Tenacious McCrary shrugs off blocks, pain

Ravens 18, Jaguars 17

October 29, 2001|By MIKE PRESTON

BY THE END OF the game, Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary had only five tackles and one sack, but he had an enormous impact in the Ravens' 18-17 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars yesterday at PSINet Stadium.

Ask Jaguars quarterback Mark Brunell when he gets out of the cold tub this morning.

Ask Jacksonville offensive tackle Todd Fordham once he gets through with shock therapy.

Fordham had the unenviable task of having to block McCrary yesterday. It was a total mismatch. The only thing tighter than McCrary on Brunell was Brunell's skin. Fordham tried just about everything to slow McCrary. He held him about 10 times. Tackled him once around the ankles. McCrary was so fast that it was partially the reason Fordham was called for three illegal-procedure penalties.

It was no contest, and the Ravens won the bigger match against Jacksonville, which is all McCrary really cares about anyway. Oh, sure, he likes his sacks. Name me a defensive lineman who doesn't. But when the game is on the line, the pain is immense and fatigue is about to take over, it's McCrary time.

He'll spin, hop on one leg, crawl or do just about anything to get to a quarterback. McCrary's play yesterday was as scrappy as the win the Ravens desperately needed. A loss would have put the Ravens' postseason aspirations in severe jeopardy.

But the Ravens never gave up, and neither did McCrary. Twice he removed himself from the game with ankle and knee injuries. Twice he came back. His sack of Brunell on third-and-seven at the Jaguars' 23 with 9:03 left in the game killed one drive, and his constant flushing of Brunell out of the pocket during the Jaguars' last two possessions in the last four minutes of the game halted any comeback attempts.

If the Ravens showed character in their come-from-behind win yesterday, then McCrary was front and center.

When asked after the game about the injuries, McCrary just shrugged it off and said he banged his knee. But it's more serious than that. McCrary has a history of knee problems and surgeries. They are so sore he often doesn't practice until late in the week.

"I think he is back on track," Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams said of McCrary. "He is playing in a lot of pain, and a lot of cats in this league wouldn't do it. I know he hurts and is playing through it. But Mac is more interested in Super Bowl rings than anything else."

McCrary also likes playing against Jacksonville. The Jaguars present unique challenges. Usually, their left offensive tackle is Tony Boselli, possibly the best in the game. But he is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

They also have the fast and agile Brunell, who is effective throwing on the run. He is also left- handed, which means McCrary can't blindside him like he does most right-handed quarterbacks.

But by midway in the fourth quarter, McCrary was bringing so much heat that Brunell was rolling to his right to escape the pressure. In a sense, McCrary altered Jacksonville's game plan.

"Yeah, I miss my man Tony, but he can be out every now and then," said McCrary, smiling. "In games like that, you don't have time to be hurt.

"With Brunell, you have to put pressure on him all the time. He is dangerous, and every time we play them it goes down to the wire. The guys who win are the ones who really want it at the end."

With Boselli out of the lineup, McCrary vs Fordham became a key matchup. In the past, Mc- Crary has had problems dealing with reserves. But he noticed Fordham gave up the inside on pass rushing.

McCrary's first step is lethal. His hands are surprisingly quick, and he is deceivingly strong.

And he never, ever quits.

"That's a man who delivers," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "His motor never stops. You know he is going to get his best effort every time he steps on the field."

But it's not just on game day. Ravens left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden tries to slow McCrary in practice.

"In training camp, he is a pain in the butt," Ogden said. "He never stops working. I try to get him to slow down to get his knees healthy, but he has that mentality about him."

McCrary, 6 feet 4, showed up in training camp in great shape. He weighed in at 270 pounds. Before yesterday's game, he was tied for fourth on the team in tackles with 38 and led the team in sacks with six.

He nearly had two more yesterday, but one was taken away when the play was nullified because defensive back James Trapp was called for an illegal hand in the face. In another close call, he arrived a second after outside linebacker Peter Boulware, who was given credit for the sack.

Regardless, McCrary is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. He's drawing constant double teams, either with the aid of a tight end or a running back.

"He's an effort guy," Ogden said. "That's what puts him over the top."

Playing it close

Except for two 1998 meetings - won by the Jaguars, 24-10 and 45-19 - every game in the Ravens-Jacksonville series has been decided by seven points or fewer:

Date Site Result

11-10-96 at Jac. Jaguars, 30-27

11-24-96 at Bal. Jaguars, 28-25*

8-31-97 at Bal. Jaguars, 28-27

11-30-97 at Jac. Jaguars, 29-27

11-14-99 at Jac. Jaguars, 6-3

11-28-99 at Bal. Jaguars, 30-23

9-10-00 at Bal. Ravens, 39-36

10-8-00 at Jac. Ravens, 15-10

10-28-01 at Bal. Ravens, 18-17

*-Overtime

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