McNair Is Rested and Ready for Ravens

Steve McNair
Steve McNair is set to make his first start since Oct. 7 as the Ravens travel to Pittsburgh. (Preston Keres - The Washington Post)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 2, 2007

OWINGS MILLS, Md., Nov. 1 -- Derrick Mason noticed a difference in Steve McNair as the Baltimore Ravens practiced Thursday. The veteran quarterback was back with the starting offense after a three-week respite to allow some nagging injuries to heal.

"With three weeks off, a guy is going to be a little bit rejuvenated," said Mason, who has played alongside McNair for 10 seasons. "You can see that he has that bounce back in his step again. I think Steve needed something like that, especially going into the second half of the season. We're going to need all the healthy bodies that we can get because we have a lot of very tough teams to play."

That starts Monday night when Baltimore travels to Pittsburgh to face the AFC North leader. The Steelers (5-2) are undefeated at Heinz Field this season and have the top-ranked defense in the NFL. The Ravens (4-3) have scored just four offensive touchdowns in four road games (three losses) this year, but are encouraged by the players who are returning to the lineup.

McNair is set to make his first start since Oct. 7, when the Ravens beat San Francisco, 9-7. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe), center Mike Flynn (knee) and right tackle Adam Terry (ankle) are on track to start on Monday; those three linemen haven't started together since the season opener.

"We really weren't a complete team without [McNair] and without J.O.," running back Willis McGahee said. "Everybody's back and we're really looking forward to it."

McNair injured his groin during the first series of the season opener, and then he tweaked his back the week after the 49ers game. Rather than have the 34-year-old McNair battle through the injuries -- something that he has done throughout his 13-year NFL career -- Coach Brian Billick decided to rest him against the St. Louis Rams and the Buffalo Bills.

The time off appears to have helped. Billick said that McNair looks like he's 100 percent healthy and that he noticed a "freshness" in McNair on Thursday. McNair said that "the two or three weeks that I had off was good for the body. It gave me time to heal up and I played with a lot of confidence and not worry about the injuries."

The injuries, not surprisingly, affected McNair's mobility, and restricted his ability to make plays with his legs. But they also affected his touch and his follow-through on passes.

"Mostly I was using my arm," McNair said. "Now I can go ahead and make sure that I can follow through with the right techniques. As a quarterback you've got to have the right techniques. When you're hurt, you kind of lose those techniques and now that I've got them back, things will work out."

Baltimore's offense hasn't been particularly effective this season, regardless of who has been starting at quarterback. The Ravens rank near the bottom of the league in yards per play and red zone efficiency. McNair and backup Kyle Boller have put up similar numbers: McNair is completing 65.6 percent of his passes and has two touchdowns and two interceptions, while Boller is completing 61.5 percent and has three touchdowns and two interceptions.

"I have said many times, it is the hardest thing a team ever has to deal with, the loss of its quarterback either due to play or injury. The rhythm, what you do, the style -- it is a lot for a team to deal with," Billick said. "We have [McNair and a healthy group of wide receivers] back now so we hope to get that continuity back, but it does take a little while to get back into the rhythm, now that you are back to the original quarterback."

McNair has had success against the Steelers in his career; overall, he is 11-4 against Pittsburgh (2-0 with the Ravens), while completing 62 percent of his passes and throwing 21 touchdowns. In Baltimore's 31-7 win in Pittsburgh during the penultimate week of last regular season, he threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, with two interceptions.

But in his six starts since then, including last season's playoff loss to Indianapolis, McNair has struggled: He has just two touchdown passes and 10 turnovers (five interceptions). Still, McNair brings something more to the Ravens' offense.

"We have his veteran leadership," Mason said. "As far as what we do offensively, we're not going to change anything. His calmness, his attention to detail out there on the field -- not to say that Kyle doesn't have it -- but Steve, with his veteran wisdom and leadership, it's always good to have a guy like that underneath center."

Ravens Notes: Cornerback Chris McAlister, who has a sprained knee, appears unlikely to play against the Steelers. He was limited to running during Thursday's practice. If McAlister can't play, veteran Corey Ivy will likely start in his place. . . . Tight end Daniel Wilcox (foot) did not practice, but tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) participated in portions of practice.

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