Grbac gets one answer, but other questions remain

November 26, 2001|By Mike Preston

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A week ago, Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac had a tear in his eye. Yesterday, he was all smiles. A week ago, Grbac took his time getting out of the shower before facing the media. Yesterday, he came out and answered questions in his game pants and spikes.

And then Grbac, Ravens coach Brian Billick and tight end Shannon Sharpe all played kissy, kissy and make up. It was cute, charming and so sickeningly sweet, much different from a week ago when Sharpe took subtle shots at Grbac for not getting the job done.

But yesterday it was different. Grbac completed 21 of 30 passes for 259 yards and a touchdown. He directed a great nine-play, 74-yard, game-winning drive in the final 83 seconds as he lofted a 3-yard touchdown pass to Sharpe with nine seconds remaining to pull out a 24-21 victory at ALLTEL Stadium.

"Anybody want to ask me who my quarterback is next week?" asked the smug Billick.


Will it be the Grbac who showed up yesterday or the Grbac who played miserably the previous Sunday against the Cleveland Browns? In the past two weeks, Grbac's pro career played out in microcosm. One week he is Vinny Testaverde, the next week he is running the offense like Johnny U.

Question to The Genius: Do you know which quarterback will show up next week?

At this point of the year, the same questions about Grbac at the beginning of the season are still unanswered. Can he provide leadership? When will his play become consistent, dependable -- especially in the last two minutes?

Grbac has some guts. All week long that picture of the tear running from inside his eye down his face appeared on national television. The Ravens said it was sweat; so does Grbac. Hmmm, sweat-producing tear ducts. Then there were all the sound bites of Sharpe questioning him.

It would have shaken most people, but Grbac showed resilience. He threw some nice touch passes on out routes in the first half before the Ravens went conservative after building a 17-0 lead.

The winning drive was a beauty. From the Ravens' 26 with 1:22 left in the game, Grbac threw a 25-yard pass to Qadry Ismail. A play later, Grbac, rolling to his left, threw across his body for 17 yards to Brandon Stokley down to the Jaguars' 32.

After a penalty, he completed a 10-yard pass to Sharpe to the 17 with 36 seconds remaining, and a 16-yarder to Ismail on the next play, which eventually set up Sharpe's game-winner. The Ravens went with five receivers, allowing Sharpe to match up with reserve safety Ainsley Battles. Grbac put the ball on Sharpe's outstretched fingers in the back of the end zone.

In the post-game, they showed each other a lot of love. Way too much.

"We're going to ride him. If the horse can't make it, we're going to stand him up and beat him and ride him some more," Sharpe said of Grbac criticism. "But he is the guy that can get us where we needed to go. You can see when he's protected, he can throw the football as good as anybody in this league and that's what we were able to do today."

Grbac's turn to pucker up.

"I don't think you guys understood where we came from," he said. "Obviously, it was two guys that were frustrated last week, two competitive guys who were obviously disappointed. We had a great conversation; we're back on the same page."

So let's get this straight. Grbac throws four interceptions and loses a fumble last week against Cleveland. Sharpe basically comes out and said he stunk, and the media misunderstood. What is there to misunderstand? If you stink, then you stink.

It sounds like one of those little Billick PR cover-ups.

"Again, remember now, that's why owners own, coaches coach, players play and writers write," said Billick, whose team blew a 17-0 lead yesterday. "Keep that in mind. People thought the wrong thing. And they were helped a little bit by that perception vs. reality. You know, I guess that's entertaining to some folks, the same kind of folks that buy the National Enquirer."

Here is perspective: The Jaguars are now 3-7, and had the 20th-ranked pass defense in the league. Before yesterday's game, Jacksonville cornerbacks Aaron Beasley and Fernando Byrant were drawing much criticism from coach Tom Coughlin, whose team has only seven interceptions this season, three under the lowest in club history. Coughlin also has to be questioned because he rushed only three players in the last Ravens drive against a team that has had trouble picking up blitzes all year.

Here is reality: Even in one of his best days as a Raven, Grbac still fumbled twice and almost threw two interceptions in the first half that nearly changed the momentum of the game.

The Ravens can say they have confidence in Grbac, but he is still on shaky ground. Billick knows that, too. Why else do you impose a gag rule telling players to no longer evaluate teammate's performances?

But now Grbac has something to build on in his possible road to recovery. There were other encouraging signs such as a strong running game and a dominating performance by the offense line, elements that will make the offense more balanced.

But after an average showing thus far this year, Grbac still has a lot to prove. He needs to put together a string of solid performances.

No one knows which Elvis is going to show up. The one who impersonates a quarterback, or the one who went to the Pro Bowl last season.

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