Lashing out at those who have called for his removal as the Ravens' starting quarterback, an emotional Steve McNair yesterday used his most defiant tone ever with the Baltimore media to defend his ability to play, saying he can still perform at a high level.
"When I first came into the league, it was the same thing. Look at what kind of career I have," McNair said of the public criticism. "I don't let people tell me outside this organization that I'm not capable of playing. For what? They have never played the quarterback position. They have never gone through the things that I go through mentally or physically. So, how are you going to tell me that I'm not able to play?
"I know what my body can do, and my teammates know what my body can do. It's been a bad first half of the year. So what? You have another half. So, we've got to do better."
Asked whether he can still perform the way he did a few years ago, McNair quickly snapped back, saying: "I have done it and I still can do it."
Ravens coach Brian Billick repeatedly has said McNair will remain the starter for Sunday's home game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Asked whether he would consider pulling McNair on Sunday if he continued to struggle, Billick gave a cryptic answer.
"I have every faith that Steve is going to play well," he said. "Obviously, if any player gets into a difficulty, the next guy has to step up. But I don't anticipate that. I'm very confident where Steve is right now physically and mentally, and I have every anticipation that he's going to play well."
In his first 15 starts with the Ravens, McNair had a 12-3 record, throwing 16 touchdown passes and committing 12 turnovers (11 interceptions, one fumble).
In his past seven starts (including the playoffs), McNair has a 3-4 record, throwing two touchdown passes and committing 12 turnovers (six interceptions, six fumbles).
The pressure will be on McNair on Sunday, especially because the game is at M&T; Bank Stadium. If he fails to get off to a solid start, McNair could hear backlash from the home crowd.
In an online Sun poll asking which quarterback should start (more than 3,000 responded as of last night), Kyle Boller was the overwhelming winner, receiving 88 percent of the vote.
"It's amusing," Billick said with a chuckle about the fans' new-found support for Boller, who was once cheered by the home crowd after getting hurt. "[But] that's standard operating procedure. I've been at this long enough and seen enough of it that I always find it interesting."
The shots at McNair have come beyond local media and fans. Sports Illustrated's Peter King described McNair as "old and slow." Vic Carucci, from the NFL's official Web site, wrote McNair "looked lost and old and helpless."
Wide receiver Derrick Mason said the quarterback controversy won't be a distraction to the team.
"We're not going to worry about it," he said. "Heck, it was controversial about the quarterback when they went to the Super Bowl [in 2000]. We are very, very mentally strong. We're going to let upper management and coaches deal with that. We're going to continue to play football. Wherever the chips are going to land, they're going to land."
The Ravens are in desperate need of a spark, falling from the NFL's No. 8 offense to the 23rd-ranked one over the past four games.
The key is not pressing as an offense, McNair said.
"What we're concentrating on this week is going out there, relaxing and having fun," McNair said. "I don't think this offense has been having a lot of fun because of that. I think we got to be patient and play our type of game. I think we've been buying into what the defense gives us. I think we just need to do what we need to do best."
McNair isn't the only one on the team receiving criticism.
ESPN.com's Gregg Easterbrook called out Billick on Tuesday, saying "Brian Billick is in his ninth year running the Ravens, and he's still commonly referred to as an 'offensive guru,' even though his team is in its ninth straight year of poor offense. If Denver is already this season's NFL train-wreck team, Baltimore appears to be barreling down a siding toward a washed-out bridge."
Last season when the offense struggled, Billick decided to fire offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and take over the play-calling, which rejuvenated his attack.
Even though the offense is again in a rut, Billick isn't about to make another drastic change and hand over the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel.
"We assess it all the time," Billick said, "and I think we're proceeding down the right path."
In Billick's first nine games as the play-caller, the Ravens scored 22 offensive touchdowns. In his past 10, they have scored nine.
It would seem like something - whether it's the quarterback or the play-calling - has to change.
"It feels a long way away from where we've played well, but we have played well at times prior to the Buffalo game," Billick said. "I don't know that we're as far away from it as it feels, actually. We've got to find what we do best and continue to press that advantage."