By Jamison Hensley
October 2, 2006
After the Ravens flopped in their hurry-up offense at the end of the first half, quarterback Steve McNair ripped off his chin strap and tossed his helmet against the bench.
But as most teams are learning, an angry McNair is a dangerous one.
One week after scratching out a comeback victory, quarterback Steve McNair relied on his signature determination to carry the Ravens to their biggest triumph of the season, an emotional 16-13 win over the previously undefeated San Diego Chargers yesterday before a sellout crowd at M&T Bank Stadium.
Shaking off his sloppiest effort of the season, McNair was nearly perfect on the Ravens' final drive against the NFL's top-ranked defense, completing four of five passes for 43 yards and running for another 12.
His game-winning, 10-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap with 34 seconds remaining gave the Ravens (4-0) their only lead and completed their nine-point rally in the fourth quarter.
"You can't get all nervous because you've only got two minutes to go with no timeouts," McNair said. "A lot of people shy away from that; I live for that. I've been doing that all my career."
Last week in Cleveland, McNair started at his own 20-yard line and had 3 minutes, 21 seconds (and two timeouts) to move the Ravens into position for the game-winning field goal.
Yesterday, he took over at his own 40 with 3:05 left, but the level of difficulty had increased. He needed to score a touchdown. He had no timeouts. And he was staring at a San Diego defense that had allowed two touchdowns in 11 quarters this season.
McNair jump-started the drive with a 17-yard pass to receiver Mark Clayton and then bulled his way on a 12-yard run that moved the Ravens to the Chargers' 23. He connected with Clayton again on a 13-yard throw, setting up the heroics by Heap.
After his primary receiver was covered, McNair found a wide-open Heap at the 4-yard line. Heap caromed off a hit by Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman and then dove for his third straight game with a touchdown, capping the six-play, 60-yard drive and sending the crowd of 70,743 into a frenzy.
"I felt the hit," Heap said. "Luckily, I was able to bounce, fight and do whatever I could to get in the end zone. You want to be able to take the hit. You want to be the last team standing."
In addition to earning some respect by winning this battle of unbeaten teams, the Ravens recorded their first four-game winning streak since the 2000 Super Bowl season and took sole possession of first place in the AFC North for the first time since they won the division at the end of the 2003 season.
More importantly, the win proved that the Ravens have the resiliency to bounce back and beat a high-caliber team after being physically dominated for three quarters.
"We got hit in the mouth and we tasted our own blood and we stuck together," said linebacker Bart Scott, who finished with 15 tackles and set up the Ravens' first touchdown with an interception. "That's the mark of a champion -- you can be beat up all day and come back and fight when it counts the most."
The dramatic ending was preceded by a comedy of errors by the Ravens' offense.
McNair threw an inexplicable interception in the second quarter, when his deep pass was picked off with no Ravens receiver within 10 yards of the ball. Receiver Derrick Mason, who has the best hands on the team, let a sure touchdown go through his fingers in the fourth quarter after losing the ball in the sun.
But the biggest mistake came near the end of the third quarter, when the Ravens trailed 13-7 and faced second-and-goal on the Chargers' 2. Instead of punching the ball in with Jamal Lewis, the Ravens decided to have McNair flick the ball to tight end Daniel Wilcox, who fumbled after taking a hit at the 1.
Asked how the Ravens addressed that fumble on the sideline, Heap said, "A lot of things were said, but we probably don't want to repeat a lot of them. I think every game you are going to have a point where something is going to go against you. It's how you react to those situations that builds character."
The momentum began to swing to the Ravens in the fourth quarter, when punter Mike Scifres botched a hold on a 51-yard field-goal attempt that could have put the Chargers ahead by nine points.
On San Diego's next possession, three penalties on the Chargers -- two false starts and one ineligible man downfield on a punt -- essentially forced them to take a safety, shaving the Ravens' deficit to 13-9 with 3:12 left in the game.
"They did shoot themselves in the foot a couple of times," said offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who shut down Maryland alum Merriman in a key matchup. "A lot of times people make mistakes, but you have to capitalize on them. It wasn't pretty, but we did what we had to do today."
For the second straight week, the Ravens' defense kept the game within reach by delivering a shutout in the second half. This time, the defense's job was made easier by San Diego's conservative play-calling.
This allowed a ragged Ravens offense to have a shot at redemption. McNair, who was 13-for-25 for 115 yards in the game's first 57 minutes, misfired only once in the final three.
If the Ravens have proven anything in the first quarter of the season, it's they can take a series of hits throughout the game and still come back to deliver the knockout blow.
"It's not an exciting offensive ballclub, but we get the job done," McNair said. "That's what we have to believe in. The scary thing about it is we haven't played offensively half the way we could play. If we could play up to our potential, it's scary how good this ballclub could be."
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