PITTSBURGH — PITTSBURGH - Ravens running back Willis McGahee's season ended the way it began - with an injury.
McGahee, who missed most of training camp after knee surgery and had a slow start to the regular season, was resting at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital last night with movement in all his limbs and was "neurologically intact," a team spokesman said. McGahee was taken off on a stretcher with 3:29 remaining in his team's 23-14 AFC championship loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Team doctor Leigh Ann Curl was staying in Pittsburgh with McGahee.
McGahee had been called on to provide the majority of Baltimore's offense last night and had 60 yards on 20 carries and two catches for 13 yards. His 73 yards from scrimmage were the most by any Raven,as they gained just 198 total yards.
He was injured after catching an 11-yard pass from quarterback Joe Flacco over the middle late in the fourth quarter. McGahee was immediately hit by Steelers safety Ryan Clark, whose shoulder and helmet appeared to collide with McGahee's face mask. McGahee fumbled, and Pittsburgh's Lawrence Timmons recovered at the Ravens' 38-yard line.
McGahee and Clark lay on the ground, but it quickly became apparent that McGahee had received the brunt of the collision.
"It was a heck of a hit, for one thing," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Willis made a nice play leading up to that. Ran a great route and had a nice catch. Your first thought is obviously concern for Willis and for any player. Once we got out there and hearing the doctors talk and seeing him move around, you felt like it was going to be OK. Both sides obviously had concerns, but we were happy it was not immediately serious at that point."
Ravens running back Le'Ron McClain, who was the team's leading rusher this season, had just one carry for 3 yards against the Steelers. McClain hurt his ankle in the divisional playoff win over the Tennessee Titans. Although McClain said after last night's game that his ankle was fine, it was clear that McGahee was asked to carry the load. McClain was more concerned with McGahee than the outcome.
"I just prayed," McClain said. "Let God handle it. Dude laid a big hit on him. As he laid there, I just started praying that he'll be back and moving around like he does."
Rookie running back Ray Rice had one carry for 2 yards and was the Ravens' leading receiver with three catches for 43 yards. Rice echoed McClain's concern for McGahee, saying: "It was just a freak hit. I've learned a lot from Willis this year. I just wish the best for him; he's been like a brother to me. When it happened, the whole stadium, I'm sure you felt it as well. It was a hard hit, head-on collision. It was good to see him moving; it was good to see him talking. I'm sure he's going to be fine. My prayers are with him, just as I'm sure everyone else's is."
Although McGahee's role had been limited through much of the season, Rice said that in playoff time the team knew it could count on him.
"He's that kind of player. We wanted it to be on Willis," Rice said. "We wanted him to make the plays. When he needed a blow, me and Le'Ron were going to be ready. Going into this offseason, we know we have three great backs."
"I look forward to working with him next year and becoming the most dominant backfield in the league," Rice continued. "My hat is off to him. He's been through a lot this year battling injuries. I just hope for his health."