McGahee: 'It's been a disappointing season'

OWINGS MILLS -- For at least one transfixing moment, Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee forgot his dismal season of frustration and recaptured his old running form. For a handful of seconds, McGahee offered a reminder of his old persona as a viable, dangerous runner capable of generating a game-changing impact.

During his 77-yard touchdown burst toward the end of the fourth quarter of a 33-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, McGahee busted up the middle and ran away from safety Ken Hamlin with little interference on his way to the end zone.

Ultimately, the rare sequence of success just temporarily eased the mental and physical pain of a season derailed by knee, rib, ankle and eye injuries as well as a pronounced slump. After the run, McGahee was mobbed by congratulatory teammates on the sideline.

"Everybody was happy for me because my season hasn't been great whatsoever," McGahee said. "They knew I could do it, but the fact is I finally went out there and did it. It was at the right time, right place: under the lights when we're the only teams playing on Saturday night. The hole was there and I just took it.

"I'm always going to be Willis and have that confidence. It just gives me some leverage to go out there and play even ha rder, and that's what I'm going to do."

One year removed from rushing for 1,207 yards and making the AFC Pro Bowl squad as an injury replacement for LaDainian Tomlinson, McGahee's status has dropped to playing second fiddle to bruising fullback Le'Ron McClain.

It's McClain who's bound for Hawaii after leading the Ravens with 832 rushing yards and eight touchdowns as a dual threat at fullback and tailback after blocking for McGahee last season and carrying the football just eight times. And McGahee has dipped to a career-worst 647 yards entering the final game of the regular season Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"This is a disappointing season, but you can't cry about it," McGahee said. "Things happen. You get injured and you can't do anything about it."

"Making the playoffs would be a good thing, but the season is still going to be there in the records. You just have to put it in the past."

McGahee used to regularly proclaim that he was the best running back in the NFL and has traditionally displayed that trademark University of Miami swagger.

However, he has qui etly gone about his business this year without complaint despite a drastically reduced workload.

Following the longest run of his five-year career, McGahee's colleagues were equally excited.

Despite skipping the majority of the offseason training program and minicamps and admittedly showing up at training camp out of shape before hurting his knee badly enough that he needed arthroscopic left knee surgery, McGahee has remained a popular locker room figure.

"We loved it," center Jason Brown said. "We knew that Willis was going to break out sooner or later, but for it to happen right there at the time we needed it, it was amazing."

"I was so happy for him," said McClain, who topped McGahee's touchdown sprint by seven yards with an 82-yard score on the Ravens' subsequent drive. "I hugged him on the sideline."

Even though he's no longer the Ravens' featured runner, McGahee hasn't lashed out at the coaching staff, sulked or griped to reporters about his altered role.

However, he has drawn heavy criticism from fans and media. Especially during a stretch where he gained just 76 yards in five games following a season-high 112-yard, two-touchdown performance Nov. 9 against the Houston Texans.

"Willis has handled the whole season pretty well," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's been disa ppointed because things haven't worked out, I'm sure, the way he planned going in as far as number of carries and yards and all those measurable things.

"To me, the real measurable thing is the character that he's expressed through this whole deal. He's continued to work at it."

Yet, the future for McGahee, 27, is unsettled due to performance and contractual reasons.

If McGahee was cut or traded after the season, the Ravens would owe the remaining prorated portions of his guaranteed money from a five-year $40.12 million contract that also has two option years for a total of $11.25 million in dead money against next year's salary cap.

He currently just counts an affordable $3.12 million against the 2009 salary cap, but could be asked to accept a pay cut for next season and/or regularly attend offseason workouts.

"Right now, we're still in this season and we can't talk about next season until next year comes," said McGahee, whom Baltimore acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills in March of 2007 to replace Jamal Lewis. "I would love to be back here, but this is a business. So, if it happens, it happens."

Notebook: Barnes sidelined for rest of season with chest injury

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Antwan Barnes revealed that his season is over due to a chest injury.

He's listed as out on the injury report for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars, but wasn't placed on injured reserve.

"I'm out for the season, yeah, even for the playoffs," Barnes said Wednesday at the Ravens' training complex. "I really didn't think that I hurt it that bad at first."

Barnes strained his left pectoral muscle in a 33-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys. His left arm is in a sling, and it's unclear if he'll need to undergo s urgery.

"I don't know yet if I'm going to have to have surgery," Barnes said. "I'm still waiting to find out."

A fourth-round draft pick last year out of Florida International, Barnes finished the season with five tackles on defense and nine tackles on special teams.

Meanwhile, the Ravens held several players out of practice Wednesday.

Offensive tackle Willie Anderson (foot), wide receiver Derrick Mason (left dislocated shoulder/trapezius), linebacker Jarret Johnson (calf), defensive end Trevor Pryce (illness), free safety Ed Reed (hamstring), cornerback Samari Rolle (ankle), offensive tackle Adam Terry (knee) and cornerback Fabian Washington (toe) didn't practice.

Return specialist Yamon Figurs (head) and running back Ray Rice (calf contusion) were limited in practice.

Wide receiver Marcus Maxwell (hip) was ruled out.

Jaguars star running back Maurice Jones-Drew (knee) didn't practice for the second consecutive day.

