BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees challenged his defense to play more aggressively Sunday, and safety James Ihedigbo was the one who stepped up as the game-changer in the 20-17 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Ihedigbo was all over the field with team-leading nine tackles, two interceptions, three passes broken up and one tackle for a loss. He set up the Ravens' second touchdown with an interception and stopped a fourth-quarter drive by picking off Andy Dalton deep in Baltimore territory. And, with the Bengals driving again, Ihedigbo helped make the fourth-down stop that led to the game-winning kick.
Not bad for a player who spent last week answering questions on whether he choked Browns receiver Greg Little. On Sunday, he was the answer for a defense needing to make key stops at the end of games.
"I was just saying to the whole team, ‘Don’t let your good get in the way of being great," Ihedigbo said. "I look at myself as a great player, and that’s what I aspire to be."
Even Ihedigo's biggest mistake was the result of being aggressive. Anticipating the Hail Mary pass was going to be short because of the wind, Ihedigbo moved up instead of staying back, which is his job on that play. The 51-yard pass bounced off the left shoulder of Bengals receiver Marvin Jones and then deflected off of Ihedigbo before falling right to A.J. Green to tie the game at 17 as regulation ended.
Said Ihedigbo: "I made a bone-head play to kind of put us in the position that we were [and] you can do one of two things. You can [drop] your head and [say], ‘Oh, man, and give up another one.’ Or you can say, ‘Hey, the next time they’ll throw the ball in my vicinity, I’m going to make a play. That’s what I did."
Ihedigbo gave the momentum back to the Ravens when he helped stop the Bengals on fourth-and-two in overtime. When elusive running back Giovani Bernard caught the swing pass, Ihedigbo ran up in the right flat to force him to change directions. Bernard was dropped for an 11-yard loss, and the Ravens kicked the game-winning field goal eight plays later.
The biggest criticism of the defense this season has been their inability to make critical stops. Ihedigbo was the reason why the Ravens offense got the ball back in overtime.
"They ran the play earlier in the game, and the offensive lineman, he grabbed me, and I couldn’t get off the block, so the other guys made the tackle," Ihedigbo said when asked about the fourth-down play. "Once I saw the tight end go to the other side, I said, ‘Oh, they’re running it again.’ It just clicked. He broke out. He’s a strong runner, Giovani Bernard. He’s a very strong runner, [We] chased him down, bottled him up.”
Ihedigbo was a factor in regulation, too. He caught an overthrown Dalton pass in the second quarter and ran it back 37 yards, which led to the Ravens' second touchdown of the game. It was Ihedigbo's first career touchdown and this was his 78th game in the NFL.
In the fourth quarter, he pulled in a deflected pass at the Ravens' 12-yard line with under two minutes remaining. These were much-needed turnovers for a defense that had picked off just four passes in its first eight games.
"It’s a hunger. You’ve got to want more," Ihedigbo said. "You can never be satisfied. You can’t really ever get complacent on the field. You want to be the guy to make the play. I was in an opportunity to do that and capitalized on it, and the offense did what they did.”