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OWINGS MILLS — The NFL tends to limit its Most Valuable Player conversation to only include statistical luminaries such as San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson or New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Steve McNair should be included for consideration for his impact in helping to engineer a turnaround from a 6-10 campaign to first place in the AFC North and a 10-3 mark heading into Sundayâ€™s game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium, according to his teammates and coaches.
McNair has relatively modest statistics with an 83.1 passer rating, 13 touchdown passes and nine interceptions, but has renewed confidence in a usually downtrodden offense as Baltimore is on the verge of clinching a playoff berth and a division title.
"It’s not about statistics, it’s more about a mind-set that we get in when we’re out there, and he’s a big part of that," tight end Todd Heap said. "He deserves a lot of credit for what’s going on. They look for someone thatâ€™s flash. Throwing for 600 yards a game or scoring 30-some touchdowns is flashy.
"Not to take away from what those guys are doing, but at the same time you have to look at Steve and the things he brings to the team."
Will McNair garner serious consideration as he did in 2003 when he shared MVP honors with Peyton Manning or will his intangibles be overlooked because of his lack of gaudy numbers? He seems to be a long shot everywhere in the league except for the Ravensâ€™ training complex.
"You’re asking the wrong guy," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I don’t know that you can quantify what Steve McNair has done for us, or whether people can really quantify that outside this organization or outside of Baltimore. But he’s certainly deserving in my mind."
After being traded for a fourth-round draft pick from the Tennessee Titans after 11 seasons, McNair has gone from a losing operation to a potential Super Bowl contender.
"It’s meant a lot," McNair said. "They saved me from turmoil in Tennessee, and I appreciate that. When you’re going into your 12th year, you want to have an established team that has a chance to win a championship. This team has a possibility of doing that. To be a part of this team is amazing. It’s heartwarming for me."
In an understated, confident way, McNair is fully aware of his contribution to the Ravens while not lobbying for accolades. "It all starts with me," McNair said. "If I don’t play well, this team doesn’t play well. That’s the attitude I take."
TRAINING ROOM: Running back Musa Smith, who has been ruled out for Sunday with a neck stinger, expects to return next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers. "They just want to be careful with it," said Smith, affirming that the injury dates back to being carted off the field against the Tennessee Titans. "I should be fine."
Added Billick: "The doctors will tell us when they are comfortable and will make that final decision probably next week."
Linebacker Dan Cody (knee), wide receiver Derrick Mason (thigh) and safety Gerome Sapp (thigh) are questionable and missed a portion of team drills. Offensive tackle Adam Terry (back) is probable.
"Derrickâ€™s good," Billick said. "Heâ€™s a little stiff. He was limited, but Iâ€™m confident heâ€™ll get through the week."
Meanwhile, it remains unclear if the Ravens will be facing former Baltimore quarterback Derek Anderson or Charlie Frye, the Browns starter who is questionable with a bruised right wrist. Anderson is considered most likely to start for the second week in a row, but the Browns are being mysterious.
"Weâ€™ll go out there and see if he can take a snap and throw a football," said noncommittal Browns coach Romeo Crennel. "Then, weâ€™ll make a determination from there."
Anderson, drafted in the sixth round by the Ravens in 2005 and cut following training camp, was picked up by Browns general manager Phil Savage off waivers with Baltimore hoping to get him onto the practice squad.
"Feet like molasses, but he could throw a good ball and he was pretty smart," linebacker Bart Scott said in a thumbnail scouting report.
The Brownsâ€™ other notable injuries are to offensive guard Joe Andruzzi (knee, doubtful), former University of Maryland star linebacker Dâ€™Qwell Jackson (toe, doubtful), linebacker Willie McGinest (pectoral, questionable), cornerback Leigh Bodden (ankle, questionable), defensive tackle Ted Washington (knee, questionable) and tight end Kellen Winslow (knee, questionable).
HEAVY HEART: Like a lot of people with ties to the Kansas City Chiefs and the NFL, Ravens linebacker Gary Stills is praying for legendary Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt. Hunt, 74, has prostate cancer and remains in a Dallas hospital with a partially collapsed lung. His prognosis is grim, according to Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson.
"Heâ€™s been sick for a long time, and itâ€™s so sad," said Stills, who played seven seasons for the Chiefs. "Heâ€™s a good man, and you just wish you had the magic to get him back to normal."
MEMORABLE: Matt Stover joined an exclusive club by hitting his 400th career field goal Sunday against the Chiefs, becoming only the fourth player in NFL history to hit that milestone along with Gary Anderson (538), Morten Andersen (538) and John Carney (409).
"Thatâ€™s a lot of fun," Stover said. "Iâ€™m thankful for all of the opportunities Iâ€™ve been given and for Brian Billick and Ozzie Newsome still believing in me. Driving home after the game, Iâ€™m sitting there thinking about how many of those kicks I can remember and, honestly, there are only 25 or 30 field goals.
"Of course, I remember all the game-winners. It means a lot to be part of that."
QUICK HITS: The Ravensâ€™ top-ranked defense remains resistant to comparisons to the dominant 2000 edition that won a Super Bowl and set an NFL record with 165 points allowed in the regular season. "Weâ€™re not interested in comparisons," said cornerback Chris McAlister, one of two remaining starters from that defense along with middle linebacker Ray Lewis. "Thiis a different team and a new season. Weâ€™re proud of what we did." Added Billick: "Personality, scheme, athleticism, thereâ€™s a great deal of difference. The youth on this defense, starting a rookie safety [Dawan Landry] and a rookie nose guard [Haloti Ngata]. There is still the lineage obviously. We are the Baltimore Ravens and we are very proud of that lineage." â€¦Also, Lewis wanted to change the conversation topic when asked whether it was a good move for team owner Steve Bisciotti to retain Billick after a 6-10 campaign that nearly cost him his job. "I donâ€™t know. Thatâ€™s almost the wrong thing to talk about right now. Weâ€™re not going to relive whatever this offseason was about. For us to relive or evaluate was Bisciotti right for bringing Billick back, whatever their decision was, it was. I just believe everything happens for a reason. The bottom line is right where we are right now. Everything of yesterday is gone."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland