Notebook: McClain pounds Redskins

BALTIMORE – Baltimore Ravens fullback Le'Ron McClain went into a full body spasm following his first practice of training camp and had to be helped off the field. Admittedly out of shape at 278 pounds and having flunked the conditioning test, McClain diligently dieted and exercised his way down to a relatively svelte 260 pounds.

Several months and pounds later, he has emerged as the Ravens' leading rusher and fourth-quarter workhorse.

"I remember his first practice wasn't really a practice, if I recall," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said last Friday. "He was running wasn't he, conditioning."

Now McClain leads the Ravens with 606 rushing yards and eight total touchdowns. He's the current leader in Pro Bowl balloting among AFC fullbacks.

"You knew all along he could be that kind of player," Harbaugh said. "To see him achieve that so far, that's why you coach. You feel good about that."

The Ravens feel good about getting McClain the ball during the latter stages of games, when he has helped close out several of their wins. Sunday night was no exception as he helped Baltimore earn a 24-10 victory over the Washington Redskins.

"It felt good just running north and south, doing my job," McClain said. "They couldn't stop me. That's my mentality. When I'm getting up, I'm telling them that I'm coming back. On that last drive, we showed our mentality, which is being the most physical team in the league."

With Baltimore leading just 17-10, having surrendered the momentum to the Redskins through a pair of turnovers, the Ravens turned to McClain again and again.

He carried the ball 10 times, picking up 44 yards and securing three first downs during the 12-play, 83-yard drive that took seven minutes, 52 seconds and ended with a game-clinching 28-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to wide receiver Derrick Mason.

"You've got to give it up to Le'Ron because he pretty much carried that whole drive for us," Mason said. "He allowed us, at the end, to throw a pass."

McClain finished with 62 yards, his sixth game with over 60 yards, and a touchdown. He leads Baltimore in touchdowns.

And Harbaugh clearly likes the theme that's emerging at the end of games, in large measure because of McClain's play. The Ravens are finishers.

"If you're the kind of football team that's going to win games at this time of year, that needs to be a theme for you," Harbaugh said.

TEAM CHEMISTRY: Harbaugh wasn't entirely sure what kind of football team he was inheriting when he took over in January.

Nearly eleven months after succeeding Brian Billick, Harbaugh's comfort level has increased rapidly as the Ravens have jelled into a playoff contender in the AFC North.

Barring a few mostly silent holdouts, winning over the locker room has been a major part of Harbaugh's assimilation to Baltimore.

"Does it matter if it was tough, not tough whatever?" Harbaugh said last Friday. "It's a good bunch of guys. They're character people. They're men of integrity. We believe that. It's not just me saying that.

"They're good people, and they like football. We say, 'This is how we're going to do it and we're going to go work hard and we're going to play for one another.' I think our guys believe in that and some success helps."

Sunday's win was the Ravens' seventh in eight games, allowing them to improve to 9-4.

One sign of solidarity Harbaugh has picked up on is the camaraderie of the players displayed through frequent dinners, bowling and movies.

"As a coach, you feel like that's a good sign because you've got guys that like one another. If they like one another, it's more important to them to not let each other down if they have respect for one another," he said. "I think we have that with our team."

One overrated aspect of reshaping the Ravens, in Harbaugh's opinion, was how he rearranged the locker room to promote conversations between players from different position groups.

"I don't know how much impact it would have had per se," Harbaugh said. "I don't think it's a big deal. To me, it's way overrated. I thought when it was getting so much discussion early on, it was like, 'What's the big deal?'

"It's just an opportunity for guys to spend a little time with a different kind of person than they're used to being around. You'd have to ask them if it had an impact, but I doubt it."

QUIET CONTRIBUTOR: Four-time Pro Bowl fullback Lorenzo Neal has made an imprint on the Ravens' highly-respected running game, opening gaping holes and providing strong leadership.

"I can see how he's helped us," Harbaugh said. "I can see what Lorenzo Neal has meant to this football team. He can block. He does all the football things that you would expect, but he's been great in the locker room.

"He's a leader. Those veteran guys, that's a big part of our football team when you've got a bunch of young players that need guys like that. He's been big for us."

SUGGS ON THE CLIMB: Terrell Suggs has 51 ½ career sacks to surpass former Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary (51) for second-place on the franchise record book. He trails Peter Boulware, who posted 70 career sacks.

