Drive fuels dreams of Feb. trip to Arizona

The Baltimore Sun

There is only one hard-a], Ravens' offense providesnd-fast rule when you're watching the home team's first game of the NFL preseason: Don't jump to a lot of premature conclusions.

Well, the heck with that.

If you watched Steve McNair march the offense 93 yards for a touchdown on the Ravens' first possession against the Philadelphia Eagles last night and you didn't burst out of your seat (or your La-Z-Boy) and scream, "We're going to Glendale, baby!" then you just weren't paying attention.

(Glendale, of course, is the Arizona suburb that will host the Super Bowl at the end of this season, and don't ask me why they've started to play Super Bowls in the suburbs. I'm just glad Severna Park didn't put in a bid. Who needs that kind of traffic?)

Obviously, I'm not the only one getting excited already. The second-largest football crowd in Baltimore history (71,060) was announced for last night's 29-3 victory, which was pretty impressive even when you consider that the NFL counts attendance by seats sold and - apparently - a big chunk of that crowd decided to stay out in the parking lot rather than risk sitting in the same row with an Eagles fan.

I checked around and found out that the seating capacity at M&T; Bank Stadium has been increased slightly this year, which also might have something to do with the near record. According to a source close to the turnstiles, the only way the count could have been higher was if the Ravens had scheduled their first preseason game against the Boston Red Sox.

If you left your tickets in a drawer and chose to do something else last night - like watch the tail end of the meteor shower - you probably missed seeing McNair start the preseason much like he did last year, when he drove the Ravens 80 yards for a touchdown against the New York Giants.

This time, McNair picked apart the Eagles' defense like it was a post-game snack tray, completing six of eight passes for 73 yards. He hooked up with just about every receiver on the roster before hitting tight end Quinn Sypniewski for a 6-yard touchdown pass.

The first drive also featured the brief debut of running back Willis McGahee, who had a 16-yard run on his second competitive carry in a Ravens uniform.

Now, I wouldn't normally get all excited about a 16-yard run, but it was nice to see McGahee give a little flash of the extra dimension the Ravens are hoping he will add to the offense this year. Jamal Lewis had some big runs in 2006, but he wasn't the same breakaway threat he had been earlier in his career.

The Ravens tied for 21st in the NFL last year in running plays of 10 yards or more and they had only three runs of 16 yards or more in their first five regular season games. If McGahee can give defenses a little more to worry about, it should make it easier on the receivers to get free and make plays.

It sure looked like that was happening in the first quarter. McNair didn't have any trouble getting the ball to whomever he wanted and the Ravens looked unstoppable on that first drive.

Then McNair and McGahee did the other thing that real Ravens fans were waiting to see. They got off the field before some clumsy Eagles lineman fell on one of their ankles and scuttled the whole deal.

That's the strange dynamic of the first preseason game. The players have been practicing for two weeks and they're itching to get out there and compete, but the coaches are basically holding their breath while the projected starters are on the field.

Every year, a couple of teams lose important players in the first game of the preseason. The Cincinnati Bengals, for instance, lost second-round draft choice Kenny Irons for the season over the weekend. Every time McNair came close to getting hit last night, a whole week of glitzy parties and Sports Illustrated swimsuit models flashed in front of my eyes.

If the Ravens could get away with it, they'd probably send McNair and McGahee out there dressed in Bubble Wrap, but they've got to get progressively more reps over the next couple of games to hone the offensive rhythm they will take into the regular season.

McNair, with the benefit of a year in the system, looked very much in tune with Brian Billick's offense last night, even though we only got to see him for that one great series.

That was good enough for me. I'm already dreaming of cactus in February, though I suppose I might be getting ahead of myself.

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays and Sundays.

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