McGahee: 'Sorry it took so long'

OWINGS MILLS -- Willis McGahee bullied the vaunted New England Patriots, leaving bruised and confused defenders on the ground in his wake. It was a landmark performance for the Baltimore Ravens' running back in a 27-24 loss Monday night to New England, a dominant showing that left a struggling football team openly wondering why it took so long to make him the centerpiece of a dormant offense.

"Sorry it took so long, but that was just a glimpse of what this offense can do," McGahee said.

McGahee gained a season-high 138 yards to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. It's hardly a coincidence that he carried the football 30 times, more than any other game since joining the Ravens in an offseason trade from the Buffalo Bills.

Now, the Ravens (4-8) are hoping that McGahee can replicate that outing to snap a six-game losing streak Sunday night against the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts (10-2).

"Willis needs to run like that again, so he can get everyone open outside," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Don't be a one-game wonder, please."

Although McGahee ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing with 1,048 yards and seven touchdowns to rank one yard behind San Diego Chargers All-Pro runner LaDainian Tomlinson, he has 42 less carries than second-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers running back Willie Parker (1,093 yards).

Of course, Minnesota Vikings rookie Adrian Peterson leads the league with 1,197 yards on just 184 carries.

In a season that has gone awry, McGahee has been one of the few bright spots offensively for the NFL's 23rd-ranked offense. He has rushed for a touchdown in seven consecutive games and is on pace to gain a career-high 1,397 yards.

"I want to be the guy that controls the game," McGahee said. "Let the running back control the clock, control the whole game." However, with five games remaining, the Ravens have the 17th-ranked running game with just 1,250 total rushing yards on 311 attempts.

When asked why it took so long for the Ravens to entrust him with more responsibility, McGahee replied: "Why this long? I don't know. I'm just doing my job. Whenever my number is called, I'm going to step up to the plate."

Baltimore ran 65 plays against New England, and McGahee was involved in more than half of the snaps. Plus, he caught four passes to notch 37 for the season, which ranks second on the team behind Mason.

Against New England, McGahee's sharp jab steps startled perennial All-Pro linebacker Junior Seau so much that he fell to the ground. McGahee also bulled over former Baltimore All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas.

"Willis was breaking guys' ankles out there," said rookie fullback Le'Ron McClain, McGahee's primary lead blocker. "I saw him fake out Junior Seau, and he got Adalius Thomas another time.

"That's how we should always play football, just fire off the ball and hit somebody in the mouth. We were just having fun out there. That's what we need to keep doing, just run it down people's throats. I love it."

McGahee, who said he has dedicated the remainder of the season in memory of slain Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, a fellow University of Miami football alum, said he feels like he gets stronger with every carry.

Against the Patriots, McGahee just kept churning out yards with a combination of jukes, spins and power moves.

"I would say it was basically just me getting the ball," McGahee said. "As the game goes on, I get a little stronger and that's how my game has developed. We were all grinding, me, the linemen, the receivers and the tight ends."

McGahee definitely left a strong impression on a New England defense that was allowing just 86.2 rushing yards per contest.

"I felt that this was the first time all year that we got bullied," said Patriots safety Rodney Harrison after getting stiff-armed by McGahee. "We can't allow teams to run the ball and pound it like that."

The Ravens have no regrets about trading three draft picks to the Bills, including two third-round selections, to acquire McGahee, a former Pro Bowl runner who fell out of favor last season in Buffalo.

If anything, the Ravens have been surprised by some other dimensions of McGahee's game, particularly his blocking.

"He's much more physical than I thought when we got him," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "You have a certain perception of playing somebody. "We ask a lot of our backs, and he does a great job with it. He's very good out of the backfield. He's a very complete player that was an excellent pickup for us."

It has a been a frustrating inaugural season in Baltimore for McGahee because of all of the losing, a dramatic fall from the defending AFC North championship squad that he joined last spring following a franchise-record 13-3 campaign.

"The season is all right, man, but it could have been a whole lot better if we would have done more in the beginning of the season," McGahee said. "It didn't work out that way. We don't want to be a big disappointment. We know we've lost too many games to be in the playoffs, but we can still fight."

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

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