Years weave calm into Cunningham

He's a picture of cool on fourth-quarter drives

Ravens 18, Jaguars 17

October 29, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

There was a time when the calmness displayed by Ravens quarterback Randall Cunningham in the fourth quarter of yesterday's 18-17 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars would not have existed.

Cunningham rallied the Ravens for two fourth-quarter touchdowns, and did so with all the coolness that comes with playing in so many similar games over a 16-year career.

"You get down to the end of the game and you start to remember things you've done in other games, like when you've forced the ball in and a guy caught it for a touchdown, or you forced it in and a guy picked it off or it just bounced in the air," said Cunningham, who was 23-for-31 for 222 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

"I started thinking about things that we could do, and I said to myself, `With this defense, don't turn the ball over. Let them do their job.' "

The defense, though, could not do its job unless Cunningham and the offense did theirs. That started seven seconds into the final quarter, with the Ravens down 17-6. Cunningham led the team on a nine-play, 71-yard drive that ended with a 2-yard touchdown run by Jason Brookins, cutting the lead to five.

After the Jaguars went three-and-out, Cunningham led the Ravens on an eight-play, 56-yard drive that ended in a perfectly thrown 2-yard touchdown pass to Qadry Ismail to give the Ravens the lead.

Earlier in his career, Cunningham maintained he would not have been so disciplined - able to run the offense and complete seven of seven passes without scrambling once.

"I would have been trying to run," he said. "I might not have been as patient. I would have dropped back, hit it up in there and ran for 20 yards rather than letting everybody do his job. And that's what this game is all about, letting people do their job."

He let Ismail do his, which was to fight off his defender, roll with the quarterback to the right and find a spot in the end zone. Ismail cradled Cunningham's pass between his hands and his chest about an inch before it hit the ground.

"When your starter [Elvis Grbac] goes down, you don't want to have a dropoff at your backup quarterback position," Ismail said.

"For Randall to be in there all week in practice, that peace that he has about himself, it goes and permeates into every other player. I've felt more calm in this game than I have in a long time. He really executed a good game plan today, and it was fun playing with him."

Said Ravens coach Brian Billick: "There is something about, regardless of how confident you are or how poised you are, having been there before. The great ones, that's what you rely on, that there's a sense of calm.

"It doesn't mean that you're going to perform perfectly or that you're going to win all the time, but there's a sense of calm: `I've been here before. I know how this works. I'm not going to overreact.' "

And Cunningham did not. In fact, he played with all the finesse of a two-time league Most Valuable Player who has nothing to prove, but did so, anyway.

"The thing is, `What have you done for me lately?" Cunningham said. "We won this game and I'm going to rejoice in it. ... I don't know if I'm going to play next week or any more. I just want to enjoy it because I don't plan on coming back."

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