McNair breaks out of slump

OWINGS MILLS -- It was still a few days before Steve McNair would carve up the New Orleans Saints' secondary, and the Baltimore Ravens veteran quarterback was brimming with excitement at the prospect of utilizing a revamped playbook. Under the direction of his new offensive coordinator, Ravens coach Brian Billick, McNair predicted that new wrinkles in the offense would get him back into a rhythm.

At the time, McNair was mired in an awful slump with four interceptions in his previous 38 throws, including three interceptions in his past dozen throws.
During Sunday's 35-22 victory over the New Orleans Saints, McNair's forecast proved to be correct.
The three-time Pro Bowl passer completed 74 percent of his throws for 159 yards, no interceptions and a 121.5 passer rating that marked his highest single-game performance since the 2003 season when he shared NFL Most Valuable Player honors with Peyton Manning.
With the Ravens employing more play-action, spread formations with four wide receiver sets, a power running game with a dusted off I-formation and a few designed rollouts intended to take advantage of McNair's mobility, he wound up throwing for two touchdowns while running for another.
"I think he did a great job," said McNair, referring to Billick's imprint on the offense after dismissing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel. "I think he put us in a position to be successful. We got them off-balance.
"We came in with the power game and did a lot of different things. When you put those little wrinkles in that keep defenses off-balance and keep them thinking, half the battle is already won, and all you have to do is execute."
Although McNair's statistics aren't impressive cumulatively, this was easily his top performance since the Ravens traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Tennessee Titans to acquire him and signed him to a $32 million contract.
For the season, McNair has a 71.0 passer rating that ranks him 25th in the NFL. His mark of 121.5 nearly doubled the 64.0 that he entered the Louisiana Superdome with.
He has completed 58.3 percent of his passes for 1,074 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Prior to the Saints game, McNair had thrown an interception for three consecutive games. Plus, he was coming off a Grade 2 concussion and a neck sprain suffered in a 23-21 loss to the Carolina Panthers.
Despite the raucous noise generated by the Saints' faithful, McNair was able to audible successfully at the line of scrimmage.
"He was throwing the ball very well in warm-ups, "Billick said. "I don't know if it was the week off in the sense that it really wasn't a very comfortable week. He didn't play a whole lot obviously with six or seven snaps against Carolina.
"So, he certainly was fresh. That may have had something to do with it."
Heading into Sunday's critical AFC North game against Cincinnati (4-3) at M&T Bank Stadium, McNair has won nine of his 13 games against the Bengals. Cincinnati has won three consecutive games against Baltimore, including the past two at M&T Bank Stadium.
For his career, McNair has thrown for 2,251 yards, 20 touchdowns and just five interceptions when facing the guys wearing the tiger-striped helmets.
After an efficient 17 of 23 outing against New Orleans where he burst into the end zone on a 5-yard quarterback draw for his first rushing touchdown since joining the Ravens, McNair has the Bengals' attention.
"He's always calm in the weirdest situations," said Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton, a former teammate of McNair's in Tennessee. "He can miss practice all week and he'll come out and be down by 20 and still lead the team back. I've seen that first-hand. He's the type of guy that can adjust to any situation."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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