Give thanks that Ravens chose wisely with McNair

November 23, 2006|By DAVID STEELE

Today is Thanksgiving (as if you didn't know that from the smell of sweet potato pie and the yelling about getting away from the TV and coming to the table). So this ought to be all about what we should be thankful for. Not just for our health, our safety and our blessings, of course - hopefully, that's a given.

No, for our quarterbacks. If your team was smart enough to get one.

Ravens fans ought to include their team in their thoughts as they bow their heads because they know why they're 8-2, about to run away from their division and able to think out loud about playing in the AFC championship game at M&T Bank Stadium.

It's not luck, not completely. It's more about not making a mistake at the most important position on the field. It's recognizing that mistake if it was made, and correcting it in time.

The Ravens got it right. Steve McNair was a question mark from the moment the Ravens started talking about trading for him in the offseason. Now, he's an exclamation point.

At this moment, the Ravens and Colts are the top AFC seeds. The Colts got it right. Peyton Manning over Ryan Leaf eight years ago, remember?

The Chargers, who drafted Leaf, got it wrong. Now, they have it right - or, they got it right two years ago when the choice presented itself again, before the 2004 draft. That's why they are in the mix with the Ravens for a first-round bye.

Philip Rivers, yes. Eli Manning, no. As of right now, the Giants got it wrong when they traded Rivers for Manning on draft day.

Also in the AFC mix: the Broncos, featured in the last of today's three games. Did they get it right when they signed Jake Plummer as a free agent in 2003? Not really sure yet.

Not in the mix: the Titans. They said no to McNair, which wasn't necessarily the wrong move for them (it was just the wrong way to go about it, a fact that several testy readers of this space didn't seem to grasp a few weeks ago). They figured first-round pick Vince Young would be the answer eventually, and Billy Volek would be the right answer now. He wasn't. Neither was his replacement, Kerry Collins.

The right answer, right now? Young. Sometimes you end up right by default.

Also not in the mix, at the moment: the Ravens' opponent Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Steelers. Last February, it was obvious that Ben Roethlisberger was the right choice. Two weeks ago, when he was beaten up on and off the field and 1-6 as the starter, he seemed wrong and Charlie Batch seemed right.

He has now won two straight. But that question will hang over the Steelers' season until the end, whether that comes in the regular-season finale or, miraculously, beyond.

That's how quickly choices can make a team or break it.

Back to our heroes. If McNair stays healthy the rest of the way and the Ravens keep winning, this will end up the most pivotal choice the franchise has ever made.

No one will ever know what path the franchise might have taken, and what kind of quarterback Kyle Boller might be today, had Brian Billick not rushed him into the starting job. All anyone knows is that after last year there had to be a change. Not everyone has the courage to admit a mistake and try to fix it.

The Ravens admitted it. They fixed it. Did they ever. Billick might now be Coach of the Year. Ozzie Newsome might be Executive of the Year. All for that one move.

Don't forget, also, how they fixed it. They said no, not Daunte Culpepper. Try to imagine if the Ravens had fallen for him. No, don't - not on a full stomach.

The Saints also said no to Culpepper. They said yes to Drew Brees, he of the repaired throwing shoulder and the cold shoulder by his Chargers. The Saints, 6-4 and tied for first in their division, made the right choice, as did, as it turns out, the Chargers.

The Dolphins, playing the first game today, said yes to Culpepper. Wrong answer. They also said yes to Joey Harrington. Wrong again. A year later, they will have to make new choices to compensate for the bad ones.

No coach or scout is immune to bad choices. See, for example, the Cowboys in today's second game. Bill Parcells picked his quarterback, Tony Romo, after 3 1/2 seasons of trial and error - lots of error.

Meanwhile, the Redskins are settled at the bottom of that division like a heap of stuffing and gravy. Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs said yes to Mark Brunell. It appears now that it took him way too long to say no to him and yes to Jason Campbell.

In short, Ravens fans: Be thankful your team made the choice it did.

And remember: A third helping of football today is healthy. Of candied yams, not so much.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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