Ravens coach John Harbaugh strongly defended cornerback Frank Walker, who was accused by Steelers punter Mitch Berger of spitting in Berger's face toward the end of the Ravens' 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday.
"That's the first I heard that. I don't believe it for one second," Harbaugh said yesterday during his weekly news conference at the team's training facility in Owings Mills. "Frank Walker wouldn't do it; none of our players would do it. I don't believe it for one second."
With 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Steelers kicker Jeff Reed converted an extra point after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 4-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
Reed and Berger then started jawing with Walker, and Reed was flagged for a 15-yard personal foul for shoving Walker.
Afterward, Berger told the Pittsburgh media that Walker tried to make contact with Reed's knee and when Berger approached Walker, the cornerback allegedly spit in Berger's mouth.
"I tried to get in the middle to separate him, but he got in my face and spit right in my mouth," Berger said, as reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He spit right in my mouth. I'm still trying to spit that ... out. I was talking to him, trying to separate everybody, and he spit right in my mouth."
Walker was unavailable for comment.
The Ravens also got involved in the personal foul department as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was whistled for pushing a Steelers player after Brandon McKinney's fumble recovery in the fourth quarter.
It was the team's first penalty of that nature since linebacker Antwan Barnes was cited for taunting Miami Dolphins return specialist Ted Ginn Jr . on Oct. 19. Harbaugh didn't seem especially displeased, saying, "It was a big scrum, and he was in there protecting our guys, and a flag was thrown."
Harbaugh sounded optimistic that cornerback Fabian Washington's pulled hamstring would not keep him out of Saturday night's game against the Dallas Cowboys.
"We expect Fabian to be OK. He's going to be working on it, and he should be OK."
Harbaugh also said the team is hopeful about rookie running back Ray Rice's left shin bruise. Although he did not provide an update on players such as linebacker Jarret Johnson (calf) and fullback Le'Ron McClain (neck), Harbaugh said: "Just with the injury situation, we have a lot of guys coming out of that game with bumps and bruises or the previous game in Ray's case. Just like you'd expect in December, that's where we're at. We'll have them ready for Saturday night."
Harbaugh would not say whether Jim Leonhard had established himself as the primary punt returner even though the strong safety's 11.9-yard average on punts leads the team.
"The thing with Jim, it's a little more complicated because he does so much else for our football team," Harbaugh said. "He's on the punt [coverage] team, he obviously plays every snap of defense, but we like having Jim out there as a punt returner. He made some plays yesterday, didn't he? So maybe it's a question of whether he can do more."
Leonhard wasn't prepared either to say whether he had leapfrogged Yamon Figurs on punt returns.
"I'm not necessarily trying to make a statement," Leonhard said. "I just want to go out there and help the team. If I continue to be out there, that's great. We're all just trying to do our best."
Defensive tackle Brandon McKinney made his biggest contribution since being signed by the Ravens in October when he snatched a fumble by Roethlisberger out of the air on the first play of the fourth quarter. "[Linebacker] Terrell [Suggs] hit the quarterback, and I made the play," said McKinney, who is part of a rotation that includes Justin Bannan and Marques Douglas. "But I would trade the turnover for a win right now." ... Free safety Ed Reed was named the Ravens' recipient of the 2008 Ed Block Courage Award. Despite dealing with a nerve impingement in his neck, Reed has scored three defensive touchdowns and leads the team with five interceptions. ... Harbaugh acknowledged keeping abreast of the various playoff scenarios, but he insisted: "We're focused on winning, and we know what the scenarios are. It's probably our responsibility to know what they are. We understand the tiebreakers. Bottom line though, we have to win, and that's what we're preparing to do." ... The offensive tackle trio of Jared Gaither, Willie Anderson and Adam Terry prevented Steelers linebacker James Harrison from getting the half-sack he needed to eclipse Mike Merriweather's franchise record for most sacks in a season. Harrison remains at 15 sacks for the season. "The coaches devised a great game plan," Gaither said. "We just went out there and executed." ... Century coach Tony Shermeyer was named the Ravens High School Coach of the Year.