McGahee's mouth, not his feet, doing the running

December 31, 2008|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,

Some days, it's hard not to marvel at Willis McGahee. He can cut. He's slippery. He makes your eyes shake out of their sockets. Sometimes, you simply can't believe what has taken place in front of you.

If only we were talking about McGahee's feet instead of his lips.

In an interview this week with Sporting News Radio, McGahee seemed to imply Ravens coaches were at fault for his lack of production this season. McGahee said he "tried to be someone else's running back this year, and it didn't work out."

It's probably not worth harping too much on McGahee's comments. For the most part, he has said the right things to microphones and digital recorders during what has been a frustrating and disappointing season for him. He has often accepted blame and responsibility, even going so far as comparing his play to "doo-doo"- a prime candidate for the year's most truthful statement.

I'm not sure why he chose the week before the playoffs to spout off (the Ravens didn't schedule the interview; The Monty Show's producer told me they had been negotiating with McGahee's people for months). But whether he really blames coaches or not, don't expect his poor judgment on radio to be any kind of distraction as the Ravens prepare for the Miami Dolphins this weekend.

But there was one snippet that is worth further discussion. Asked about his future, McGahee acknowledged he's completing a "crazy" year and added: "I'm just going to go out there and play for me. I can't play for nobody else but me."

We focus on those words not because they reflect on McGahee, but because they speak to the Ravens as a team. In fact, they seem to reveal why McGahee hasn't meshed with this remodeled Ravens unit.

This season's team features many Pro Bowl performers and All-Pro performances. There are at least two near-certain Hall of Famers in the locker room. There are guys playing for new contracts, guys playing for their legacies and guys playing for a job.

But not many who are playing for themselves.

Go through the roster. Hard to imagine many daring to utter something like, "I can't play for nobody else but me," isn't it?

Perhaps more than any other Ravens squad, this season's group embodies the team concept best. It's a credit to coach John Harbaugh for instilling it. And just as important, a credit to linebacker Ray Lewis for encouraging it.

For the most part, everyone in the locker room jumped on board last spring (must've been the week McGahee was in Miami, missing optional workouts in Baltimore). And we saw it illustrated countless times throughout the season.

An injured Derrick Mason rushing back onto the field. A quarterback taking his linemen out to dinner. Defensive backs stepping up when injury befell a teammate. Troy Smith, his shot at starting stolen by tonsillitis, eager to do anything asked of him. The old embracing the young. The young seeking out the veterans. And they all worked as one.

Unlike past seasons, there wasn't a mile-wide divide separating offensive and defensive units. Any distrust, resentment or entitlement was kept in check. Harbaugh went so far as to reshuffle the locker-room seating chart to discourage cliques.

The result speaks for itself. It's not a room of guys who simply wear the same color, who merely show up each morning at the same workplace. The 2008 Ravens - a group that found its way to the playoffs when no one expected it to - are a team. They're a team in just about every sense of the word.

And there are very few exceptions. Which, I guess, brings us back to McGahee.

I remember chatting with McGahee shortly after he was traded to the Ravens. He didn't enjoy his time with the Buffalo Bills. He didn't think they understood him. For their part, the Bills never felt McGahee cared about anyone other than himself.

When McGahee's agent called him and said the trade was complete, McGahee told me he was running through his home with his hands in the air, yelling: "Yes! Yes! Yes!" In just two years, the Ravens changed. McGahee hasn't.

Many of the Bills' complaints have resurfaced in Baltimore. It's not that the team doesn't appreciate McGahee; rather, McGahee doesn't seem to appreciate the team concept.

And it's too bad. His numbers won't garner postseason accolades, but his presence has been important. He allows his teammates to rest. He provides Cam Cameron with different options, and he's another threat defenses have to account for.

Teaming McGahee with Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice, the Ravens had the NFL's fourth-best running game. They're a big reason the Ravens led the league in time of possession. And their 2,376 rushing yards were the second-most in team history, surpassed by only the 2003 squad, which featured Jamal Lewis and his 2,066 yards.

He doesn't seem to know it, but McGahee has been a part of something special. And it would be a lot better if for the next few weeks, McGahee's footwork is as quick, fanciful and dazzling as his words.

RAVENS (11-5) @DOLPHINS (11-5)

AFC wild card

Sunday, 1 p.m.

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Line: Ravens by 3

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