Injuries give rookies the lead

SAN FRANCISCO — SAN FRANCISCO -- If yesterday's narrow victory didn't add years to the Ravens' coaches, it may have added some valuable experience for the team's offensive line.

Injuries to center Mike Flynn and left tackle Adam Terry forced the Ravens to reshuffle the line and use three rookies and a first-year full-time starter, but the youthful group played well enough to help the Ravens escape Monster Park with a 9-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers.


"It was a great victory for our offensive line," running back Willis McGahee said. "I'm just happy for the young guys up front. They stepped up when their number was called. I don't think all of them worked together like that in a game before."

Said coach Brian Billick: "It got a little dicey."


When injuries sidelined Terry (left ankle) and Flynn (right knee) during the same drive in the second quarter, the Ravens assembled an offensive line composed of left tackle Jared Gaither, left guard Jason Brown, center Chris Chester, right guard Ben Grubbs and right tackle Marshal Yanda.

Gaither, Grubbs and Yanda were drafted this year, and Chester has just seven starts under his belt. In fact, with 17 career starts, Brown - who won't turn 25 until next May - is suddenly the elder statesman of the group.

"For them to be coming in like that, it was a big game for them," said Terry, who was on crutches in the locker room afterward. "Jason was the oldest guy out there, and he's been in the league for three years. God love them, they did a heck of a job."

Despite its youth, the newly cobbled offensive line finished the game without committing a holding penalty, and Gaither jumped early just once.

McGahee compiled 88 yards on 22 carries, and quarterback Steve McNair wasn't sacked.

Brown said there was no apprehension after Flynn and Terry were lost for the game.

"We practice with the same guys day in and out," Brown said. "We just looked at each other in the eye and told each other, 'We've got to go.' It's very simple. We've just got to go. It's either you sink or you swim. We had no options. We had to swim."

Prefacing his post-game comments by saying that he had to review the game film before giving a deeper analysis, offensive line coach Chris Foerster seemed pleased by what he saw from his unit.


"The most encouraging thing about the whole day was that they kept their composure on the sidelines, they kept their composure on the field," he said. "I think they had one false start, which we want to avoid. But really, the guys kept their composure and fought hard."

While the severity of Flynn's and Terry's injuries won't be determined until today at the earliest, the team will have to make adjustments. Had another lineman gone down yesterday, long snapper Matt Katula - who said he hasn't played a snap on the line since he was a pulling guard during his senior year at Catholic Memorial High School in Wisconsin - would have been the most likely candidate to fill in.

Another possibility could involve the return of 10-time Pro Bowl tackle Jonathan Ogden, who hasn't played since the season opener because of a sprained foot and hyperextended toe.

Whatever plan the Ravens formulate, they might take some encouragement from what they saw in their line of the future.

"We just picked each other up and worked really hard with each other and stayed together as a team," Gaither said. "That was our main focus, and I think we did that very well today."