Ravens Look to Extend AFC North Lead Sunday Against Atlanta
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Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick has been losing the ball. Thanks to Steve McNair, the Baltimore Ravens haven't been losing much.
After McNair orchestrated another comeback win, the first-place Ravens (7-2) look to match their longest winning streak of the season when they host Vick and the struggling Falcons (5-4) on Sunday.
Baltimore was down 26-7 to Tennessee in the second quarter last week but scored the final 20 points, capped by McNair's 11-yard touchdown pass to Derrick Mason with 3:35 left as the Ravens won 27-26 to open a three-game lead in the AFC North.
It was the third time McNair has led Baltimore on a clutch late-game scoring drive. He did it at Cleveland in Week 3 and against San Diego the following week.
Baltimore was 2-7 at this point last season. Much of the difference is due to McNair's steady play.
``There is a quiet, calm confidence about him on the sideline,'' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. ``It's just a quiet (demeanor).''
Baltimore will now try to match its season-opening four-game winning streak. That is the Ravens' longest run in a single season since winning the final seven regular-season games in 2000 before going on to victory in the Super Bowl.
Atlanta (5-4) had Super Bowl aspirations after winning five of its first seven games, but two straight losses to sub-.500 teams has the team searching for answers.
In those two contests, Vick committed six turnovers. The four interceptions were bad enough, but he also had two fumbles that occurred without any contact from the defense, largely because the speedy quarterback was carrying the ball with one hand rather than tucking it in a more secure position.
In a 17-13 loss to Cleveland on Sunday, he completed a 55-yard pass to Roddy White that had the Falcons in position to pull out the win in the final minutes. Then, Vick stumbled while trying to get outside on a run, lost the ball when it struck his left knee, and watched as the Browns recovered to seal the game.
It was virtually a carbon copy of Vick's fumble the previous week, which led to a touchdown in the Lions' 30-14 victory.
Falcons coach Jim Mora said he's not going to urge Vick to hold the ball differently when he's in the backfield because that would tip off defenses that he planned to run instead of pass.
``When you're dealing with a guy like Mike, you don't want to put him in a can,'' he said. ``You have to live with it to a certain extent. Believe me, it doesn't eat up anyone more than it does No. 7. That guy is 100 percent about the team. When he makes a mistake like that, it kills him.''
Atlanta running back Warrick Dunn said he hasn't heard any dissension in the locker room after losing to a pair of the league's worst teams. Still, he knows that may not hold up if the team continues to struggle.
``That's the first thing that happens when you lose a few games,'' Dunn said. ``People want to know why they're losing games. Sometimes they point fingers at other guys and say, 'Why did he do that.' We've got to stick together through the great days and the bad days.''
The Falcons will be without Patrick Kerney for the rest of the season after the defensive end tore his right pectoral muscle against the Browns. Kerney started in 105 straight games, made the Pro Bowl in 2004 and leads the team with five sacks.
Atlanta was already playing without its other Pro Bowl defensive end, John Abraham. He went down with a groin injury in Week 1 and then needed abdominal surgery, and has played only two games all season.
Abraham is expected to miss at least two more weeks before the Falcons even consider bringing him back.
Atlanta is expected to line up Sunday with second-year player Chauncey Davis and rookie Paul Carrington, an undrafted free agent, as the starting ends.
``We'll fight to the bitter end with whoever is standing,'' Mora said. ``The ones standing may be guys you haven't heard a lot about.''
Baltimore, meanwhile, will most likely be without linebacker Ray Lewis, who underwent a minor surgical procedure Thursday to have a pocket of blood drained from his swollen back. Dennis Haley, promoted from the practice squad last week, will start if Lewis can't play.
``I don't know how much of a difference it (the surgical procedure) will make for this week, but it's my understanding that it will make a huge difference for him and we'll see how he is at the end of the week,'' Billick said. ``He's made real progress, I think.''
Atlanta won its last meeting with Baltimore 20-17 on Nov. 3, 2002. Vick threw an interception and had two fumbles, but neither was lost.
By: Michael Cash - theSpread.com - Email Us
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