Next up a return to Foxboro
Given how conditioning has long been an issue for Bryant McKinnie, the left tackle held up well in the high altitude at Mile High Stadium.
In Saturday’s 38-35 double-overtime victory in a divisional playoff game vs. the Denver Broncos, McKinnie played all 80 offensive snaps in only his second start of the season.
He helped keep a clean pocket for quarterback Joe Flacco, who wasn't sacked in regulation. When Flacco finally was taken down, it was a coverage sack. He opted to hold the ball rather than make a risky throw. The offensive line didn't have any significant breakdowns vs. the NFL's No. 2 overall defense.
“Just had to give him some time to make plays,” he said of Flacco, who had 18 completions for 334 yards and 3 TDs. “I’m just happy with the team, period. Even when we were down nobody blinked. Everybody just kept fighting.”
McKinnie was relegated to taking snaps with the second unit during the preseason and sat on the bench for most of all 16 regular-season games after losing his starting job. Room was made for rookie Kelechi Osemele, who was installed as the starting right tackle, and Michael Oher was moved into McKinnie's spot.
Coach John Harbaugh shuffled the left side of the line several times, going from Ramon Harewood to Bobbie Williams to Jah Reid at guard. Reid (toe) was put on the injured list before the Broncos game, ending his season.
McKinnie returned to the fold in the wild-card game vs. the Indianapolis Colts, a 24-9 win.
"Bryant has played well. It's been a season in the making for him," Harbaugh said. "Sometimes things work out the way they work out."
The thin air in Denver posed some challenges, but McKinnie held up well. He changed his diet and credits teammate Ray Lewis for helping him. He also gave up sweets.
“I had my moments when I was tired,” McKinnie said of playing in the high altitude. “I'd get on the sideline and wish everybody would part like the Red Sea and just get out my way. But I made it through, so I’m good.”
McKinnie pulled and got up-field to plow through linebackers and help open holes for running back Ray Rice, who had a season-high 130 yards on the ground.
On a key play in the third quarter, McKinnie and right guard Marshal Yanda had blocks that allowed Rice to make a 32-yard burst and eventually punch in a 1-yard TD run to tie the score at 28.
Rediscovering his role has revived a career that appeared in shambles in its 11th season. McKinnie, however, continued to eat well and appears to be in his best shape since arriving in Baltimore one season ago.
"I've always tried to be a pro about the situation. I always have to be prepared,” he said. “I’m pleased with my play and with the team and everything.”