As the Ravens went through their paces at training camp, there was a lot of speculation over who would be playing cornerback opposite Lardarius Webb. Would it be Cary Williams or Jimmy Smith?
Many people expected Smith, a former first-round draft pick, to ultimately seize the starting spot. He would join Webb, who signed a long-term contract in the offseason and was emerging as one of the game's top young cornerbacks.
Yet as the Cowboys marched down the field on a potential game-tying touchdown drive in the fourth quarter on Sunday, neither Webb nor Smith were anywhere to be found. Instead, Williams manned one corner slot, with Chykie Brown at the other and Corey Graham, primarily brought in as a special teamer, filling the role as the nickel back. Safety James Ihedigbo, another special teamer who joined the team late in preseason, played as a dime back.
That is definitely not how the Ravens drew it up in June.
"Our guys stepped up in the face of some real adversity," coach John Harbaugh said.
"Throughout the game, we had guys going in there to play positions that they hadn't played," he added. " We had packages that we hadn't had a chance to practice, and guys were stepping up and getting the job done."
The Ravens took the 'next man up,' mantra to a new level in their 31-29 win over Dallas on Sunday, where it was, as Smith said, more a case of "the next six guys up." The brutal war of attrition cost the Ravens, one time or another, as many as six key defensive players. The worst of the injuries appear to be to Webb (possibly torn left ACL) and linebacker Ray Lewis (triceps).
Even after Webb went down -- his knee seemed to buckle as he got tangled up with Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant in the first quarter -- the Ravens were still in good hands with Williams and Smith. But then Smith left the game late with a leg injury.
Enter Brown, primarily a special teamer whose roster spot wasn't even secured until the final round of cuts. Brown, a fifth-round draft pick out of Texas in 2011, had seen very little action in the secondary until the final minutes against Dallas.
As to be expected, the Cowboys went right after him. Brown was flagged for pass interference in the final minute on a pass intended for Kevin Ogletree down the right sideline. The 20-yard penalty helped set up the Cowboys' potentially game-winning 51-yard field-goal attempt, which Dan Bailey pulled wide left.
"It's hard for corners to go through a whole season without getting some kind of injury," Brown said. "Every game I come in knowing my number could be called. You gotta be ready. Until then, I do my thing on special teams. Once my number gets called on defense, then I can make a name for myself on defense."