Monday Night Football

If Willis McGahee's preseason was a coming attractions reel, the movie would be perceived to be a bust.

The Baltimore Ravens' new running back averaged a meager 2.6 yards per carry and failed to scored a touchdown.

Take away his one shining moment, a 16-yard pickup in the opener against Philadelphia, and McGahee gained 31 yards on 17 attempts.

The NFL, however, isn't Hollywood. Which means the Ravens had absolutely no intention of showing what McGahee can really do until the curtain comes up to start the show. The host Cincinnati Bengals can look at all the film they want, but they won't know what it's like to face the Ravens with McGahee in the backfield until Monday night.

``I'm ready to work now. This is when it counts,'' McGahee said. ``The preseason, you've got to get through it without getting hurt. That's over with now. It all starts Monday.''

Monday night's game opens a new era for the Baltimore offense, which for years has relied on power back Jamal Lewis. After the Ravens allowed Lewis to sign as a free agent with Cleveland, general manager Ozzie Newsome quickly worked a trade with Buffalo to land the versatile McGahee.

Oddsmakers from have made Cincinnati -3 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for tonight's game, the over/under has been set at 40 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 60% of bets for this game have been placed on Cincinnati -3 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

The Bengals aren't fooled by McGahee's lackluster preseason. They know the former University of Miami star is a threat to score on every play, whether he's running up the middle or catching a short sideline pass.

``Jamal Lewis was more of a power back. McGahee is looking to go inside and bounce outside,'' linebacker Ahmad Brooks said. ``He can change the game. He can make 4 yards into 15 yards to a touchdown. He has those capabilities.''

McGahee has been itching to play for a winner since he tore ligaments in his knee during his final game with Miami. He gained more than 1,000 yards rushing in his first two full seasons with the Bills and added 990 last year, but the Bills never got to the postseason.

Now he's with the Ravens, who went 13-3 last season and hope to build on that mark against Baltimore's longtime rivals in the AFC North. Being a contender means playing in prime time, and although this game will give McGahee an opportunity to dazzle a national audience, he's more interested in making an impression on the 52 other guys in the locker room.

``It's not about showing the country; it's about showing my teammates, just getting them behind you,'' he said. ``When you get them behind you, you don't have to worry what other people think about you. It's just the fact of showing my teammates I deserve to be here, I want to be here and I can make plays for them.''

The Ravens like the swagger McGahee brings to the offense, and they have every reason to believe he will be as good as advertised - regardless of what occurred in those meaningless games in August.

``You only play five or six snaps and it's hard to get into that rhythm in the running game,'' quarterback Steve McNair said. ``But now he's going to play the whole game. We need a specific game plan to run against the Cincinnati defense and he'll have some good plays. McGahee's going to be a big factor in the running game and help us out in the passing game.''

Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said, ``I think he's going to do a tremendous job. I'm not holding my breath any.''

The Ravens usually removed Lewis during third-down situations because he wasn't much of a receiving threat. Not so with McGahee.

``I played against the guy when I was in Miami (in 2004), and he's definitely a handful,'' Bengals defensive end Bryan Robinson said. ``They could check the ball down to him where he's catching the ball out of the backfield.''

That ability will be even more important Monday night because backup running back Mike Anderson will miss the game for personal reasons. No matter; if the Ravens have their way, McGahee will put on a show that will earn rave reviews.

``We've got to get the running game cranked up,'' coach Brian Billick said. ``We've seen enough of it in practice. There's no reason we can't run the ball well, but we've got to see it in a game.''

By: Staci Richards - - Email Us

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