"It's amazing how when you don't aim for stuff like that, it kind of just happens," Suggs said. "I like to think of myself as a team player, and I don't try to shoot for individual goals, but the more I just keep playing hard for my team and Rex Ryan, great things like that will keep happening."

SIDELINED: The Ravens deactivated Todd Bouman as the emergency quarterback, also scratching wide receivers Terrance Copper and Marcus Maxwell (hip), cornerback Evan Oglesby, offensive linemen David Hale (ankle) and Oniel Cousins, tight end Edgar Jones and defensive tackle Lamar Divens (shoulder).

The Redskins deactivated quarterback Colt Brennan, cornerback Shawn Springs (strained calf), defensive tackle Kedrick Golston (ankle), offensive linemen Jason Fabini and Chad Rinehart, defensive end Erasmus James, linebacker Marcus Washington (ankle) and tight end Fred Davis.

QUICK HITS: One week after being deactivated for the first time since joining the Ravens, cornerback Frank Walker was back in the lineup. This time, Oglesby was deactivated and Walker was up. … The Ravens lost two running backs to injuries during Sunday's game, as rookie Ray Rice left with a thigh bruise and Willis McGahee with a shoulder stinger and a mild concussion. Return specialist Yamon Figurs left the game with a knee bruise, and X-rays were ruled negative. Figurs said he wasn't hurt seriously. Kicker Matt Stover initially thought that he had broken his right ankle, but his swelling immediately went away... The Ravens used safety Jim Leonhard and Ed Reed on punt returns in addition to Figurs, who entered the game ranked 12th in the AFC and 22nd in the NFL in punt return average. … The Redskins' fourth-quarter touchdown snapped a streak of 14 consecutive quarters without a TD by Baltimore's defensive, spanning 46 possessions ... Harbaugh's brother Jim Harbaugh, the former Ravens quarterback and current Stanford coach, was in attendance, on the sidelines Sunday night. "Did you see us consulting down there?" Harbaugh said. "We were talking. He had a couple of ideas. I told him to lay off the officials. It's real special. He's a great football coach in his own right. To share this with him means a lot." … Rookie linebacker Jameel McClain partially blocked a punt, his second of the season. … The Ravens wore black jerseys and white pants for the first time this season. … Baltimore improved to 7-1 when losing the coin toss. Quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson, a former Redskins offensive coordinator and running backs coach, was splashed with Gatorade inside the locker room after the game.


Quarterback: C-minus

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco hit wide receiver Derrick Mason for a critical late touchdown pass, but was mostly erratic. He completed just 10 of 21 passes for 134 yards and an interception after going 2 for 9 in the first half. He finished the game with a 64.4 quarterback rating after averaging a league-best 99.1 over the previous seven games. Flacco just never really got into a strong rhythm.

Running back: C

Willis McGahee started, but was completely ineffective as he rushed for just 32 yards on 11 carries and had a costly lost fumble that set up the Redskins' lone touchdown. He left the game with a shoulder stinger and a mild concussion. Bruising fullback Le'Ron McClain was stalwart in the fourth quarter with 44 of his 61 yards in a drive capped by a touchdown and highlighted by his 10 consecutive runs. He also ran for an eight-yard touchdown, his seventh rushing score of the season.

Receiver: C

Tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason delivered the big plays when the Ravens absolutely needed them, but it was a quiet passing game overall except for Mason's 28-yard touchdown catch to seal the game in the final minutes.

Offensive line: B-minus

Their run blocking was ultra- physical as Baltimore averaged 4.1 yards per carry as the running game piled up 145 yards. Joe Flacco was never sacked

Defensive line: B-plus

Haloti Ngata, Justin Bannan, Trevor Pryce and Marques Douglas built a sturdy wall at the line of scrimmage, limiting Redskins star running back Clinton Portis to just 32 yards on 11 carries. They pushed the pocket well, too, to create opportunities for teammates on the pass rush.

Linebacker: A-minus

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had 13 tackles and a sack, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs consistently applied heat to Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell for a sack and several intimidating hits.

Secondary: A-plus

Free safety Ed Reed forced a fumble and returned it for a touchdown, also intercepting two passes. Fabian Washington shut down wide receiver Santana Moss. Jason Campbell was rendered ineffective. Strong safety Jim Leonhard was dangerous in blitz packages, going unblocked each time he attacked the line of scrimmage.

Special teams: B-minus

Rookie linebacker Jameel McClain partially blocked a punt. Matt Stover hit a 32-yard field goal. And the kickoff coverage improved and was more aggressive. The return game remains stuck in neutral for the most part.

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