McNair injured, likely out as the starter

OWINGS MILLS -- Kyle Boller could emerge as the Baltimore Ravens' starting quarterback by default considering starter Steve McNair now has an apparent injury to his non-throwing shoulder to contend with in addition to his uninterrupted string of inept performances.

Because McNair felt "significant soreness" Monday morning following the Ravens being routed 21-7 by the Cincinnati Bengals and the regression in the four-time Pro Bowl passer's overall game, Boller could wind up under center Sunday against the Cleveland Browns.

The injury wasn't disclosed in the post-game injury report.

However, Billick was emphatic Monday that no decision has been reached yet on who will start.

Billick is meeting internally with general manager Ozzie Newsome, team owner Steve Bisciotti, the coaching staff, personnel department and a handful of key veteran players in what appears to be a consensus-building initiative.

"Right now, the injury is what we will have to address first and foremost, to see exactly what that is," Billick said of McNair, 34, who has also been hampered by back and groin injuries. "I'll have to visit with Steve to see first how he is doing physically, to see where he's at, and factor that into it.

"We've got some more work to do before I can definitively tell you that's the direction we're going. .. I have a great deal of faith in Kyle. What I'm waiting on is more information to be available to us before going forward."

Billick acknowledged that it was hard to watch McNair struggle the way he has with 11 turnovers this year on seven lost fumbles and four interceptions.

"The admiration I have for Steve McNair has been well-documented, that will never change," Billick said. "It's painful to watch him deal with what he's dealing with right now, as is for the entire team. It's painful for me to have our fans sit through what they're seeing right now.

"I have faith in Steve McNair, I have faith in Kyle Boller. You all get tired of hearing me say that, but you know what? These are my guys and I have faith in them and that has not shaken under some tough times."

Billick insisted that he has no reservations about going with Boller, an oft-criticized former starter who has completed 81 of 134 passes for 772 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions this season.

Boller directed one scoring drive against the Bengals, setting up a touchdown run with a deep pass to Mark Clayton.

The 2003 first-round draft pick was replaced by McNair last year after an erratic three-year run that prompted Baltimore to acquire McNair in a trade from the Tennessee Titans.

"I'm not reluctant in any way, shape or form," Billick said regarding inserting Boller, adding that he hasn't met with McNair yet and is looking for synergy in the organization on a potential move. "We're less than 24 hours removed from the game. I am not articulating this well, I apologize for that.

"I just want to make sure I have all the information available to us before we go forward. There is no hesitancy on my part with regards to the faith that I have in Kyle Boller."

Benching McNair could have long-term effects in the locker room. There are also potential salary-cap issues to consider if he was cut after the season.

McNair has three years remaining on a five-year, $32 million contract, a deal that includes an initial roster bonus of $11 million and $12 million in incentives. He's due $4 million in salary next season, $6 million apiece in 2009 and 2010 and carries a salary-cap charge of $8.45 million in the final two years.

It's regarded as unlikely that McNair will remain the starter in light of his six turnovers over the past two games. He has thrown just two touchdown passes since Dec. 31, 2006, including the playoffs, and has only led the offense to one touchdown in his past 35 drives.

That score came on a 33-yard touchdown run by running back Willis McGahee in a 38-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers where McNair fumbled twice and was intercepted once.

McNair hasn't thrown a touchdown pass since Sept. 30 against the Browns.

Despite competing against the NFL's 31st-ranked defense Sunday that was missing several starters, McNair was unable to get the Ravens in the end zone as he threw a crucial red-zone interception at the end of the first half.

McNair admitted that he won't be surprised if he's benched, adding that: "This is probably the lowest point of my career that I've had over the last two games. I'm trying to play hard, but it's just not there."

Not this season, though, not after leading the Ravens to a franchise-record 13-3 campaign a year ago as he passed for 3,050 yards and 16 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

"My turnovers have been killing this team," McNair said after passing for only 128 yards Sunday with two fumbles and one interception. "If they decide to go with Kyle, that's fine. I'll probably agree with them."

Days after striking a defiant tone against critics, McNair's self-confidence took quite a dip Sunday. That's another reason for concern beyond his questionable arm strength, mobility, health and decision-making.

"Certainly, I will have to visit with Steve to see how he's doing physically," Billick said. "We've given Steve a great deal of time to get healthy by design. I'm going to have to visit with Steve, see how he feels, see where he is at right now."

McNair was granted two weeks off prior to the Ravens' Oct. 28 bye.

However, the former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player has demonstrated definite signs of rust and is actually playing worse now than he did earlier this year.

"Where Steve is physically due to the injuries has maybe taken a toll that we have to look at and see if we're evaluating him fairly, because we went on a decided course to get him healthy going into the bye, hopefully give him that freshness that we all saw in training camp," Billick said. "For whatever reason, that's not there and we have to determine why that is and how it's going to affect us going forward. The fact that we haven't been able to get that back has surprised me a little bit."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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