.

On their next possession, the Ravens lined up with a third-and-2 on their own 11-yard line. Desperately hoping to keep the drive alive, McNair went back to Clayton who reeled in a short pass on the sideline and dove for a first down.

After trading punts, the Ravens were faced, yet again, with a third-and-6 from deep in their own territory. Clayton cut right through the Bengals’ defense, finding a seam in the zone for 9 yards and a first down. Twelve plays later, Stover drilled a 43-yard field goal to put the Ravens up 17-0.

While Clayton was a big part of the Ravens’ ability to jump out to an early lead, he was also integral in maintaining it.

Phil Hoffmann

Clayton finished with eight catches for 73 yards.

After a Rudi Johnson touchdown slimmed the lead to 23-17, the Ravens knew they needed a solid possession. Clayton started things off, finding another opening in the Bengals secondary and leaping for an 11-yard reception. Eight plays and 5:09 later, Stover hit his fourth field goal of the game to give the Ravens a nine-point lead. “That was a big swing, and I think that’s what we needed to do at that point in time,” said McNair. “When you’re backed up, you’ve got to pin your ears back and get some first downs. That’s what helps us get into field goal range. The thing about it is it’s not necessarily getting points, it’s taking time off the clock, and I think we did that all game.”

This is no new trend for Clayton either. The elusive receiver seems to always come up when the game is on the line. Down two points to Cleveland with 3:21 left in the final period, Clayton brought his game to another level, registering three catches for 22 yards. Two of those receptions came on third down, keeping the drive alive just long enough for Stover to hit a game-winning field goal.

Against Carolina, Clayton pulled in five catches for 101 yards and two scores, including a 62-yarder with 4:32 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Ravens trailing by nine.

While his play on the field is flashy, his demeanor is quite the opposite. When asked about the offense, he simply attributed their success to “our preparation, the way we practiced and going into the game focused, knowing that we can execute.”

No pom-poms, no pylons, and no fake nametags for Ocho Nueve; he prefers clutch catches and good team victories.