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Paul Kruger didn’t know exactly how many snaps he played in the Ravens’ 20-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it only took one to change the course of the game.
Kruger, a second-round draft pick out of Utah, snared his first-career interception during overtime, returned it 26 yards and set up a game-winning field goal.
After spending most of his rookie season on the bench, Kruger was simply happy to get on the field.
“It’s been hard all season,” Kruger said. “I’m a competitive guy. I want to be on the field, but I respect the coach’s decision. To come away with a win like that and to be a part of the team is huge for me.”
The Ravens knew Kruger would eventually contribute once he got an opportunity. That arose when Terrell Suggs injured his knee two weeks ago when he was blocked low by Cleveland Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.
“We’ve said it all along – he’s a player,” said head coach John Harbaugh. “There’s a reason we drafted him, and there’s a reason he’s been working as hard as he has. Things came together tonight.”
Harbaugh and Kruger actually had a conversation earlier in the week regarding the rookie’s playing time.
What did Harbaugh tell him?
“Just keep fighting,” explained Kruger. “Keep going in practice. Work hard, and when I’m in there in a game, make the best of every opportunity I can.”
Kruger did just that when he faked a blitz and dropped into coverage, stepping in front of wideout Santonio Holmes for what was essentially the game-winning play.
“They were coming from the other side, and I was the dropper,” Kruger said. “It’s hard to pick up the quarterback. It’s easiest from a down position. I just happened to be at the right place at the right time. My teammates did a great job getting there, and it was a great call.”
Kruger’s play also impressed those teammates, who mobbed him after his return to the Steelers’ 28-yard line.
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “You have a young man who is just patiently waiting his turn. Can you replace a Terrell Suggs? No, unless you’re replacing him with Paul Kruger.
“For him to come into the game at that crucial situation and to make a play that big, it just shows what it means about next man up around here. I’ve been praising Paul Kruger for a long time. It was just his time.”