BALTIMORE -- For the third straight year, middle linebacker C.J. Mosley lined up in the closing moments of a late December game, when the Baltimore Ravens defense needed to make a stop to save the season.
After suffering a couple of heartbreaking finishes, Mosley delivered the play of his Pro Bowl career, intercepting Baker Mayfield to seal the Ravens' 26-24 win over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Mosley's forced turnover with 62 seconds remaining clinched the AFC North, validated the NFL's top-ranked defense and offered a rebuttal to the critics on social media who say he can't cover.
"At the end of the day, you need something to drive you, whether it’s naysayers, whether you want to excel at something you’re good at, that you’re not good at," Mosley said. "But at the end of the day, to be great, you have to have something that drives you. Being one of the middle guys on this defense, being one of the leaders on this team, and trying to get your team to the Super Bowl is always going to drive me. Just that stuff, and just negativity outside our locker room, that’s always fuel to the fire."
Mosley hasn't just witnessed Baltimore's tragic losses in 2016 and 2017. He was close to finishing off what has been some of the most painful losses in franchise history.
In 2016, Mosley laid a hit on Antonio Brown at the goal line before the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver extended for a 4-yard touchdown with 9 seconds remaining. The Ravens' 31-27 loss on Christmas Day eliminated them from the postseason.
Last year, Mosley leapt high in the air to deflect Andy Dalton's fourth-down pass but Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd caught the throw about 7 yards behind Mosley and scored a 49-yard touchdown with 44 seconds left. Baltimore's 31-27 loss in the regular-season finale knocked the Ravens out from the playoffs.
On Sunday, Mosley and the Baltimore defense faced a fourth-and-10 with 1 minute, 6 seconds remaining. If Mayfield converted this first down, the Browns would have been in range for a winning field-goal attempt, which could end Baltimore's playoff hopes.
Mosley made sure there would be no last-gasp miracle play this time, backing up after initially looking like he was blitzing. With Matthew Judon putting pressure on Mayfield to get rid of the ball, Mosley got both hands in the air to tip the pass and pull in the interception before hitting the ground.
"That’s why he’s our captain [and] that’s why he’s a Pro Bowler, man," Judon said. "Big players make big plays. You can’t say enough about that guy. He’s out there and he goes to work, week-to-week. He doesn’t really say a lot -- he doesn’t really say much at all -- but when we need a play we turn to him, and he came up with it."
A four-time Pro Bowl linebacker, Mosley is one of two defenders with over 500 tackles, five interceptions and eight sacks since 2014. Carolina's Luke Kuechly is the other.
But Mosley had gone 22 games without an interception and five games without breaking up a pass. Not making an impact in coverage had become the biggest knock on Mosley, who is scheduled to be a free agent at the end of the season.
Then, Mosley came up with the timely turnover, which led Baltimore to its first playoff berth since 2014 and earned Mosley the opportunity to break the huddle in the celebratory locker room.
"For the defense, the last two years have been tough," Mosley told his teammates. "The way we fought and stayed resilient ... we finished. All we need is a ticket and we got. it. Let’s go out and be great."