OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Most NFL tight ends are either great blockers or talented receivers. Todd Heap is among the few that can do both, a quality that has never been more apparent than this year.
Heap, a former Sun Devil, entered the season as the Baltimore Ravens career leader in receptions, yards receiving and touchdown catches. He enhanced that stature in the opening two weeks, when he totaled six catches for 83 yards and two scores.
The nine-year veteran then went 11 straight games without a touchdown before scoring twice in each of the last two weeks. With Heap leading the way, the Ravens (8-7) are one victory away from reaching the playoffs for a second straight season.
"He's impressed me the whole year. In my opinion, blocking and catching the ball, he's the complete tight end," Ravens center Matt Birk said Wednesday. "He's been scoring touchdowns lately, but he's a blocker, too. I don't know if he gets the credit for doing that. When you're a tight end that can do both those things really well like he does, that's great for our offense."
Heap led Baltimore in catches in 2002 and 2003 and made the Pro Bowl in both seasons. The 6-foot-5, 245-pounder remained a key ingredient in the offense until 2007, when a hamstring injury limited him to six games.
Over much of the past two seasons, Heap has alternated as a blocker and secondary receiver under offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
"Todd, in this system, is a good blocker," Cameron said. "That's why a guy like Ray Rice can go to the Pro Bowl, because we can run the ball behind a good tight end and a good fullback (Le'Ron McClain). Those two guys are huge for Ray Rice."
In eight games this season, Heap has finished with no more than three catches. Only recently has he reprised his role as a primary target in an attack that has relied heavily on the pass.
Against Chicago two weeks ago, Heap had five catches for 56 yards, including touchdowns of 14 and 7 yards. Last week in Pittsburgh, he had leaping touchdown grabs of 30 and 7 yards.
"To see him go up and get those balls is encouraging," coach John Harbaugh said. "He's becoming a playmaker in the red zone again."
Which explains why quarterback Joe Flacco has been looking for Heap more often lately.
"Todd's a great receiver. When you get him in a favorable matchup, then I'm ready to throw him the ball and give him a shot," Flacco said. "He's done a great job of going up and getting the ball."
Heap never groused about being asked to block, but he smiled broadly when asked about his expanded role in the passing game.
"You're not going to hear me complain about catching touchdowns, that's for sure," he said. "We've had a few good matchups and Joe's seeing those the same way I'm seeing them."
The Flacco-Heap connection could play a big role on Sunday against the Oakland Raiders in a game that will get the Ravens to the postseason with a win. Cameron respects Heap's ability as a blocker, but he likes that his quarterback and tight end have bonded at just the right time.
"What I've seen, the last few weeks for some reason, Todd and Joe just really seem to be in sync. And I think you're going to continue to see that," Cameron said. "Todd has kind of worked through some nagging injuries the last few years and now he's finally healthy, doing a great job."
Said Heap: "I'm healthy right now, I feel good. I'm definitely excited where I'm at right now. Whatever opportunities I get, I'm trying to make the most of them."