Claim that he was benched doesn't sit well with Fuller

Ravens cornerback says he was slowed by injury

November 26, 2003|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Corey Fuller took a moment to clear up a minor point of contention in the Ravens' 44-41 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.

Fuller, the Ravens' most experienced defensive back, says he was not benched, as television announcers reported, but rather asked out of the game near the end of the third quarter. And he did so for the good of the Ravens.

"I knew me going out there wasn't the best for the team," said Fuller, whose departure came shortly after Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck completed an 80-yard touchdown pass to Darrell Jackson on his side. "Coach [Mike] Singletary asked me, `Do you think it's best?' ... Now, could I have kept going? Probably so, but would the effect have been the same as having a healthy Gary Baxter at cornerback?"

With Fuller out and Baxter in his place, Will Demps replaced Baxter at safety, and the Ravens, after allowing another passing touchdown, eventually settled down and held the Seahawks scoreless for the last 22 1/2 minutes of the game.

Fuller said part of his problem against the Seahawks came because his leg injury, which forced him out of two games earlier this season, tightened up. Fuller suffered a hamstring and groin pull against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 26.

"I look at it like this - Will Demps is very good football player," said Fuller, 32. "I'm not selfish. All I want to do is win a Super Bowl. If I get 10 interceptions and I don't win the Super Bowl, it's not going to do me any good."

With five games remaining, including Sunday's showdown with the San Francisco 49ers and dangerous receiver Terrell Owens, the Ravens are still sorting out what Fuller's role will be the rest of the season.

The Ravens like the idea of continuing to start Fuller and have Baxter shift to cornerback periodically during games.

Coaches remain confident in Fuller and attribute the trouble against Seattle to his health. Though he has not been listed on the team's injury report the past couple of weeks, Fuller has been limited in practice.

Seahawks receivers caught three passes on Fuller's side, all for 13 yards or more.

"Anybody that has muscle pulls and things like that, there comes a time when you feel like you are ready," Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "Then you go out and challenge it and you are not ready because when you start going full-go, your body says you are not as ready as you think you are.

"Corey, certainly when he's healthy, is a very fine player in this league and can help us win games. If he doesn't feel like he's at the top of his game, it's difficult. Especially with an offense like last week, at some point he had to come out because he couldn't keep up physically."

When Fuller was healthy at the beginning of the season, he provided a steady hand to the secondary that comes with nine years of experience. Teams took their chances at Fuller, but he withstood the barrage and is one of the reasons the Ravens are ranked eighth against the pass.

Fuller has 31 tackles and is fifth on the team with eight defended passes.

"Corey's got tremendous value to us as a veteran player as well," Nolan said. "He's great in the meeting rooms. He gives us a lot of leadership on and off the field. And that's why we press sometimes to get him on the field because he is an asset to our football team. But sometimes maybe we press too much. If he's been taking [criticisms], to a large degree, they are unjust."

Fuller's injury likely will linger for the rest of the season, but the Ravens say they cannot afford to let him sit during the stretch run.

"We have been trying to dole out the snaps with Corey, but that is something that we will see as we go through the week," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Are you good for 50 snaps, are you good for 30 snaps? We'll have to adjust."

Fuller also plans to make an adjustment to his offseason workout program so he can play at least two more seasons. But for the time being, he will do what he can.

"I was brought here to give them what I've got left in my body as far as a player and also some leadership," Fuller said. "I know my role. That's the one thing I do; I accept my role. Right now, God in his decision has me limping a little bit. But my role is also to be a leader.

"In this business, when you play hurt and you look like you are playing bad, there are no excuses. I don't have any excuses for my play. I tore my quad and my hamstring on the same leg, and it's very unfortunate, but I've just got to push through."

NOTES: The league has given the Ravens permission to start selling playoff tickets. Season-ticket holders should receive order forms through the mail in the coming week. Prices range from $53 to $100. Payment deadline is Dec. 15. The Ravens might then hold a public sale depending on how many tickets remain. ... Quarterback Anthony Wright was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week. Wright completed 20 of 37 passes for 319 yards and four touchdowns against the Seahawks.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: San Francisco 49ers (5-6) vs. Ravens (6-5)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line: Ravens by 3

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