OWINGS MILLS -- Marcus Peters’ thrilling and volatile six-year NFL career was summed up in what became the most talked about 20 seconds from the Baltimore Ravens’ 20-13 wild-card victory over the Tennessee Titans.
Peters sealed the franchise’s first postseason victory in six years by intercepting Ryan Tannehill and returning it into Ravens’ territory. Without hesitation, Peters bounced to his feet and led a parade of 15 defenders to the Titans’ midfield logo, where he placed the ball and then screamed toward the Tennessee sideline with his arms outstretched.
While the football world was shocked by this display, those who know Peters was not surprised by his clutch play or the no-he-just-didn’t celebration.
Peters is a big-time playmaker who spews big-time fire. He’s statistically the NFL’s best ballhawk since Deion Sanders and Ed Reed. He’s considered one of the most intelligent cornerbacks in the league -- a “savant,” some have said.
Teammates and opposing quarterbacks marvel at how Peters knows where the ball is going to be at the most critical times. But the real drama comes afterwards, no one can predict what Peters will do to celebrate.
“I like him and I love him. He’s genuine. He’s as authentic as it gets,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That’s what you appreciate about anybody, especially someone like Marcus. He’s got a heart of gold. It really matter to him. He really cares. It shows. He’s an emotional guy, no question about that. Like all of us, he works to be the best he can be. We’re all growing. I just like him personally. I like the way he plays. I like his heart.”
The Ravens showed how much they like Peters last season when they signed him to a three-year, $42 million extension ($32 million guaranteed), which could make Baltimore his longest NFL home. Peters has totaled 31 interceptions -- nine more than anyone else since he entered the league in 2015 -- but he hasn’t lasted with a team for more than three seasons.
The Kansas City Chiefs traded Peters to the Rams in 2018, a few months after he threw a penalty flag into the stands (it wasn’t even his penalty) and he reportedly got in an argument with a coach. The Rams then dealt him to the Ravens in October 2019 for a fifth-round pick and backup linebacker Kenny Young, so Los Angeles could make room for Jalen Ramsey.
During his 15 months in Baltimore, Peters has run back two interceptions for touchdowns and forced a fumble that led to a score. He’s also got into a verbal altercation with Ramsey that extended into the tunnel of the L.A. Coliseum and got fined for appearing to spit at Browns wide receiver Jarvis Landry (Peters has appealed the fine).
Baltimore will play in the divisional round Saturday night at Buffalo (8:15 p.m., NBC) where Peters has some history. Last December, Peters celebrated a game-saving deflection at the 1-yard line -- which clinched a playoff berth -- by jumping into a section filled with Ravens fans and shot-gunning a can of beer.
"He’s one of a kind,” said former Ravens safety Eric Weddle, who played with Peters on the Los Angeles Rams. "He is one of the most instinctive, smart, confident players. He just has a knack for finding the ball. You just can’t teach that. You can’t take that away from a player that is so productive and makes those game-changing plays. The minute you try to hold him down or try to harness it in a sense, that takes away from what makes him great.”
‘See ball, get ball'
What is Peters’ favorite interception?
“My first one,” Peters said. “That’s the one that got me kicked off.”
Peters wasted no time tormenting quarterbacks, picking off his first pass on his first play from scrimmage. In 2015, he intercepted Brian Hoyer in the right flat and has continued to cause turnovers at an unreal pace.
Two months ago, he joined an elite club when he intercepted his 30th pass in his seventh season. The last two players to reach that many interceptions in their first 85 games are Sanders and Reed, both of whom are in the Hall of Fame.
Marlon Humphrey, who has picked off eight passes in four seasons, approached Peters during a game last year to seek advice on how to increase his interceptions.
Humphrey: "Tell me what you’re seeing."
Peters: "I think I can get an interception on every single play.”
Humphrey: “Could you pick the ones you’re talking about?”
Peters: “Every single one."
Peters is always watching film and taking notes. He has a keen eye on how to play receivers and pick up tendencies on quarterbacks. In many ways, he sees the game more like a safety than a cornerback.
"Every time the quarterback drops back to pass, our chance of picking it off is 50-50, so why not give yourself the chance and opportunity of making a play?” Peters said. "Once the ball is in the air it’s, ‘See-ball, get-ball.’”
The high volume of interceptions have caused Peters to gain a reputation for being a gambler. But Weddle said he actually wanted Peters to take more risks when he played with him.
"Never did I question or worry about him not doing his job or him not being in the right position when I was on the field with him,” Weddle said. "I’m one of the guys that makes sure we’re all on the same page. There are times when I wanted him to be more aggressive and for him to trust the safeties and trust me. I think he was more reserved when I had him.”
Got your back
Sunday’s wild-card game wasn’t the first time Peters found himself in the middle of controversy this season.
After last month’s 47-42 win at Cleveland, Peters was accused of spitting at Landry as the wide receiver walked away. Peters issued a statement saying he deals with such issues face-to-face and anyone who believes he intentionally spit at Landry “does not know me -- plain and simple.”
Those who know Peters remember that game for a different reason. Peters strained his calf and was sidelined for a stretch of time. When the Ravens were down to one healthy cornerback, Peters ran out onto the field.
Harbaugh asked the team’s trainer if Peters had been cleared to return.
“Marcus is out there?” trainer Ron Medlin asked.
Peters took it upon himself to go back to the field to help the short-handed secondary and nearly got a sack on a blitz.
"He’s a very passionate, loyal teammate and friend with the way he goes about life,” Weddle said. “Once you earn his trust and he sees who you really are, he’s one of the greatest guys you can have behind your back.”
Quarterback Lamar Jackson understands how much Peters is looking out for his back.
In Week 9, quarterback Jackson dove to the ground in Indianapolis after a run and took a late hit. Peters immediately came off the sideline to protect Jackson.
“Very humble guy from what I’ve seen,” Jackson said. “But when you see him on the field? He’s a different guy. I feel bad for the opposing team.”
Teammates say Peters fit in quickly. As soon as he joined the Ravens last year, he suggested the secondary go out for a group dinner and he’d pick up the bill.
So, while Peters has a certain reputation for his antics, the Ravens feel they know the other side of him.
"The team welcomed me in with open arms,” Peters said. "And, with me and my personality, I’m coming in just to do my job, and that’s to be dominant on defense and help this team win games, so we can ultimately get to our No. 1 goal. And it wasn’t about me; it was about this team. So, when I got here, it was just me adding on whatever I can bring from where I was coming from to this team. That’s just all I can say about that. I’m here to do my part, and that’s just to do whatever I can to help us win championships.”