Sanders eager to restart latest Ravens comeback

Foot is better, so defensive back might return Sunday vs. Giants

Pro Football

December 08, 2004|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

The limp has faded, the gallop is nearing full speed and the towering confidence in himself remains status quo.

Deion Sanders, the Ravens' highly publicized nickel back, appears close to returning for Sunday's game against the New York Giants after missing the past four games with an injured foot.

"We'll see," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Sanders' return cannot come soon enough for the Ravens. And not just for the team's sake.

Sanders has been itching to get back on the field since suffering the injury Nov. 7 against the Cleveland Browns. Basically, Sanders wants to finish what he says he started -- a successful comeback after a three-year layoff.

Despite playing in half of the Ravens' 12 games this season and making it all the way through just four, Sanders expressed no remorse about returning and expects he will be able to compete at the highest level again.

"I have no regrets," Sanders said. "It's somewhat disappointing that things happened that I can't control. Most athletes or really successful persons in life, we have struggles with control."

For Sanders, the struggle comes from a bothersome foot that had some wondering if he would play again, especially because it was a toe injury that forced him out of the final month of the season with the Dallas Cowboys in 1998 and failed to heal completely on into the next year.

But things are not the same this time, Sanders said.

"In Dallas, it was my big toe," he said. "This is under the ball of my foot. It's a totally different injury."

That is good news for the Ravens' secondary, which was lit up for 382 passing yards by the Cincinnati Bengals' Carson Palmer on Sunday.

Sanders' return would give the Ravens a defensive backfield they envisioned would be there throughout the season but has not materialized over a significant period of time yet.

Gary Baxter can hone in on covering the slot receiver. Chris McAlister can focus on covering one side of the field, rather than shadowing the opposing team's main receiving threat. And Chad Williams can get back to being one of the best dime (sixth) backs in the league.

That stability could be key, especially because a game against the high-powered Indianapolis Colts looms after the Giants.

"When I'm on the field, it gives you [better] matchups," Sanders said. "It allows Coach [Mike] Nolan to do different things. I'm a natural Band-Aid. I'm a natural person that keeps things together whether it's inside the locker room or outside."

That said, Sanders is not rushing himself back on the field despite the out-of-character performance by the Ravens' defense in giving up 24 fourth-quarter points against Cincinnati.

"There is a need," Sanders said. "There is a desire, too. But you have to understand your body, and timing and all of that. When we had the big Monday night game against Kansas City, everything in my heart wanted me to come back [from a hamstring injury]. People wanted me to come back; it was prime time. But I knew I was not ready. I'm too old to be led by my flesh."

In the six games without Sanders, the secondary has given up an average of 57.2 more passing yards than the 151.3 in the four full games Sanders played.

But three of the four teams Sanders has faced from start to finish rank in the bottom third of the league in passing (the exception being the No. 6 Philadelphia Eagles).

Still, what may be missed most without a healthy Sanders is the playmaking ability. Sanders intercepted two passes and returned one for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills on Oct. 24. He has three interceptions, tied for second on the team with Chad Williams, behind Ed Reed's seven.

The top three passing performances against the Ravens -- Cincinnati twice and the Kansas City Chiefs -- have all come without Sanders in the lineup.

"I feel like when I'm on the field, I'm going to make a play," Sanders said. "If they throw the ball my way, somewhere in that game, I'm going to make a play. And that is the feeling you want to give the coaches and teammates -- that you will make a play. And that's the feeling that I have.

"The passion has really increased," Sanders continued, "because now I want to get back out there and do [it]. It was like a pause button was hit. Now I want to hit that button again and continue."

NOTE: Reed's interception and fumble that was returned for a touchdown by McAlister was nominated for the NFL's Play of the Week award. Fans can go to NFL.com to vote.

Next for Ravens

Matchup: New York Giants (5-7) vs. Ravens (7-5)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

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

Line: Ravens by 9 1/2

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