Ravens come out firing

The Baltimore Sun

On a night that was supposed to celebrate Willis McGahee's debut, Ravens quarterback Steve McNair made it known that he's still the one running this offense.

In his first and only drive of the game, McNair started the preseason with a near-flawless cameo, setting the tone in a 29-3 win over the Philadelphia Eagles before an announced 71,060 at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Showing an increased comfort level in his second season with the Ravens, McNair completed six of eight passes for 73 yards, capping the marathon, 93-yard drive with a 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Quinn Sypniewski.

"I think right now it's all about me having the chemistry with these guys that I didn't have last year," McNair said. "I feel so refreshed that now I know what I'm doing and execute."

Although one of the Ravens' goals this preseason is to improve their running game, they showed they could still move the ball through the air - and do it with ease.

Starting from the Ravens' 7-yard line, McNair threw on eight of the series' 12 plays, distributed the ball to four receivers and converted three times on third down.

On third-and-six at the Ravens' 21-yard line, McNair hit Demetrius Williams on an 11-yard curl route. On third-and-nine, he found Derrick Mason for 21 yards.

And on third-and-goal, McNair sat in the pocket for three seconds to find an open receiver before zipping a pass high in the middle of the end zone to Sypniewski, presumably one of the last options on the play.

"We've been running that play a lot in camp and we hadn't hit it yet," said Sypniewski, whose two catches on the first drive last night matched his total from last season. "But we just know that if the linebackers move just right, I'm going to find a hole back there."

While he was upstaged by McNair, McGahee showed off some big-play potential in his one drive of work.

On his second carry, McGahee followed mammoth left tackle Jared Gaither and broke a 16-yard run. McGahee, who was traded from the Buffalo Bills this offseason, finished with 20 yards on four attempts.

"I still need to get comfortable with what the guys are doing up front," McGahee said. "It was nice to get that one out of the way. Hopefully, there's a lot more to come."

The Ravens starting defense didn't give up a point in its two series. The first unit allowed 62 yards on 12 plays, but a bulk of those yards came on one play.

Taking a short pass from quarterback A.J. Feeley (who started in place of the injured Donovan McNabb), running back Brian Westbrook wove his way for 23 yards. But the Eagles couldn't capitalize on that big play, as kicker David Akers missed a 43-yard field goal wide right.

"We've always been an aggressive defense, but I think we're taking it up to another level," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It bit us in the butt once, because they slipped a screen on us. But once we get it all down, you know we'll be good."

Even though it's the preseason, the Ravens still relied on two old standbys: kicker Matt Stover and a high-pressure defense.

Stover converted from 50 and 41 yards in the first half to give the Ravens a 13-3 lead at halftime. He later added kicks from 50, 23 and 41 yards.

The five field goals were a preseason best for Stover.

"I still brought my 7-iron to the game," said Stover, who hit two field goals from 50 yards for the first time in the preseason. "The ball was just flying tonight."

And after the Ravens starting defense had left, the backups didn't let up. The Ravens sacked Eagles quarterbacks Kelly Holcomb and Kevin Kolb four times in the second quarter. Antwan Barnes, Ronnie Prude, Prescott Burgess and Gerome Sapp all recorded sacks on 13 pass attempts.

"What we liked is that the first two groups played fast and aggressive," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said.

After McNair made a quick exit, the rest of the Ravens quarterbacks were uneven.

Backup Kyle Boller was 7-for-12 for 40 yards and was erratic on some of his throws. His best play was a 20-yard scramble that set up Stover's 41-yarder at the end of the second quarter.

In the fight for the No. 3 quarterback spot, Drew Olson won Round 1.

Troy Smith played the third quarter and seemed wild at times. He misfired on his first five throws (including a drop by Yamon Figurs) and finished 3-for-11 for 34 yards. The Heisman Trophy winner did create some excitement with a 13-yard run.

Olson, who was on the Ravens practice squad last season, took over at the start of the fourth quarter and completed seven of nine passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.

After getting sacked on his first play, Olson converted a third-and-11 with a 33-yard pass to tight end Kendrick Ballantyne. Olson then hit fullback Le'Ron McClain for a 4-yard touchdown, increasing the Ravens' lead to 23-3.

Olson followed that up by leading two drives that ended with field goals by Stover.

"I'd lie to you if I say I didn't feel it," Olson said of the pressure of competing. "But you try to put it in the back as much as you can and just go out there and play."

In assessing the Ravens' most lopsided preseason win since 2001, coach Brian Billick pointed out they had no significant injuries, no turnovers and three penalties.

"That's pretty unique for a first preseason game," said Billick, whose Ravens next play the New York Giants at M&T; Bank Stadium on Sunday. "I was pleased with the way the guys handled themselves in their first outing."


Sun reporter Bill Ordine contributed to this article.

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