When Terrell Suggs tore his right Achilles tendon over the offseason, his Baltimore Ravens teammates were concerned, and that might be putting it mildly. How would the defense's pass rush hold up? Suggs seemed almost irreplaceable. "Guys were worried," defensive end Arthur Jones said.

In stepped Paul Kruger, a fourth-year linebacker whose understated résumé featured 6 1/2 career sacks and one start. If this did not foster much optimism within the locker room, his play soon did.

Kruger has been a force for the Ravens heading into Sunday's AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots, moving seamlessly from roles at defensive end and linebacker to, he said, "kind of just doing everything."

Within the patchwork quilt that has been the Ravens' season, Kruger has been as rugged as a burlap sack. He had 7 1/2 sacks over the final eight games of the regular season, and nine total. He made a game-changing play in last weekend's divisional playoff victory over the Denver Broncos. And he has showcased such expert pass-rushing technique that his own teammates are studying film of him.

Kruger, 26, traveled a long road to reach this point.

"For me, it was just a process of figuring out where it's all going to fit together," he said.