In an extended celebration, 10-year veteran Jadeveon Clowney commemorated his 52nd career sack (in part because it helped him earn a $750,000 bonus). But watching rookie Trenton Simpson celebrate his first career sack was something extra special for Clowney.

“That’s the start of something great; that’s all I can tell you,” Clowney said.

The older outside linebacker has watched as the younger inside linebacker put in the work. Playing behind the dynamic duo of Patrick Queen and Roquan Smith, who rarely take snaps off, Simpson has not had much opportunity to show what he’s got. Although he appeared in 14 games prior to Saturday, he played primarily on special teams and was on the field for just 20 snaps with the defense. Nonetheless, Simpson kept his head down and it paid off for him Saturday, Clowney said.

The Ravens were already guaranteed a playoff spot, the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye heading into the game with the Pittsburgh Steelers. They might have wanted a win, but they didn’t need it, so they were strategic and rested a number of starters (and lost 17-10). Although active, Smith did not play, requiring Simpson to step up next to Queen.

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The two have a good relationship, but Queen was nervous when Simpson started asking him “hella” questions, he said with a laugh. But Simpson’s willingness to ask questions is what gives him the potential to be great.

“I need to ask questions like he asks questions,” Queen said.

Queen is just two years older than Simpson, a 2023 third-round pick out of Clemson, but he said his situation was different because he was “thrown into the fire immediately.” He has started every game since he was selected in the first round in 2020.

Although Simpson is playing for a job, Queen is playing for a contract. He and the Ravens did not agree on an extension ahead of this season, so when the year ends Queen will be a free agent for the first time. He has had a fantastic year (133 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 interception) that earned him his first Pro Bowl nod.

Pro Football Focus projects Queen to earn a four-year, $72.5 million ($18.125 average annual value) contract. Considering the Ravens signed his partner, Smith, to a five-year, $100 million contract ahead of the season, the Ravens might not invest that much in another inside linebacker, even if they want to keep him.

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Should this be Queen’s last regular-season game as a Raven, he spent it playing next to the player who might replace him. But Queen did not hesitate to commend Simpson for his performance and potential.

“He’s dynamic, might be faster than me,” Queen said. “Love that guy, great player. ... I just got to give him all the praise. He’s a terrific player. We finally got to see that. Everybody finally got to see that. His name’s definitely going to be hot for the rest of his time.”

Simpson has preached patience to himself all season. He said he’s been listening to everything Queen and Smith have to share with him, just soaking in lessons so he could be ready when his time came. It finally did on Saturday, and the older linebackers did not let him hit the field unprepared.

Smith, who may be Simpson’s future partner in the middle, gave him tips on formations and tendencies every time he returned to the sidelines. Queen was wearing the green dot, which meant he was in charge of getting the defense set. Simpson said it was a blessing to learn by playing next to someone of Queen’s caliber and seeing his communication skills in real time.

Simpson played a solid game, and in the third quarter his moment arrived. On second-and-13, Simpson was playing in the middle with linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips when he saw a path to Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph open.

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“I was like, ‘I gotta go make a play!’” Simpson said.

He did, recording a career first and, by the end of the game, he had almost doubled his career statistics. He came in with six total tackles and left with 11.

With 3:22 to go, Simpson left Ravens fans with a parting gift. It was third-and-goal with the Steelers threatening from the 2-yard line. Simpson blew up the play with his second career tackle for loss, forcing the Steelers to settle for a field goal.

“Just so blessed with the opportunity to go out there and showcase my talents today,” Simpson said. “To go out there and make a couple of plays for the team, I feel like I’m headed in the right direction.”

The game ended in disappointment, a loss to the Ravens’ rivals, but the mood in the locker room was surprisingly light. And players like Simpson, who performed when given their first big opportunity, were the reason for it.

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“He played great,” Clowney said. “I told some of the guys on the sidelines, ‘Damn, this GM don’t miss with his draft picks. We’ve got some dawgs out here. He drafted a good group of guys.’ ... Looking forward to seeing them guys in the future.”

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