Washington ready for redemption

Ravens corner was burned for touchdowns three times against Bills

November 06, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

As the Ravens line up against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, a sellout crowd of 71,000 at M&T Bank Stadium anxiously waits to see whether cornerback Fabian Washington can recover from his darkest NFL hour.

Someone with a voice of experience has no doubts.

"He has what it takes to bounce back," said Duane Starks, a starting cornerback on the Ravens' Super Bowl team and Washington's teammate in Oakland for two years (2005-06). "Basically, he has to get his head into the game. You can't go out looking to make the play. You have to let the play come to you."

A decade ago, Starks stood in that same unenviable spot as Washington. He failed time after time to stop Jimmy Smith, surrendering three touchdowns to the Jacksonville wide receiver. Starks, though, rebounded to finish with a team-best nine interceptions in the regular season and playoffs, which included a pivotal 49-yard return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

The pressure is now on Washington to do the same. Just like Starks, Washington gave up three touchdowns in front of an exasperated home crowd, getting beat each time by Buffalo's Lee Evans on Oct. 24.

Sunday marks Washington's long-awaited shot at vindication.

"I was wishing I could have played the next day," said Washington, who relived the bitter moments by breaking down the tape three times during the bye. "That's how bad I wanted to redeem myself. I can't wait."

It is believed that Washington and Starks are the only Ravens cornerbacks to allow three touchdowns in a game (they don't keep official stats on that). The key to getting your footing back as a cornerback, according to Starks, is to identify your mistakes, study your opponent and always trust in your abilities.

So, why is Starks so confident that Washington can follow in his footsteps?

"When I first saw Fabian, I thought about myself," said Starks, who owns a limousine service in Miami. "He's got a quick recovery and he's a small guy. The one thing a small guy has to have is a lot of heart. He has that."

Washington's heart is expected to be tested early and often by the Dolphins (4-3) and leading receiver Brandon Marshall.

Miami has thrown the ball to Marshall 79 times in seven games, which makes him the third-most targeted receiver in the NFL. To ramp up the pressure, Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said he is wary about assigning double coverage on Marshall because it frees up the other receivers.

Washington understands the challenging task at hand.

"The other team definitely is going to have a bulls-eye on you. If they're smart, they would," Washington said. "If a guy struggles one week, I'm going to make him prove himself the next week."

The last time Washington stepped onto a field, he never looked so vulnerable in his 74-game NFL career, allowing touchdowns of 33, 20 and 17 yards. After the third touchdown was scored with 5:46 left in the fourth quarter, Washington was benched in favor of Josh Wilson.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh sidestepped the question on whether Washington would regain his starting job, although he said Washington would receive plenty of playing time.

"To play corner in this league, they say you have to have a short memory. I kind of prefer a long memory," Harbaugh said. "I think you learn from your mistakes and you apply it and try to get better. Fabian's done that. He's worked hard all week, and I expect him to play really well."

Washington's collapse was so surprising because he had played really well up to that point. It's the one smudge in an otherwise strong third season with the Ravens.

He hadn't given up a touchdown in his first six games. He led the Ravens with three pass break-ups at Cincinnati on Sept. 19. And he tied a career high by breaking up four passes against Denver on Oct. 10.

"The one bad game is so sour it took a lot away from the good of the season," Washington said. "It wasn't just a bad game. It was terrible. It's OK to have a bad game. It was a terrible game. I couldn't stop the bleeding."

Washington regrouped over the bye week by going to Florida to see his 2-year-old daughter Lailani. He played with her at the park, and he watched her favorite movie, "Alvin and the Chipmunks," a couple of times.

To get an advance scouting report last Sunday, Washington went to a sports bar where he watched the Miami-Cincinnati game with some unknowing Dolphins fans.

The five-day break was a welcome respite for Washington.

"You get a chance to rest your body and rest your mind," he said. "Now it's almost like starting over."

His teammates haven't noticed any change in him since the Ravens returned to practice Monday.

"Fabian is the kind of guy that's going to come out and just play football," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Fabe isn't going to worry about two weeks ago. All he can worry about is right now."

Right now, the Ravens (5-2) are sitting atop the AFC North with the Pittsburgh Steelers. To remain there, the Ravens' secondary knows it has to keep Miami's wide receivers out of the end zone (eight of the Dolphins 10 offensive touchdowns have come through the air).

If the Ravens want to keep pace with the rest of the AFC power teams, they need Washington to reestablish himself as one of the top cornerbacks on the team.

"I know he's not really going to go in the tank," cornerback Chris Carr said. "He's going to shake this off, and he's going to be fine. He knows that we're not disappointed with him. He knows that it could happen to any of us. He knows that he wants to get better and go out there and play well, so we fully expect him to play well all season."

Jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Twitter.com/jamisonhensley

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