- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. Elvis is improving, but the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback situation remains uncertain this week.
Coach Brian Billick yesterday said for the second week in a row the Ravens' starting quarterback won't be determined until later in the week. Baltimore faces the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in an important AFC Central showdown.
The Ravens are very comfortable with 38-year-old backup Randall Cunningham, who directed two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that overcame an 11-point deficit and triggered an improbable 18-17 come-from-behind victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday that snapped a two-game losing streak.
"When you see in the fourth quarter what it took to win, that's where that veteran presence. … every team would love to have the luxury of having that kind of presence [in Cunningham] and why you pay for [free agency] at a premium price nowadays," Billick said. "The environment has changed. It used to be when you brought in a veteran quarterback the immediate question was, 'Well, what does that mean for the starter and do you have enough confidence in your [starter]?' Now you have to have that [veteran backup] there."
Elvis Grbac, the Ravens starter, suffered bruised ribs two weeks ago on a third-quarter sack in a 24-14 loss at the Cleveland Browns. For the past nine days, Grbac has not been able to throw overhand with any velocity and still feels tightness in his chest when he throws.
On the season, Grbac has thrown more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (six) and has lost four fumbles. With Grbac still struggling to throw at this point in the week, it appears Cunningham will start his second consecutive game.
"If Elvis is healthy to go, he will be our starter," Billick said. "If he can't play, we are prepared to go with Randall Cunningham."
Cunningham's numbers are good. In two relief appearances and Sunday's start his first in nearly a year he has completed 59.7 percent (40 of 67) of his passes for 415 yards, two touchdowns and just one interception.
Cunningham, the NFL's all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks, was a calming influence on the Ravens offense, especially its patchwork line. The Ravens have confidence in Cunningham's ability. If Grbac doesn't start, things aren't so bad for Baltimore with Cunningham running the show.
In Sunday's game against the Jaguars, Cunningham took what the defense gave him. His lone interception bounced off running back Jason Brookins' hands. When the Ravens don't turn the ball over, they win. In its four victories, Baltimore (4-3) is plus-4 in turnover ratio.
"I'm going to go for it, I'm not going to hold back. I'm not a conservative quarterback, but I'm smart enough to know what Brian wants me to do and that's the way I run the offense," said Cunningham, who has thrown for 29,821 career yards and 206 touchdowns.
The running back situation also is uncertain. Brookins, a rookie out of tiny Lane College, is coming off a career game against the Jaguars. Brookins, who replaced starter Terry Allen (ankle) on Sunday, registered career highs in carries (19) and yards (82), including a 2-yard touchdown run in his first professional start.
The hard-running Brookins, a 6-foot, 235-pound workhorse, is just 90 yards shy of catching Allen as the Ravens leading rusher with a third-less carries. Allen has 358 yards on 99 rushes, while Brookins has 268 yards on 61 carries.
As is the case with his quarterbacks, Billick won't know who Sunday's featured back will be until later in the week.
When asked what he thought of going up against the physical Steelers defense top-rated in the NFL Brookins said, "I've never played against them. I don't know if they are physical or not, so I'm going to go home and watch 'Monday Night Football' tonight and catch a couple leaks and a couple holes and see what I can do to get those guys rattled up there in Pittsburgh."
Notes
Shannon Sharpe's second annual "Gridiron Halloween" fund-raiser for Goodwill Industries of the Chesapeake will take place tonight at the ESPNZone in the Inner Harbor. Approximately 30 Ravens players and Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley will be in costumes for the event. Sharpe came as Austin Powers last year. … Ravens owner Art Modell is one of 71 nominees on a preliminary list for induction into next year's Pro Football Hall of Fame. … Sharpe (657 receptions) needs just six catches to break Ozzie Newsome's NFL record (662) for most career receptions by a tight end.

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