Wright ready to roll

Pro football: Journeyman quarterback Anthony Wright gears up for the biggest start of his career as the Ravens face the Bengals with first place at stake.

December 04, 2003|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

After five journeyman years in the NFL, Anthony Wright has a firm grip on the moment.

If he can quarterback a victory over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the Ravens would take control of the AFC North and Wright would take control of the team's starting quarterback job.

In filling in for injured starter Kyle Boller, Wright has helped the Ravens to two milestone victories, directing the Ravens' biggest comeback ever one week (a 44-41 overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks) and their biggest rout the next (a 44-6 win over the San Francisco 49ers). But as Boller nears recovery from a leg injury, Wright will last only as long as the Ravens' playoff hopes.

That's why the biggest game of the Ravens' season has become the biggest game of Wright's career.

"If Anthony continues to be productive and we continue to be in a playoff fight, Anthony will remain the quarterback," coach Brian Billick said. "He's earned that for now. As is typical, both short- and long-term goals sometimes come into conflict with one another. Right now, our focus obviously is what impacts the immediate future of this team. I'm not going to do anything to disrupt that. Anthony understands this, Kyle understands this and the team understands this."

Boller, the rookie first-round pick who quarterbacked the Ravens to a 5-4 start, could be the team's No. 3 quarterback next week and perhaps be ready to play Dec. 21 at Cleveland (the second-to-last regular-season game) if his left quadriceps has healed fully.

A win Sunday could make the decision to change moot. A loss could make the Ravens' playoff chances, as well as Wright's future, more uncertain.

"Personally, I really don't have anything in mind except winning the game on Sunday," Wright said. "I know everything works together. If we win, things are going to go well for me. As long as we get these wins, that's going to be the bottom line."

Success could affect Wright beyond this season. Working under a one-year, $605,000 contract, he will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end.

Before Wright started making the highlights on ESPN, it was believed the Ravens' plans were to bring him back as the long-term backup to Boller.

When asked whether he thought he had a future with the Ravens, Wright, 27, said: "I don't know. I don't concern myself with that right now. I'm a Baltimore Raven. We are in the playoff hunt. I'm going to do what I can do to put us in that position to be playing in late January."

Even if Wright finishes strong, the chances of keeping him may not be such a long shot. The free-agent quarterback market is expected to be loaded with the likes of Kurt Warner, Mark Brunell and Tim Couch, which could lessen the demand for Wright.

Billick would not comment on how he would handle the quarterback position next season.

"Those long-term decisions - although we are creating a structure for them - are not anything we're ready to discuss right now," Billick said. "It would be counterproductive to the No. 1 priority right now, which is finishing the season as a playoff team and going as deep into the playoffs as we possibly can."

In three starts, Wright has shown a strong arm and mobility in completing 55.2 percent of his throws for 608 yards. He has six touchdowns, three interceptions and a QB rating of 85.8.

His biggest impact has been jump-starting the Ravens in two troubled spots - the red zone (where the Ravens have scored touchdowns on five of their past eight trips) and on third downs (where they have converted 10 of their past 24 tries).

During the past six quarters (including overtime), Wright has completed five of six passes for 42 yards and three touchdowns when inside the 20-yard line. Over that same span, he has connected on 10 of 15 throws for 201 yards on third down.

None of those high-stressed situations prepared him for the anxiety leading up to Sunday's pivotal game.

"It's pretty tough waking up every morning knowing you've got a game like this to play Sunday," Wright said. "It stays on your mind constantly. You're constantly visualizing the things you might do on Sunday."

Still, there has never been a sense that the situation has become too big for him, despite going from a scout-team quarterback to potentially playoff-caliber one in a matter of weeks.

"If I didn't believe in myself or I didn't believe that I could do it, maybe I would be sitting here baffled," said Wright, who bounced from the Pittsburgh Steelers to Dallas Cowboys before landing here before the 2002 season. "But I always felt like I could do it. Even when I was third string, I would compare myself with some of the best quarterbacks in the league because that's the way I felt. I was shocked that I was given the position. But I don't feel in awe about the situation."

After the win over Seattle, Wright gave an emotional speech in the middle of the locker room about coming together as a family. During games, he is constantly telling teammates to believe in themselves.

"If anything, our offense needed that little spark and he is that spark," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "He thinks our offense can put up 20, 30 points a week. I told him to be careful. You score that many points and I am going to have to buy a lot of plane tickets to Houston [for the Super Bowl]. With Anthony controlling our offense, the sky is the limit."

Anthony Wright by the numbers

The quarterbazck's statistics from his first three starts with the Ravens:

Completions - 48

Attempts - 87

Percentage - .552

Yards - 608

Touchdowns - 6

Interceptions - 3

Wins - Losses 2-1

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