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When the question of whether he was putting together one of his best seasons in a four-year career was asked, Mark Clayton shrugged his shoulders, shifted from one foot to the other, and hesitated before answering.

It was the only time yesterday that the wide receiver looked like he was under duress.

Clayton burned the Jacksonville Jaguars with a team-high 128 receiving yards on four catches, and he helped the Ravens earn a 27-7 victory in the regular-season finale and the sixth and final AFC playoff berth.

Although Clayton did not catch a touchdown for the fourth straight game, he converted first downs on all four of his receptions, made three catches of 25 yards or more, and all four powered scoring drives that yielded three touchdowns and a field goal.

After the game, Clayton was his typical, praise-deflecting self.

"Just trying to win the game, man," he said. "We talk about playing for the man next to you, and with that mind-set and mentality, it's really a family mentality of 'by any means necessary.' Just making plays, that's what drives me."

Clayton is the team's second-leading receiver in receptions (41), yards (695) and touchdowns (three), trailing Derrick Mason, who has posted 80 catches for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns.

It is Clayton's best statistical performance since 2006, when he led the team with 939 yards on 67 receptions.

And yet, Clayton has become somewhat overlooked in a Ravens offense powered by the running-back rotation of Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee and Ray Rice, and the age-defying accomplishments of Mason.

Mason said he is still shocked that opposing defenses shift their attention away from Clayton, often opting to assign single coverage to him.

"It's not like the guy's not a burner down the field, and it's not like he can't catch the ball," Mason said. "Teams are going to look at this tape and wonder how do you stop Clayton, Heap and Mason and still deal with the three backs we have in the backfield. So if we just continue to play the way we've been playing - mistake-free Football - it's going to be hard for a team to deal with us."

Clayton said he did not mind defenses' strategies of lining up just one cornerback against him.

"That's fine," he said. "That's what we are offensively. Just a group of guys who make plays. Guys to the left, to the right, up the middle, in the backfield - everybody's capable in this offense."

Clayton might not have the size or speed to force opposing defenses to respect him, but he has worked all season long to hone a skill set rooted in fundamentals. Clayton said he works on eye-hand coordination almost daily, and that practice came in handy against Jacksonville yesterday.

His 48-yard catch on the Ravens' opening drive was an over-the-shoulder grab that he dove for, and his 47-yard reception was another over-the-shoulder beauty that he had to control about a second before falling out of bounds at the Jaguars' 1-yard line on the offense's final series of the first half.

"The one, the ball blew about 7 yards to the right, I think, and I don't know how he tracked that ball," Harbaugh said. "And then the other one was just coming down, just skydiving down straight down. I don't know how far Joe threw it, but it was a long way. Those are two tremendous catches. Mark's had a heck of a year."

Although Clayton's receiving total yesterday didn't exceed the 164 yards he collected against the Cincinnati Bengals a month ago, he did record his eighth career 100-yard game, a Ravens franchise record.

But as for whether this season is one of his best, Clayton turned the tables on the reporter.

"What constitutes a best season?" he asked. "I just feel like every time I take the field, I try to do my best. Whatever it is - whether it's making a block or catching the ball to convert a third down or the offense needs a play and they trust me with it - I try to do my best."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 30, 2008

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