McNair Gets Off To a Flying Start

Steve McNair
Steve McNair scrambles for a six-yard touchdown in Baltimore's preseason opener against the New York Giants. (Chris Gardner - AP)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 12, 2006

BALTIMORE, Aug. 11 -- Steve McNair stood on the sideline late in the first quarter of the Baltimore Ravens' 17-16 preseason loss to the New York Giants, a visor on his head and a towel slung over his shoulder. His workday was done, after just one series on Friday night. But what he did in those 12 plays was enough to earn cheers from the fans inside M&T Bank Stadium and remind them why Baltimore was so excited to acquire the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback in the offseason.

McNair, who was traded to the Ravens from the Tennessee Titans, led his new team on a smooth 80-yard drive on its first possession, and finished it off with a six-yard scramble into the corner of the end zone. He looked calm in control of the Ravens' offense, completing 4 of 5 passes for 45 yards.

"It's what we're looking for offensively," McNair said. "It's the start of something that we can continue to do over the course of the year. . . . I'm not saying we're there yet; we still have a long way to go. But at the same time, that's the kind of drive we can look forward to establishing over the course of the season."

And it will continue to fuel the optimism that has surrounded the Ravens since June 8, when McNair officially signed with the team and replaced the erratic Kyle Boller as the starter. McNair represented the kind of talented, veteran presence that Baltimore had never had at the quarterback position.

He received a warm ovation as soon as he trotted onto the field, and again when he completed his first pass, of 17 yards, to tight end Todd Heap. On first and 10 from the Giants 22, McNair stood in and found Mark Clayton for a seven-yard pickup across the middle; a moment after he released the ball, McNair was smushed by defensive tackle Fred Robbins.

Four plays later, a one-yard touchdown dive from running back Musa Smith was negated by a false start penalty. A year ago, that kind of penalty at that moment -- on third down in the red zone -- would have doomed the 6-10 Ravens to a field goal. But on third and goal from the 6, McNair dropped back, and decided to keep the ball himself.

He paused briefly, then ran hard for the right side of the end zone, and somehow his 33-year-old legs got him in as cornerback Corey Webster, 24, and linebacker Chase Blackburn, 23, tried to push him out of bounds. McNair pumped his fist and was swarmed by his teammates.

"The first drive was one perfect drive," said Heap, who had two catches for 34 yards. "Everything was fluid. You could see Steve McNair going through his reads. He went through his progression, hit the open guys, and that's the main thing for us this year. If we take what they give us, we'll be able to march down the field that way."

The Ravens have talked about their hopes for a balanced offense, a change from the run-heavy units of previous seasons. On the opening drive, running back Jamal Lewis, who is coming off of the worst season of his career, looked sharp and decisive, and ran for 34 yards on six carries.

"I was kind of anxious to see how [the Giants] were going to line up against us," said Lewis, who averaged a career-low 3.4 yards per carry in 2005. "Kinda waiting to see what kind of reaction we get out of defenses with Steve McNair back there with his experience and with his presence. They backed out, they looked kind of honest, so we were able to play things 50-50."

Boller, Baltimore's starting quarterback ever since he was made the 19th overall pick in the 2003 draft, replaced McNair late in the first quarter and completed 12 of 18 passes for 100 yards in two quarters of play.

He led the Ravens on three scoring drives, but as was often the case last season, those scores were field goals from Matt Stover and not touchdowns. Boller also was offered a reminder of why the Ravens wanted to bring in a veteran; twice he fell after taking the snap, and twice he had passes batted away at the line. He was sacked three times.

New York's Michael Jennings scored on a 57-yard punt return in the fourth quarter, and Jay Feeley's 29-yard field goal as time expired provided the winning points for the Giants.

But the lasting memory of Friday night will be McNair's performance.

"Steve managed the game well and made good decisions," Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said. "We did not design Steve's scramble for the touchdown. It was all him. A little scary, but all him."

"I told everybody when I came here, this is my style of play," McNair said. "Regardless if it's preseason or a regular season game, I play to win, and I do whatever it takes to win."

Ravens Notes: Smith, who missed nearly all of last season after breaking his leg in November 2004, ran for 61 yards on just four carries. . . . Linebacker Ray Lewis (coach's decision) and cornerback Samari Rolle (heel) were game-day scratches. . . .

Wide receiver Derrick Mason suffered a mild concussion on the first drive and did not return. Linebacker Mike Smith, who started in place of Lewis, left the game at halftime with a knee contusion. . . . Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams was on the sideline, working as a celebrity reporter for the Ravens' radio broadcast.

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