After divorce, Blake isn't making up with Ravens

Cards QB unapologetic going into Sunday reunion

October 09, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Seven months after their abrupt divorce, the Ravens and Jeff Blake finally reached an agreement yesterday - their separation worked out best for everyone.

New beginnings - from Blake getting his guaranteed money with the Arizona Cardinals to the Ravens getting to start their franchise quarterback Kyle Boller immediately - will ignite old conflicts at Sun Devil Stadium.

Whether it was the Ravens refusing to break the bank or Blake breaking their trust, the Ravens and their former starting quarterback meet Sunday for the first time since their free-agent courtship turned sour.

"I'm sorry it didn't work out," said Blake, who had declined to answer questions about last season three previous times during a conference call with local reporters. "The organization and management had different ideas. They went their way and I went my way. You get in where you fit in."

Midway through his first season with the Ravens, Blake took over as the team's starter when Chris Redman went down with a back injury and finished with a 4-6 record. During free agency, the Ravens repeatedly stressed their intentions to bring him back, but Blake said all the team's offers were not market value for a starter.

After talks stalled, Blake scheduled trips to Chicago, Pittsburgh and Arizona. From the Ravens' view, those visits ruined any chance of Blake regaining the loyalty of the club, prompting it to withdraw its three-year offer.

According to league sources, many in the organization from the front office to the locker room were troubled by Blake's reputation for not taking responsibility for his role in losses, his track record of audibilizing from run to pass plays and his behavior after the season-ending, 34-31 loss to the Steelers.

Moments after he threw a game-ending interception in the end zone, Blake was seen laughing and hugging Pittsburgh coach Bill Cowher.

Linebacker Ed Hartwell contends Blake's actions were often misunderstood by teammates but said the 12-year veteran probably would not have been welcomed back into the locker room after that incident.

"I think a lot of people looked down on that," Hartwell said. "I don't think Jeff threw that interception purposely and was just trying to say, `Good game,' because the game was over. But with Pittsburgh, it's never over."

Wide receiver Travis Taylor, who became a favorite target for Blake, heard about the incident from other players.

"We've got some great competitors on this team and we love to win," Taylor said. "After the loss to Pittsburgh with the chance to get into the playoffs, players see something like that and it probably did rub a couple of guys the wrong way."

Blake and several of his supporters on the Ravens said the stories have been overblown.

"I wasn't the leader of the team and wasn't the leader of the offense," Blake said. "The role given to me was backup quarterback. What are you talking about dissension in the locker room? I went to work every day, I kept my mouth shut. All I did was play football."

Ravens coach Brian Billick was one of Blake's biggest backers and tried to lure him back because of his arm strength and his experience.

Not only did Billick publicly defend Blake's poor throw in Pittsburgh, he flew down to Blake's home in Florida, where he emphasized to Blake that he needed to show a certain commitment to the Ravens to return to the team. Eight days later, Blake was boarding a plane for his free-agent tour.

Blake eventually signed a three-year, $7.5 million deal with Arizona that included a $1.5 million signing bonus. In comparison, the Ravens had a similar offer based on incentives previously on the table.

If Blake had re-signed with the Ravens, team officials indicated they would have still aggressively traded to draft Boller, but Blake would probably have been the starter this season.

"It'll be good to see Jeff again," Billick said, "but we're focused on the Cardinals as a group."

Blake has been one of the few positives in Arizona's 1-4 start. He has completed 58 percent of his throws for 895 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions.

Although Blake downplayed his get-together with the Ravens, Taylor knew how Blake approached his reunions with former teams Cincinnati and New Orleans last year differently than other games.

"I guarantee you he's going to take it the same way," Taylor said. "He always says he's got something to prove."

Next for Ravens

Matchup: Ravens (2-2) vs. Arizona Cardinals (1-4)

Site: Sun Devil Stadium, Tempe, Ariz.

When: Sunday, 4:15 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 5 1/2

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