McNair brings ugly numbers, but has Ravens sitting pretty

October 02, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

This new guy, Steve McNair, has got to be the worst former co-MVP quarterback to ever lead such an inept offense to back-to-back last-minute victories that kept his team undefeated.

Go ahead, try to disprove that. Find someone in the history of the NFL who fits that description better. I dare you.

The Ravens' offense looked the same against the San Diego Chargers at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday as it did last week in Cleveland - and as it has all season, and as it did last season, and as it has for about eight years.

Except that in the end, in the fourth quarter, in the final minutes and seconds, it looked completely different, for the second straight week. It has rallied to win two in a row, by a combined four points.

Why? That difference is tiny, and gargantuan.

Actually, that description fits McNair perfectly, too. He's the lone significant change on offense from last year, and his numbers so far are barely better than those of Kyle Boller, whose stats seemed to tell the whole, sad story.

McNair's numbers, though, tell you absolutely nothing. They definitely don't add up to 4-0. But 4-0 - and the way he got them to 4-0, when it easily could have been 2-2 - is all that matters.

His poor teammates, though - they tried so hard yesterday to give McNair credit for what has happened two weeks in a row, without burying the guy he replaced.

"I think all it is, honestly, is that we trust one another," said Derrick Mason, who helped set McNair up for his heroics by losing a fourth-quarter bomb in the sun. "If we're in range of winning the game, we have confidence in each other about what we can do. ... We're not waiting on somebody to make a play, we know somebody's gonna make a play.

"It isn't pretty," Mason continued. "We all found a way to win the game this year; as opposed to last year, we never did find a way to win the games."

By the way, that was the Ravens' catchphrase of the day: "It isn't pretty." Last week, it was: "We grew up as a team." The new one might as well be the title of their highlight video. This isn't going to be pretty.

It seemed as if the Chargers couldn't get out of their own way, unable to complete the snap on field goals and stay onside on punts, and killing their own momentum with conservative fourth-quarter play-calling. That doesn't mean they're not a quality team, or that the Ravens can't ugly up a game against anybody, including the presumed elite in the NFL. With a trip to Denver next week and with the Carolina Panthers coming here the week after, the Ravens sure will find out soon enough.

McNair, it appears, is a Hall of Fame-level ugly-win player, an unexpected detour at this stage of his career.

He shouldn't have been rewarded after interceptions like the one he overthrew in the second quarter, or the one he underthrew in the fourth. Or, for that matter, for fumbling while hit in the second (the Ravens recovered) or for tripping over his feet while dropping back in the third. The fumble by Daniel Wilcox on the goal line in the third, and Mason's whiff in the fourth, weren't his fault, but they would have gone on his record anyway.

Yet just as he did last week, McNair flipped the switch and suddenly flooded the field with his presence. The Ravens went 60 yards in the final three minutes with no timeouts; a Chargers holding penalty got them the first 5, and McNair personally accounted for all the rest, 43 passing and 12 on a turn-back-the-clock scramble for a huge first down.

"It wasn't the vision I had," cracked Jonathan Ogden, talking about what he expected the McNair effect to be. "But you know what? It doesn't matter how you win."

OK, scratch the other highlight-video title. "It Doesn't Matter How You Win" sounds a little more marketable.

Once again, McNair gave the impression that he doesn't even recognize the concept of pressure. "I think I'm relaxed, because with two minutes to go, that's how you have to be," he said afterward. "You can't be all nervous with two minutes to go and no timeouts - you just have to be relaxed and make every play count.

"A lot of players shy away from that. I live for that. That's how I've played my entire career."

It sounds too simple. The Ravens trust McNair, so they pull it together at the end and win with him, and for him. In a short span of time, he's made them think that way and gotten them to play that way.

Only when defeat is staring them in the eye, but it's been good enough so far.

Not good enough to prevent Professor Mason from grading the offense so harshly again. "It's still a C," he said. "The only reason I give it a C is because we found a way to win the game at the end. I can't give it a D; we passed."

For this team, this offense and especially this quarterback, a C grade means a perfect score.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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