McNair enjoys a vintage debut

BALTIMORE -- His passing lanes were crowded with white jerseys, jumbling Steve McNair's sight lines and obscuring the path to the end zone. There was only one option as the Baltimore Ravens' new franchise quarterback saw it. His competitive instincts took over.

 Instead of throwing the football away or sliding to the ground to avoid a hit, McNair decided he was going to bull ahead for a touchdown.

McNair scrambled six yards, managing just enough speed and power to carry a pair of New York Giants defenders over the goal line in the corner of the end zone Friday night.

Although it was a relatively meaningless preseason opener, the three-time Pro Bowl passer was determined to get off on the right foot with his new football team. Not only did McNair get the Ravens off to a strong start in a 17-16 loss to the New York Giants at M&T Bank Stadium, he seemed to define what his approach will be for the season and his time in Baltimore.

"I told everybody when I came here, 'This is my style of play,'" McNair said. "Regardless if it's preseason or a regular-season game, I play to win and I do whatever it takes to win.

"Once the blood gets flowing, you can't shut it off and that was our goal. I had an opportunity, got flushed out of the pocket, saw the end zone and I just tried to make the best out of something."

It was a vintage debut for the former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player, whom Baltimore acquired via a trade from the Tennessee Titans in June for a fourth-round draft pick and signed to a $32 million contract.

Leading a 12-play, 80-yard drive that grinded 7 minutes 22 seconds off the clock, McNair completed four of five passes for 45 yards. He connected twice with tight end Todd Heap, including a 17-yard completion for a first down.

Ravens coach Brian Billick had seen enough, and McNair sat down for the night.

"The first drive was one perfect drive," Heap said. "The main thing was it was a smooth drive. Everything was fluid.

"You could see Steve McNair going through his reads. He went through his progression, hit the open guys. We've got a lot of timing down. It felt really good to really see the ball come out of Steve's hand and convert a lot of big plays."

McNair's only misfire was a short-armed deep throw to former Titans teammate Derrick Mason that was nearly intercepted. Mason left the game a few plays later with a mild concussion.

Even though McNair was on an accelerated cram course this summer with offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, he didn't appear to have any struggles with running a heavily scripted game plan.

"All we wanted to do is just come out and execute, get into a rhythm early and we did that," McNair said. "I think it's a good sign. We still have a long ways to go, but I think it's a good sign that shows how we've been practicing in training camp. So, I'm very excited. When you take eight minutes off the clock and score six points, that's a plus."

While McNair was the exclamation point for the Ravens' initial showing against another squad, running back Jamal Lewis helped punctuate a resurgent offense, albeit a Giants defense that was missing linebacker LaVar Arrington and defensive end Michael Strahan.

In his first contact work since straining his left hip flexor, Lewis gained 34 yards on six carries.

While McNair looked sharp, the man he supplanted demonstrated why he was replaced. Kyle Boller completed 12 of 18 passes for 100 yards, but stumbled over center Jason Brown's feet twice and mistimed his deep pass to impressive rookie wide receiver Demetrius Williams at the end of the first half.

Williams couldn't gather in a throw that was off-target and too far behind him for him to adjust. The Ravens had to settle for a 43-yard field goal from Matt Stover, his second of three field goals for the game.

Later, Boller didn't lob the football high enough for 6-foot-6, 270-pound rookie tight end Quinn Sypniewski near the goal line for another squandered scoring chance.

Meanwhile, backup runner Musa Smith demonstrated again that his broken leg from two years ago is fully recovered. Smith, who suffered a compound fracture on a horse-collar tackle by Dallas Cowboys safety Roy Williams in 2004, rushed for a game-high 61 yards on four carries, including a 37-yard dash.

"It felt real good to get out there," said Smith, who ended both of the past two seasons on injured reserve. "I'm still a little rusty, but I'm just shaking it off right now. My leg feels good. Jamal set it off, and I just followed him."

Giants kicker Jay Feely converted a 29-yard field goal in the final seconds of the fourth quarter to win the game during garbage time.

The headliner of the evening, though, was clearly McNair, and he did nothing to disappoint.

He did worry offensive coordinator Jim Fassel a little bit with his trademark reckless abandon.

"We did not design Steve's scramble for a touchdown," Fassel said. "It was all him. A little scary, but all him."

NOTES: Defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, a former second-round draft pick, forced and recovered a fumble. … Rookie running back P. J. Daniels struggled at holding onto the football. … Williams, a fourth-round draft pick out of Oregon, caught three passes for 43 yards. … Giants receiver Plaxico Burress lost Ravens reserve defensive back Evan Oglesby, beating him easily for a 43-yard reception that set up fullback Brandon Jacobs' 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.

Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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