- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 6, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Brian Billick says the Baltimore Ravens are "lucky" to have veteran quarterback Randall Cunningham.
Indeed, they are Cunningham is 2-0 in relief of injured starter Elvis Grbac. Cunningham's solid play the past two weeks has the Ravens (5-3) back in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.
Unfortunately for Cunningham, he will most likely return to his position on the bench for Monday night's game at AFC Central rival Tennessee. According to Billick, Grbac will probably be healthy enough to return to the Ravens' starting lineup this week.
Grbac, whom the Ravens signed to a five-year, $30 million contract in the offseason, suffered bruised ribs on a sack three weeks ago in a 24-14 loss at the Cleveland Browns and hasn't played since. Billick said he is ready to deal with critics that may question his decision to sit Cunningham after the 38-year-old guided the struggling Ravens to back-to-back victories.
"The majority of people would say that, if the majority were right, the majority would be rich," Billick said. "Elvis Grbac is our starting quarterback. Plain and simple. I've said that all along. We're lucky to have Randall Cunningham here. When Elvis is healthy and ready to play, Elvis will be the starting quarterback. Elvis knows that, Randall knows that, this team knows that."
Billick is out to defuse a quarterback controversy before it gets started. On the season, Cunningham's numbers aren't spectacular, but the bottom line is that the Ravens won both games the 16-year pro started.
Cunningham, the NFL's all-time leading rushing quarterback, has directed game-winning, fourth-quarter drives in both of his starts. He has completed 54 of 89 passes for 573 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. Cunningham has completed 60.7 percent of his passes and has an 81.3 quarterback rating.
"I'm comfortable with where we are offensively," Billick said. "I'm relieved, if indeed it is going to happen, to have Elvis back because I think he brings a dimension to us that has been successful for us."
According to Billick, Grbac "threw very well" on Sunday during warmups and wants to see Grbac throw again on Thursday before announcing him as the starter. With the franchise's first-ever "Monday Night Football" appearance coming up, Billick gave the players off until Thursday. Subsequently, Cunningham and Grbac were unavailable for comment yesterday.
Starting Grbac against the disappointing Titans (3-4) seems sensible because in the Ravens' biggest win of the season a 26-7 dismantling of the Titans on Oct. 7 Grbac was at the Ravens' controls. In that game, Grbac completed 15 of 31 passes for 259 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. Grbac's touchdown in that game was a 77-yard bomb to wide receiver Qadry Ismail.
In six games this season, Grbac has completed 116 of 195 passes for 1,348 yards with six touchdowns and eight interceptions. Grbac is 3-3 as the Ravens' starting quarterback.
Meanwhile, Sunday's 13-10 victory at Pittsburgh puts the Ravens in the same position they were in at the midpoint of last season after eight games.
"I feel much better at 5-3 today, more equipped to take on the second half of the season, more optimistic about what we can do, than I did at 5-3 last year," Billick said.
Billick believes this year's version of the Ravens has better balance than last year's team. Billick points to the Ravens' special teams, their outstanding defense, and the team's sporadic ability to run the ball.
"This is much more of a balanced team having to rely on one another not that we can't rely on the defense certainly, it's an outstanding defense but there is much more balance to this team," Billick said. "I feel better about the offense today than I did a year ago today. I would love to have our starting tackle [Leon Searcy] in place, I would love to have [running back] Jamal Lewis in place, but we have more balance, we have more big-play potential, and we've been running the ball decently."

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