The triggerman for the Ravens' recent offensive renaissance is no longer the anonymous scout team quarterback. Discarded by the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers, Wright says he's cherishing every moment with Baltimore as he prepares for Sunday's AFC North tilt with the Cincinnati Bengals. "It's pretty tough waking up every morning knowing you have a game like this to play," Wright said. "It stays with you. You're constantly visualizing the things you might do on Sunday."
Following consecutive victories over the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers where Baltimore (7-5) totaled 88 points, Wright is receiving compliments for more than his arm strength and mobility. Poise, leadership and toughness are the most frequently-cited personal traits in a discussion about Wright, whose statistics are comparable or superior to any of Ravens coach Brian Billick's previous nine starting quarterbacks. "Anthony is a very highly-motivated guy," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "If anything, that was what our offense needed, that little spark. He is that spark. He thinks that our offense can put up 20, 30 points a week. "I told him, 'Be careful. You score that many points and I'm going to have to buy a lot of plane tickets to Houston.' With Anthony controlling our offense, the sky is the limit."
Before the Ravens can dream about traveling to Houston's Reliant Stadium for the Super Bowl, they need to make the playoffs. That's why Sunday's football game is so critical against the co-leading Bengals, who already defeated Baltimore once this season. Instead of having Wright simply manage the game by handing off to NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis, the Ravens are granting him more responsibility than the typical Billick quarterback. Through three starts and a 2-1 mark, Wright has completed 47-of-87 passes for 608 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions for a quarterback rating of 85.8. He has six touchdowns and one interception in the last two games. The rating is higher than any prior Billick quarterback's season average. The top season rating in club history is Vinny Testaverde's 88.7 mark during the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996.
An unrestricted free agent after the season, Wright preferred not to discuss his future this week. Or what happens when rookie quarterback Kyle Boller returns to health from a torn quadriceps. Billick said he expects Boller to possibly be ready to play in a few weeks against the Cleveland Browns. However, the coach has stated publicly twice that he wants to stick with Wright as long as he's playing well and Baltimore remains in the playoff hunt. "No, I really don't want to talk about personal goals, personal achievements," Wright said. "A win is all I want. Personally, I don't really have anything in mind but to play well on Sunday."
In a 44-41 overtime win over Seattle, Wright threw four touchdowns in the second half, all to college teammate Marcus Robinson, to lead the team's biggest comeback ever. Then, Baltimore took a 44-6 cakewalk over the 49ers for the largest margin of victory in its history. "Anthony has a kind of personality, the energy that these guys are responding to," Billick said. "He has been excellent. With each outing, he's further solidifying his leadership on this team, which is exactly what you need from the quarterback position."
Against a Bengals defense ranked 22nd overall that features no impact players and not much of a pass rush, Wright could be the key to the Ravens' chances again. The Bengals have allowed 14 touchdown passes in their past seven games. In a 24-20 win over Pittsburgh, quarterback Tommy Maddox passed for 313 yards as the Steelers converted 11-of-17 third-down situations. "We have to try to take advantage of their weaknesses and exploit them," Wright said. "It's going to come down to who wants it the most, and I know this locker room is hungry to get to the playoffs. "I don't think we're going to do anything to harm ourselves."
In terms of motivation, Wright, 27, might have the market cornered. In Dallas, Wright was overshadowed by Quincy Carter, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones' hand-picked starter, and eventually found himself out of a job altogether. As a South Carolina junior, Wright tossed 18 touchdowns with five interceptions, but tore up his knee and was limited during his senior campaign. He managed to hook on with the Pittsburgh Steelers as an undrafted rookie in 1999, the year when five quarterbacks were drafted in the first round, including Tim Couch, Daunte Culpepper, Donovan McNabb, Akili Smith and Cade McNown. "Anthony is hungry to show what he can do," Jamal Lewis said. "He has that drive inside him that you need to be successful."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.