"We remain hopeful," Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio told Baltimore reporters in a conference call. "He's a great young man. He's working hard to get back."

The Ravens are preparing as if Jones-Drew is going to play. The former UCLA standout leads Jacksonville with 746 rushing yards and 14 touchdowns while ranking second with a career-high 61 receptions for 555 yards.

"He's a tremendous back," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He's a real powerful guy, loves to compete, a good receiver out of the backfield."

CASHING IN: Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco's strong season has triggered lucrative escalator clauses in his five-year, $30 million contract, including an additional $750,000 in his base salary in the final four years of his contract. That incentive was activated by Flacco playing in 80 percent of the Ravens' offensive snaps as a rookie.

If Flacco leads the Ravens on a postseason run, he will earn another $200,000 per playoff victory.

Meanwhile, Atlanta Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan can make an extra $1 million if his team wins the Super Bowl or simply $100,000 for a first-round playoff win, $200,000 for a divisional round win and $400,000 for making the Super Bowl.

"I'm sure you guys will compare us for the rest of our careers, we're obviously in the same draft class and started from Day One," Flacco said. "But I'm not going to pay too much attention to that. We'll see how it works out."

RETURN GAME: Strong safety Jim Leonhard has made an impact as Dawan Landry's replacement, ranking fifth on the defense with 79 tackles to go with one sack and one interception.

Leonhard has also made a big contribution in the return game returning 19 punts for a 12.2 average with a long return of 46 yards. He ranks sixth in the NFL in punt return average.

"I think the best words to describe Jim Leonhard is he's a football player," special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "Put him out there at any task, he just finds a way of getting the job done. The thing that people are perhaps a little mistaken on is they look at Jim and they think he's an overachiever.

"That guy is a good athlete. You don't make plays as a punt returner at this level without having athletic ability. He's got an ability to put his foot in the ground and cut off people. He reads blocks very well, and he's been a real positive force for us."

Meanwhile, the Ravens haven't been nearly as successful on kickoff returns where Yamon Figurs is averaging just 21.0 yards after scoring on punt and kickoff returns as a rookie last year. Plus, Figurs nearly lost a fumble in the fourth quarter against the Cowboys.

"When things aren't going particularly the way you want them to, you go back to the fundamentals," Rosburg said. "We're practicing our blocking. We're practicing our timing. We're practicing our wedges. We hope that will serve us in order to knock one out here soon."

Figurs ranks 36th in the league in kickoff return average and has appeared increasingly tentative on returns. Has he lost his confidence?

"I can 't speak to his confidence," Rosburg said. "I guess I'm not inside his head. I don't think I've done a real good job of giving him his space. I take responsibility for that.

"I think Yamon i s the kind of returner that, as you have seen here before, you get him in space and he's exciting. He's dangerous. The thing that I need to do a better job as a coach is getting him that opportunity."

KOCH HONORED: Ravens punter Sam Koch was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. He averaged 52.2 yards per punt against the Cowboys with a long of 61 yards, also converting a fake field goal on a key first down to set up a touchdown.

Did he get the award for his punting or the nine-yard run?

"Hopefully, it was a combination of both," said Koch, a former high school fullback and linebacker who lowered his shoulder on his dash upfield. "It was really fun."

Koch was snubbed for the Pro Bowl, so this award is a small consolation prize.

"The Pro Bowl would have been really nice, but to go out there and help the team is really what it's all about," he said. "Hopefully, we can go the playoffs and win the Super Bowl."

QUICK HITS: The Jaguars haven't had a very good season, but do have good speed with linebackers Mike Peterson, Justin Durant and C lint Ingram. Middle linebacker Daryl Smith is out for the season. "We've got a couple of guys who played down there and the first thing they said to me was, 'These guys can run,'" offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "They can play and you put a big front in front of them and it frees them up to make plays." ... Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he'll keep a close eye on the intensity of practice Friday after granting the players Christmas Day off. "We'll be interested because it's our job to be interested," he said. "It's something that the team wanted to do, they agreed to do and we're going to get our full complement of practices in this week. Friday's practice will be interesting to see how we handle it." ... Linebacker Terrell Suggs' sense of humor hasn't been lost on the coaching staff. "You can't help but laugh," Harbaugh said. "He's back there making comments about thing that happen on the field. It's always football related. It's usually taking a jab at somebody. I try not to laugh. Sometimes, I'm really trying to stifle it, but it's impossible. It's energizing." ... It's sinking in for Flacco that he's the last quarterback to win a game at Texas Stadium. "I thought about it for a quick second after the game," Flacco said. "It's definitely pretty cool having all the guys that had played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Baltimore Ravens and myself were the last team to win there." ... The Ravens are hosting a private reception Saturday for several former Baltimore Colts who played20in the 1958 championship against the New York Giants, an event that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is scheduled to attend, and will have 15 former Colts at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday for a halftime ceremony. Raymond Berry is scheduled to give a speech and retired announcing legend Vince Bagli will introduce the players. ... The Ravens will send out the five Pro Bowl selections last during pregame introductions with middle linebacker Ray Lewis the final one out of the tunnel. ... Kickoff specialist Steve Hauschka managed to get a football stuck high on the wall of the Ravens' indoor practice facility, booting a kickoff during drills. "I hope we can keep it up there," Rosburg said. "Velcro ball, I think."

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