On Sunday, Ed Reed’s 33rd birthday, Ben Roethlisberger was feeling quite generous. The big Pittsburgh quarterback, whom Reed had never before intercepted in their careers, lofted two gift picks right to #20.
With the second interception, Reed notched his 12th career game with multiple interceptions, more than any player in the NFL’s Super Bowl era. He had previously been tied with Ronnie Lott. What’s even more amazing is that it was the THIRD CONSECUTIVE regular season game in which Reed picked off two passes (he intercepted Colt McCoy twice in Week 16 and Carson Palmer twice in Week 17 in 2010).
Jason Cole of Yahoo! sports breaks down Reed’s amazing accomplishments further, in his piece titled “Reed is the greatest NFL thief of all-time.”
Reed has 56 picks in his career and moved into a tie for 16th with Lem Barney and Pat Fischer on the all-time list. By the end of the season, Reed has a chance to move way up. There’s currently a five-way tie for the next spot at 57 and Emmitt Thomas is 10th with 58. After that, it jumps to Dick LeBeau and Dave Brown with 62 each and Lott and Darren Sharper at 63.
In contrast, Pittsburgh’s Troy Polamalu, considered the best safety not-named Ed Reed of this era, is tied for 246th with 27 interceptions.
But the raw numbers only begin to tell the story. Understand that Reed has gotten there faster than just about anyone, getting those interceptions in only 129 regular-season games. That is the fewest of all but one (Bobby Boyd) of the 18 players with 56 or more. Barney played in 140 games, Johnny Robinson (57 interceptions) played in 164 and Tunnell played in 167.
Others took a lot longer to compile their impressive pick total. Krause, for instance, played in 226 games and Woodson played in 238. Eugene Robinson, who is among those just ahead of Reed with 57 picks, played in nearly twice as many games (250) as the Baltimore safety.
Furthermore, Reed is playing at a time when it’s harder than ever to get an interception. While the NFL is much more of a passing league, a big reason is that throwing is safer than ever.
In 1960, when Tunnell was playing his second-to-last season, the NFL averaged one interception every 15 throws (there were 274 interceptions on 4,114 attempts for the season). By 2010, that rate dropped to one interception every 33.8 throws (511 interceptions in 17,269 attempts). The reasons are ample, from the greater use of spread formations and short passing to the improvement in quarterback play. Bottom line, getting a pick takes much greater skill today than ever.
Wear those #20 jerseys proudly Ravens fans. Ed Reed is quickly and efficiently solidifying what was already a very impressive resume to send to Canton in a handful of years.
Which of course isn’t to suggest that Reed is slowing down any – his last three games pretty much summarily dismiss any suggestion to the contrary – just that we all need to be cognizant of the fact that we are witnessing history, and greatness, from the best ball hawk ever.