Number called, McGahee answers

Harbaugh and self-critical, little-used running back credit offensive line for 77-yard touchdown run that put game away

December 21, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,edward.lee@baltsun.com

IRVING, Texas - John Harbaugh had maintained - insisted to those who had their doubts - that running back Willis McGahee was still a viable and valuable part of the Ravens' attack.

Harbaugh got a little redemption last night when McGahee broke a 77-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter of the Ravens' 33-24 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium.

McGahee finished the game with eight rushes for 108 yards, and the longest touchdown of his career helped give the Ravens a nine-point cushion that they would need in the end.

Harbaugh joked after the game that the coaching staff had conserved McGahee, who had carried the football just 33 times for 76 yards in his past five games, for that specific touchdown run.

"I think this is exactly how we planned it," Harbaugh said. "We were saving him for that special run right there. You saw it. That was a part of the plan all along.

"No, Willis is a great running back," Harbaugh continued. "He's been fighting those things all year; he's getting stronger every single week, he practices as well as anybody I've ever been around, and it showed up in this game."

Since his 25-rush, 112-yard, two-touchdown effort against the Houston Texans on Nov. 9, McGahee had been somewhat forgotten as the offense turned to fullback Le'Ron McClain and rookie Ray Rice. Ten days ago, McGahee was critical of his own performance and said he did not disagree with the coaches' decision to use him sparingly.

"To me, my number was called. I just made a play," McGahee said last night. "That's what I'm here for. The O-line did a great job as far as blocking the whole game. They were tough at first, but then their defense started breaking and that's when it happened. My number was just called."

Through the first 55 minutes of last night's contest, McGahee had been used as McClain's backup, rushing the ball just seven times for 31 yards and catching three passes for 21 yards.

But after Terrell Owens' 7-yard touchdown catch trimmed the Ravens' lead down to 19-17, McGahee showed what he was capable of.

On first-and-10 from the Ravens' 23, McGahee burst up the middle. With only one man to beat, McGahee avoided Anthony Henry's low tackle attempt and rumbled the rest of the way to the end zone. McGahee said the play had developed just as offensive line coach John Matsko had told him earlier in the period that it would.

"It was a quick-hit play," McGahee said. "... As soon as the play happened, it opened up. I had one person to beat. ... He tried to hit me low and he missed, and it was just daylight for me."

Harbaugh said McGahee's score was possible because of the offensive line's ability to open holes against a Cowboys defense that had stifled the running game through the first three quarters.

"Our offensive line just kept hammering against a great defense and a great defensive front," Harbaugh said. "Our offensive line kept hammering, kept hammering, kept hammering - like a hammer on a rock - and they cracked finally in the fourth quarter, and that's a credit to our offense."

So does last night's performance mean that McGahee will become a bigger part of the Ravens' game plan? No one is sure.

"I can't even get into that, man," McGahee said. "Like I said, my number was called, and I made a play. Just go out there and try to do what you need to do."

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