Noteook: Rough game for Washington

OWINGS MILLS – Mercifully benched in the fourth quarter of a 37-34 shootout win over the Buffalo Bills after being burnt for his third touchdown pass of the game, Baltimore Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington isn't guaranteed to regain his starting job.

"Fabian is going to play a lot of football," Harbaugh said. "We don't get quite as caught up in starter or non-starter label as some people do. We always play the best guys the most. Who are the best guys? The guys who are playing the best.

"That having been said, I have confidence in Fabian. He's a good football player. It's a very competitive sport. You line up against really good players, and sometimes it's not your day. He said he had a tough day, and he did." If the Ravens want to make a change, they could insert Lardarius Webb into the starting lineup. However, Webb was also beaten for a touchdown and had issues throughout the game against Steve Johnson.

Washington attributed the breakdowns to shoddy technique in press coverage and wide receiver Lee Evans' impressive speed in catching three touchdown passes.

He also vowed to make a strong return. "I'll be back," Washington said. "Believe that, I can promise you I'll be back." Harbaugh said he'll emphasize fundamental technique with Washington after such a bad game. "You go back to the basics," Harbaugh said. "You go to fundamentals. You're out there on an island. You've got to pay attention to fundamental technique. As soon as you get away from that, boy, you're really putting yourself at risk.

"I think that's a little what happened in the game because of the way they were attacking him. And I know he can get right back on that right away. It'll be our job as coaches to emphasize that and kind of take him back through that." The secondary yielded 374 passing yards for the game and four touchdown passes. "That was the first game where it wasn't X's and O's, it wasn't any communication problems we had as a secondary, they were just beating us," cornerback Chris Carr said. "We're too talented for that to happen."

RETURN GAME STRUGGLES CONTINUE: The Ravens' return game remains dangerous. To themselves, that is.

Against the Bills, the Ravens lost a fumble on a Wilson kickoff return. They averaged only 16.6 yards on six kickoff returns. And they're now tied for 23rd in the league with a 21.3 kickoff return average. They've lost two fumbles.

Their longest return this season is a 39-yard return from Jalen Parmele.

"If you look at our special teams, I think we're playing really well, except for the return game," Harbaugh said. " Specifically, kickoff returns. That's been tough. Putting the ball on the ground was really, really a problem.

"That should never have happened. Josh will tell you that. There's no reason for it to happen. It was not well-blocked. They did a nice job of covering and making some blocks miss. But at that point in time, you minimize. You get it up to the 20-yard line, and the offense goes and we'll be in good shape."

The Ravens have tried Parmele, who's averaging 22.8 yards to lead the team. And Wilson has averaged just 19.5 yards with a long return of 26 yards. Perhaps it's time for a change.

"To me, the returners are trying a little too hard to make a play," Harbaugh continued. "That's the big thing. Make a good, solid play, run the ball north and south, protect the football high and tight, and we'll get it blocked, and there'll be some plays there for us. But don't make an average play into a bad play. That's kind of the cardinal sin."

The Ravens rank second-to-last in the NFL in punt returns with a 5.7 average per return. Regular punt returner Tom Zbikowski was out against Buffalo with a bruised heel. He leads the team with a 6.3 average. The Ravens could try Donte' Stallworth on punt returns now that he's on the way back from a broken foot.

Even though they said they would be cautious with Webb since he tore his anterior cruciate ligament last December, the Ravens used Webb on a punt return against the Bills and he had a fair catch. "As far as putting Lardarius back there, he's a guy that's got some talent and some ability," Harbaugh said. "He's a good returner, and we felt like he was our best option in this game. I do feel confident that we do have some guys that can do it as we go forward.

"Obviously, Zibby will be coming back, Chris Carr's an option back there, Donte' Stallworth will be coming back, [Derrick] Mason's been in my ear to do it. So guys want to help. Guys want to be a part of it. So, we'll try to get that thing going."

