Deion still bothered by hamstring
BALTIMORE -- There was no Prime Time this time. Deion Sanders was on the inactive list and missed a chance to strut his stuff on Monday Night Football.
Sanders had stressed that playing in the national spotlight for the Ravens wasn't the reason he ended his three-year retirement. It would be a stretch to say Sanders has mellowed at age 37, but his perception of what is important certainly seems to have changed.
In his prime, when he went to eight Pro Bowls as one of the most dynamic players in the NFL, Sanders never would have let an hamstring injury rob him of the opportunity to make an interception or two on Monday night.
But things are different now.
"It's up to my legs," he said last week. "We don't really want to rush things. We have a journey here, not a sprint."
It's the same philosophy he carried into Cincinnati one week earlier after getting hurt on Sept. 19. Yet one couldn't help believing Sanders merely passed on facing the Bengals in order to be ready for prime time against the Chiefs.
He scoffed at that suggestion, insisting that Monday night football is no different from Sunday afternoon football.
"Every game is prime time, every game is a big game. Games don't have a bigger meaning to me; every game is the same," Sanders said. "Every game I step out there on the field I get my opponent's best. So just because the game is slated to be on Monday night, it doesn't matter to me. Even when I'm at practice, I get my opponent's best."
Since his return, Sanders has had little opportunity to shine as the Ravens' fifth defensive back on passing downs. Cleveland didn't test him in the opener, and he left the game against Pittsburgh after chasing down Plaxico Burress on a long pass that fell incomplete.
Sanders returned a punt 23 yards in that game, but was penalized 15 yards for removing his helmet on the field after the play. His statistics after three games are hardly Pro Bowl worthy: One tackle, one pass defensed and two punt returns for 28 yards.
Yet he acted insulted when asked if had something to prove Monday night.
"I don't have to prove nothing to nobody. Please," he said. "You've got to be kidding me. I didn't come back to play football to prove anything. I think the limited time I've been out there on the field, or even practiced, I proved I could play the game at a high level."
Sanders' value to the Ravens transcends his ability to make big plays. He has become another coach on the practice field, sharing his knowledge of the game with those possessing far less experience.
"He means a lot to me. He's taught me so much about this game, and he's going to teach me a lot more," safety Ed Reed said. "It's a daily process with Big Bro ... and he knows we're ready for him to come back and do his thing."
Sanders joined the Ravens because he believes the team has a decent shot at reaching the Super Bowl. He wanted to come along for the ride, and so far it's been a blast.
"It's been unbelievable. I think the guys think the old man is playing around too much, because I'm having such a good time," he said. "Not only on the field, but off the field, when we go out to eat, the meetings. I want to take advantage of all the situations in the time that I have left."
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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