McGahee's status unresolved

OWINGS MILLS -- The plot surrounding Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee and his dwindling playing time continues to thicken. McGahee remained stuck on the bench during the Ravens' 34-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals while fullback Le'Ron McClain led the team in rushing for the second week in a row and started at tailback for the first time.

Responding to rampant rumors that he has been chronically late for meetings and has clashed with the new coaching staff, McGahee felt the need to issue a statement about his confusing situation Monday.

Meanwhile, Ravens coach John Harbaugh declined to specify why McGahee was sidelined against the Bengals. His vague answer to an inquiry about McGahee's status hinted that the reason behind the former Pro Bowl runner's reduced playing time stems from internal issues with the team.

"No, nothing that we would want to talk about or that's really of interest outside of our building," Harbaugh said. "What we're trying to do is win football games. We felt like it was best to go the way we went against Cincinnati. It has to do with the Cincinnati game. It has to do with future games.

"It's all what we think gives us the best chance to win games, and Willis understands that. Willis has been tremendous. He's a competitor. Willis wants to play, and he wants the ball. That's what makes him a good back."

Since gaining a season-high 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns Nov. 9 against the Houston Texans, McGahee has struggled. Now, he has practically disappeared.

He didn't break many tackles and didn't seem to run particularly hard in a loss to the New York Giants the following week, rushing for just 18 yards on nine carries. Then, he gained just eight yards on seven carries against the Philadelphia Eagles while McClain gained a career-high 88 yards before not playing at all against the Bengals.

Although McGahee has dealt with knee, ankle, rib and eye injuries this season, Harbaugh said that McGahee not playing against the Bengals wasn't health-related.

In an apparent attempt at damage control, McGahee released the following statement Monday afternoon.

"I support my Team and Coach Harbaugh, and I love playing in Baltimore," McGahee said. "I am working hard and looking forward to helping our Team win another championship. Recently, Le'Ron, Ray Rice and myself had the opportunity to give back to 700 families for Thanksgiving. It has been great working together with such good teammates on and off the field."

McGahee admittedly reported to training camp out of shape after skipping the team's offseason program, which drew the ire of the coaching staff. Then, he hurt his left knee and underwent arthroscopic left knee surgery.

It would be expensive for the Ravens to cut McGahee after the season because they would incur nearly an $8 million charge against next year's salary cap.

Despite the unresolved nature of this issue with meetings behind the scenes in the offing, Harbaugh reiterated that McGahee remains in the Ravens' plans for the stretch run.

"I don't know what everybody is talking about," Harbaugh said. "We really like Willis McGahee. We think he's a really good player, and we plan on Willis being a huge part of what we're doing in December.

"He's been practicing very well. He's getting stronger and stronger throughout the course of the season, and there's no question in my mind that Willis McGahee, a very talented back, is going to be a huge part of what we're doing here down the stretch."

When asked if McGahee was part of the game plan for Sunday night's game against the Washington Redskins, Harbaugh replied: "We'll see."

TRAINING ROOM: Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson's leg wasn't seriously hurt in the fourth quarter.

"He's OK," Harbaugh said. "I saw him this morning. Yeah, he's fine."

Offensive tackle Jared Gaither emerged unscathed, too, after limping off the field during the first quarter and being replaced for a snap by Chad Slaughter.

"I'm not sure if it was the ankle or the foot or the knee or whatever, but it wasn't a serious thing," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, he has the shoulder soreness coming out of the game and he's going to be dealing with that for a while."

BIG DECOY: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's presence distracted the Bengals' secondary enough that tight end Todd Heap was left alone in the back of the end zone on his four-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.

"They jumped Haloti," Harbaugh said. "Haloti was our decoy."

FASSEL ON THE CALL: Former Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, who was fired by Brian Billick during the 2006 season, will work as a color analyst for Westwood One's national radio broadcast of Sunday night's game against the Redskins.

QUICK HITS: The Ravens had to burn yet another timeout when Smith entered the game for the first time against Cincinnati. It has become a bad trend. "It's easy to say that it's time management," Harbaugh said. "It's a substitution issue. We've got Mark Clayton down there at the five-yard line trying to get back, and it's hard for him to know exactly what the substitution pattern is within that 40-second clock, and that's what happened in that situation." ... As the Redskins make their first regular-season trip to Baltimore, the Ravens sport a 10-1 home record against NFC opponents since 2003. That ties them with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the top mark in the NFL over that span. ...The Ravens have averaged an NFL-high 30.6 points over the past seven games. ... Harbaugh made it a special point to compliment linebacker Terrell Suggs for his crushing blocks on strong safety Jim Leonhard's 35-yard interception return for a touchdown, quarterback Troy Smith's block on a Rice run and defensive end Trevor Pryce for dominating the Bengals with four quarterback hits. ... Even during a blowout win, the coaches found some faults, including losing containment during a two-minute drill and the special teams' technique. "It's easy to look at the big picture and say, 'Well, it was a dominant performance,' which it was, but within that we can get much better."


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