DISAPPOINTED: Harbaugh commented for the first time since offensive tackle Jared Gaither was placed on injured reserve over the weekend, ending his season. Gaither has a thoracic disc injury and has practiced only once since Aug. 5. He was placed on injured reserve Saturday when the team cut linebacker Edgar Jones and activated wide receiver Ed Reed and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo from the physically unable to perform list.

"I'm disappointed for Jared, and I'm disappointed for our team," Harbaugh said.. "It's just one of those things where we were never able to solve the back issue. He'd be the first to tell you that it's not right, and the roster spot became necessary for us to make the change. I just feel bad for Jared more than anything."

CAPTAIN MCGAHEE: Not only did the Ravens start running back Willis McGahee against his old team Sunday, they made him a game captain for the coin toss.

The former Bills first-round pick rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries one week after he rode the bench against the New England Patriots.

Rumored to be on the trading block before last week's league deadline to execute trades, the Ravens wanted to make a statement about how they feel about McGahee.

"I also felt like it was important to let everybody know how important he is to our football team," Harbaugh said. "He didn't play the week before as much. I take responsibility for that. He should've played the week before, and he's going to play a lot going forward. That's a little bit of a statement that way."

OFF FOR THE WEEK: The Ravens are slightly banged-up. Tight end Todd Heap has a right shoulder stinger. Zbikowski is hurt. Rookie wide receiver David Reed has a thigh bruise.

Center Matt Birk has neck issues. And Ed Reed was dealing with quadriceps discomfort during his first game back. So, the players are being given the remainder of the week off after a workout and film session this morning.

"I think our guys worked extremely hard at practice, have played really hard, and have been in a bunch of physical games, and what they really needed was a chance to rest both physically and mentally. We'll have a big workout, we'll watch the tape, and then they'll be excused in the afternoon and we won't see them again until Monday."

Harbaugh expressed optimism that Stallworth could be back after the bye and playing against the Dolphins.

"I don't know yet," Harbaugh said. "I think he's got a good chance to be. He thinks he's going to be. So, we'll keep our fingers crossed." One of the fastest players on the team, Stallworth could provide a deep threat when he returns.

"He's an explosive guy," Harbaugh said. "He's a strong runner with the ball. He's got the speed element, obviously, that always helps. He's kind of a little different than the other three that are playing mostly right now, so that should help us."

The coaching staff isn't off this week. They'll work until the weekend game-planning for the Miami Dolphins (Nov. 7) and the Atlanta Falcons (Nov. 12)

"We don't go on vacation," Harbaugh said. "We'll be working. We're going to get ready for Miami. We've got to look at Atlanta, and we also do a self-scout process."

QUICK HITS: Harbaugh indicated that the Ravens are looking for an answer from the league office about what appears to be blown spot by the referees in the second quarter. The ball was spotted at the 30-yard line after Joe Flacco was sacked, but it looked like he was down at the Bills' 25-yard line. Billy Cundiff wound up hitting a 48-yard field goal, a longer kicker than he should have had to attempt. "We sent that in, but I haven't heard anything back on that yet," Harbaugh said. "I think it's pretty obvious, though, what the result is in that. Billy came through, so that's what counts."

… The Ravens' players participated in a player development presentation where former Ravens players Peter Boulware and Jamal Lewis and former NFL player Courtney Hall spoke to the players about life after football.

… Harbaugh was honored by the Maryland National Guard. for the Ravens' commitment to the military. "It is big," he said. "It's Maryland National Guard Week, and we're really proud to be partnered with the military this week for this event. We've got the patch on our practice jerseys. We're proud of the Maryland National Guard."

… The Ravens took their annual team picture Monday.

… Harbaugh said he didn't notice much different from Reed, who intercepted two passes and forced a fumble. "I didn't think he looked any slower," he said. "Obviously, he's a different element back there. He kind of changes the whole picture back there, and I'm sure he does for quarterbacks. And he's going to be a problem for quarterbacks as we go forward. He kind of feels like he's going through training camp right now. So, the contact and the physical part of it is something that's going to be interesting to see how his body responds to it. It was great to have him back."

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