For most of his 10-year NFL career, Terrell Suggs has been the life of the party, a voluble, disruptive and often uproarious presence in the Baltimore Ravens' locker room and in opposing backfields.
So it's odd to see Suggs, the Ravens' star pass rusher and reigning NFL defensive player of the year, looking suspiciously like a low-key dude happy to have scored a courtesy invitation to the Rager in the Rockies — or whatever you want to call Saturday's AFC divisional-round playoff game between the Ravens and Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.
For Baltimore to have a chance to upset the top-seeded Broncos, winners of 11 consecutive games, having Suggs bear some resemblance to his havoc-wreaking, pre-2012 self would be a huge boost. To be fair, given that T-Sizzle has fought through a pair of serious injuries that would sideline most players, his mere presence on the field is somewhat of a shocker.
Yet if the Ravens hope to reach their second consecutive AFC championship game — and continue their emotional quest to send legendary linebacker Ray Lewis into retirement on a glorious note — a sudden and emphatic return to form by Suggs could give them a much-needed jolt.
Even before Baltimore's 24-9 victory over the Indianapolis Colts in its playoff opener last Sunday, Suggs made no effort to minimize the stakes.
"I think either one of two things is gonna happen," he told Y! Sports. "It's either the end of this era, as we know it — the Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs era — or this is the year we go out and get it done. It'll be one or the other. Hopefully, it ends with a championship."
Yet Suggs, a man affectionately described by fellow Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo as "far from appropriate, and able to spoil many occasions," was relatively quiet in Sunday's game, registering only a pair of assisted tackles while fellow pass rusher Paul Kruger (2 ½ sacks, one forced fumble) inflicted the bulk of the damage.
During the fourth quarter, Suggs fought through pain in his surgically repaired Achilles tendon, an offseason injury which seemed destined to shelve him for the 2012 season. Baltimore coach John Harbaugh referred to Suggs as a "walking miracle," in late November and that was before the defensive end/linebacker suffered a torn biceps, an injury that was also regarded as a potential season-ender.
In both cases, Suggs said he was determined to defy the doctors and return in 2012 because in the wake of last year's heartbreaking AFC championship game defeat to the New England Patriots, he felt the Ravens had a chance to take the next step and reach the franchise's second Super Bowl — and first since Suggs was an Arizona State freshman.
"The way last year ended, I wasn't gonna sit out this year," Suggs says. "We have a team that is very special. I knew we might have an opportunity to do something great, and I wanted to be a part of it. So, shutting it down was not an option. I had to get back with my team."
Suggs' comeback began with a bang: Six months after undergoing surgery to repair his torn Achilles, he returned for the Ravens' Oct. 21 game against the Houston Texans and sacked Matt Schaub on his third series of downs.
Since that time, however, Suggs has registered just one additional sack in eight games. He has just one quarterback hurry in his past three games and has yet to register five tackles in a game after doing that on nine occasions (including playoffs) during the 2011 campaign. Following the biceps tear in a Dec. 2 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers, Suggs missed two of Baltimore's final four regular-season games before returning for the playoffs.
Just as Lewis' surprising return from a torn triceps last Sunday had an intangible value to the Ravens, the sight of Suggs on the field is inspirational to his teammates.
"He means so much to us," says veteran wideout Anquan Boldin, who had a franchise playoff-record 145 receiving yards against the Colts. "You look at a guy like Suggs: He's been close a number of times, and when you're that close, with no cigar, and you have a chance to get back there, you give everything you can. You let nothing stop you. Because you never know when this opportunity will come again, or if it will."
The Ravens' sense of urgency was ratcheted up last week when Lewis, in a team meeting, announced to his teammates that the 2012 playoffs would be his "last ride." Though Suggs is far from finished and believes that Reed, the standout safety now in his 11th season, will return for the 2013 campaign, a defeat to the Broncos on Sunday would indeed carry end-of-an-era overtones.
To avoid that unpleasant prospect, Baltimore will likely have to put more pressure on Peyton Manning than it did in a 34-17 defeat to the Broncos four weeks ago at M&T Bank Stadium. A resurgent effort by Suggs, who describes himself as a "playoff type of guy," would go a long way toward bringing the Ravens one step closer to a date in New Orleans next month for Super Bowl XLVIII.
"Last year was probably our best team since I've been here," Suggs says. "But it doesn't mean you can't win it when it's not your best team. The team itself decides how special it is. As good as last year's team was, we're still ring-less. It's up to this team to define itself."
Shortly after Sunday's victory over the Colts, Suggs gestured at Lewis, who was dressing next to him in the Baltimore locker room, and said of his fellow linebacker's signature dance, "We need to make sure this isn't the last time he does that. We need to make sure the last time is in New Orleans, baby. That would be the perfect finish."
Can Suggs inflict enough damage on Saturday to help keep that possibility alive?
"I don't know," Ayanbadejo says, "but we need him to."
For what it's worth, T-Sizzle sounds like a partygoer who's not ready to leave the gathering quietly. Asked if he and the Ravens are ready to shock the world, Suggs gave a one-word reply: "Absolutely."
If not, as Suggs would be the first to admit, it's time to turn out the lights on the Ravens as we know them.
More NFL videos on Yahoo! Sports:
Other popular content on the Yahoo! network:
• Jags' new GM delivers blunt assessment of Tim Tebow
• Niners DB acknowledges tough task ahead with Aaron Rodgers, Packers
• Matt Ryan, Falcons get another shot at postseason win
• Y! Shine: Miss America contestant's brave admission