Reluctant all season to bench Steve McNair, coach Brian Billick might not have to take away the starting job from his struggling veteran after all.
A newly discovered injury could do it for him.
McNair developed "substantial" soreness in his non-throwing shoulder yesterday morning, an injury that could force Billick to turn to backup Kyle Boller.
The Ravens probably want to make a decision by midweek as they prepare for Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.
"I have to wait and see," Billick said. "Right now, the injury is one that we'll have to address first and foremost to see what exactly that it is and make our evaluations going forward."
Several factors point to the Ravens going with Boller as their starting quarterback.
McNair has flopped mightily this season, throwing two touchdown passes and committing 11 turnovers (four interceptions and seven fumbles).
He has appeared to lose confidence in himself, saying after Sunday's game that he "probably would agree" with the coaches if they decided to start Boller.
And now, he is not healthy again, developing soreness in his left shoulder.
So, why are the Ravens reluctant to name Boller the starter immediately?
"I'm not reluctant in any way, shape or form; I have a great deal of faith in Kyle," Billick said. "What I'm waiting for is more information. We're less than 24 hours removed from the game. There is still a lot of work to be done. We just want to make sure we have all the information available to us before we go forward. There is no hesitancy on my part with regards to the faith that I have in Kyle Boller."
McNair, the NFL's co-Most Valuable Player in 2003 and the most decorated quarterback to play for the Ravens, has not been the same since the Ravens' 15-6 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts last season, when he threw two interceptions (including a critical one near the goal line).
In six starts this season, McNair has thrown two touchdown passes but none since Sept. 30. In his past 35 drives, he has led the offense to one touchdown (and that was a 33-yard run by Willis McGahee).
The breaking point for the Ravens' fan base came in Sunday's 21-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. In front of a sellout home crowd, McNair was booed heavily when he failed to deliver one scoring drive against a Bengals defense that had allowed an NFL-worst 30.5 points a game and hadn't held a team under 20 points this season.
"I think where Steve is physically due to the injuries maybe [has] taken a toll that we have to look at and see if we're evaluating him fairly," Billick said of McNair, who has dealt with groin and back injuries this season.
Although neither McNair nor Boller has been spectacular this season, Boller has played better than McNair.
This season, despite 71 fewer pass attempts, Boller has thrown one more touchdown pass (three) and has a slightly higher quarterback rating (74.6 to 73.9).
But the Ravens have been delicate when addressing McNair, a popular figure in the locker room who commands respect after earning four Pro Bowl appearances and leading the Tennessee Titans to the Super Bowl in January 2000.
That's why it would be an easier transition if McNair were removed as the starting quarterback because of injury and not performance.
"To have been able to work with Steve McNair has been one of the highlights of my professional career," Billick said. "That admiration will never change. It is painful to watch him deal with what he's dealing with."
The Ravens (4-5) have been dealing with pain for several weeks, losing three straight games and watching their offense drop to 28th in the NFL in scoring (15.3 points).
"I have faith in what we're going to be able to do going forward," Billick said. "I have faith in Steve McNair, and I have faith in Kyle Boller. These are my guys, and that's not been shaken under some tough times."