McNair hoping to right rough start today

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- His arrival in Baltimore was akin to a coronation, replete with Steve McNair being greeted with everything except for a crown and a red carpet. Five games into the McNair era, though, the Baltimore Ravens' high-profile veteran quarterback acquisition is finding that his throne isn't such a comfortable spot as a points-starved offensive kingdom is under siege.

The Ravens traded for the former league Co-Most Valuable Player to breathe life into a quarterback graveyard.
However, McNair has yet to reprise his three-time Pro Bowl passer form and is rivaling erratic former starter Kyle Boller statistically. Despite the best start in franchise history, the Ravens (4-1) are at a critical juncture in today's game against the resurgent Carolina Panthers (3-2) at M&T Bank Stadium.
Besides the debate over whether struggling running back Jamal Lewis' workload should be reduced, the chief question surrounding the Ravens is how McNair will rebound from a three-interception outing in a 13-3 loss Monday night to the Denver Broncos.
"As a leader, you have to take it upon yourself to get better and to make this team better," said McNair, who ranks 26th in the NFL with a 67.0 passer rating that actually ranks below Boller and Anthony Wright's 70.8 and 70.7 respective marks from last season. "Nobody said it was going to be an easy transition coming from Tennessee to here with the offense, or that everything was going to be smooth sailing.
"There are going to be some bumps in the road, but it's about how we overcome that. Do we lay down or do we continue to get better?"
That's the point, though. The offense isn't getting better. It's actually getting worse.
The Ravens are ranked 29th in the league in total offense and have averaged only 11.3 points per game over the past three games. Last year, Baltimore finished 6-10 with the No. 24 overall offense.
Their last touchdown in the past 120 minutes of football came in the final minutes against the Chargers on a pass to tight end Todd Heap, and receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton have yet to score this year.
Although McNair made headlines with consecutive heroic comebacks against Cleveland and San Diego, he melted down on national television on a chilly night in Denver with a series of errant passes and questionable decision-making.
"It's not the first time he's had a game where he's thrown two or three picks," center Mike Flynn said. "He'll come back. He'll be focused. He's going to have a lot better game Sunday."
McNair was only acquired in June for a fourth-round draft pick when he signed a contract with a maximum value of $32 million.
McNair, 33, spent the summer in a crash course with offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, and has insisted that his problems aren't because of a lack of knowledge of the Ravens' conservative adaptation of the West Coast offense.
"I have a good comfort level," McNair said. "It's not about confidence. Whatever is being called we have to go out and execute, and I feel comfortable doing that.
"There are going to be some sputters here or there as far as how many chances you take. As the quarterback, you can't take too many. Last week, I took too many and wasn't precise with the football. As far as the comfort level, I'm very comfortable."
McNair's short-armed lob on a fade pass intended for wide receiver Clarence Moore was intercepted by Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey, who bragged afterward that he knew what the play was going to be as soon as Moore lined up wide.
Later, McNair threw two interceptions in the fourth quarter when he was trying to replicate his previous two late-game theatrics.
"I wouldn't trade him for anyone in the world," tight end Daniel Wilcox said. "Whatever it is, he's got it. I don't think there is any such ting as being washed up."
For the season, McNair has thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions.
Last year, McNair only had 11 for the entire season with 16 touchdowns. He's currently on pace for 16 touchdowns again with 19 interceptions.
In his 12 seasons, McNair has never thrown more than 15 interceptions (2002). His career-low passer rating is 70.4 during a chaotic 1997 campaign that marked his first season as a full-time starter.
"For me to sit here and say I'm OK with the direction the offense has been going the last five weeks just because two days have passed, that would be crazy," Mason said. "No, we're not in a panic mode, but there's still a sense of urgency that eventually we've got to get things going because come November, December, we can't be playing like we have the first five games of the season."
Today, McNair has to contend with perhaps the top defensive front four in the game as Carolina features All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers. Plus, massive tackles Kris Jenkins and former Baltimore starter Maake Kemoeatu should make it difficult for Lewis to get untracked.
McNair has designs on scoring a few touchdowns to dispell all the doubts swirling around the Ravens, who, so far, appear to be another one-dimensional outfit carried by a swarming defense ranked second in the NFL.
"That would solve a lot of problems," McNair said. "It would solve all the negative things people are talking about the offense. We have to go out and eliminate the mindset because this is all about us and how we respond to it."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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