Embattled McNair Has Some Big Defenders

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 8, 2007

OWINGS MILLS, Md., Nov. 7 -- The irony of the current climate surrounding the Baltimore Ravens starting quarterback position is not totally lost on Coach Brian Billick. After spending four seasons defending Kyle Boller as the Ravens' starter, Billick now finds himself explaining why he is sticking with four-time Pro Bowl performer Steve McNair, instead of turning to Boller.

"It's amusing," Billick said. "Obviously, across the board, that's standard operating procedure."

McNair has been heavily criticized by fans and observers since his poor performance in the Ravens' 38-7 loss at Pittsburgh on Monday night. McNair, after sitting out of the previous two games, set an NFL record for fewest passing yards (63) for a quarterback with at least 13 attempts, and he committed two turnovers that helped set up two Steelers touchdowns.

The Baltimore Sun conducted an admittedly unscientific poll on its Web site asking who should start Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, McNair or Boller, and as of 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, 3,233 votes had been cast, with 87.9 percent (2,841) going to Boller, a longtime target of Baltimore fans' ire.

"Look what kind of career I've had," said McNair, bristling slightly. "I don't let people tell me, outside this organization, I'm not capable of playing or I don't need to be playing. For what? They ain't never played the position of the quarterback. They never go through the things I go through -- mentally or physically. How are you going to tell me I'm not able to play? I know what my body can do. My teammates know what my body can do, and I know what I can on the field."

Running back Willis McGahee said there was "no doubt" the Ravens would support McNair, and McGahee pointed out he also had a fumble that set up a Steelers touchdown. Wide receiver Derrick Mason, a longtime teammate of McNair's in Tennessee and Baltimore, said it is not fair to make McNair the scapegoat: "It's everybody, all 10 other guys along with Steve." Billick said he has "every faith that Steve will play well" against the Bengals.

Last season, McNair received much of the credit for the Ravens' 13-3 record and AFC North title. He gave the offense a confidence and presence it hadn't had before, and he led Baltimore to three fourth-quarter comeback wins.

But McNair did not play well (two interceptions, one fumble) in the Ravens' 15-6 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the second round of the playoffs. He has continued to turn over the ball this season; in five starts, he has three interceptions and five fumbles. He hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since the fourth quarter of the loss in Cleveland (Sept. 30).

Overall, the offense has struggled with McNair on the field. Under his direction, the Ravens have scored four touchdowns (out of 56 drives) and 10 field goals. His eight turnovers have led to 45 points by the opponents.

"Offensively we've been pressing to make too many plays, make too many big things happen, instead of letting the game come to us," McNair said. "That's where you make mistakes. We've just got to go out and relax and have fun and get that swagger back. If you go out and do the things that you know you can do individually, everything collectively will come together."

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