Two weeks ago, Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain made an inspirational return to the field after battling back from a potentially career-ending spinal injury.
But moments after the Ravens' 19-16 loss at Pittsburgh, McClain was in no mood to celebrate, saying in a quiet Ravens locker room, "We lost, so I played bad. You can't play good when you lose. It's a bad feeling."
Now nearly two weeks removed from that loss, fresh and rested from a bye week, a smiling, more relaxed McClain could step back and appreciate what he accomplished in returning from a spinal cord contusion that led one of his doctors to tell him he would never play again.
"With anything, you give yourself more time to reflect," McClain said Thursday. "Coming back was phenomenal."
With Josh Bynes out after having surgery on an infected finger, McClain was thrust into the starting lineup at Pittsburgh just a few days after returning to practice. He played 37 snaps, including special teams, and had six tackles.
”As I sat back and looked at it, I was like, 'Man, I had a year off from football, and then prepared for about two days and went and played in one of the toughest games that we have.'" McClain said. "It was impressive, and I don't get impressed easy. I'm the hardest person on myself in the world."
He had no physical setbacks, and although Bynes is back from his injury, defensive coordinator Dean Pees confirmed on Thursday that McClain would remain the starter at weakside linebacker Sunday at Cleveland.
No one familiar with McClain's story should be surprised.
This is a Philadelphia native and one-time homeless teenager who earned a football scholarship to Syracuse, then beat the odds again to make the Ravens as an undrafted rookie. From there, he went on to earn a starting job alongside future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis, as well as a three-year, $10.5 million contract.
But then after making a tackle against Washington last December, McClain suffered a spinal cord contusion and was told by a doctor that the injury ‘is going to be the end for you.’
Oh is it? Tell McClain he can't do something and you are likely to have a fight on your hands.
Months of rehabilitation later, and driven by his indefatigable willpower, McClain was back on the field at Heinz Field, in his customary starting spot, beating the odds yet again.
"If I can do that," he said on Thursday, "I really can do anything I put my mind to."