- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 19, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. It's late December, and Jeff Blake finds himself in an unfamiliar situation his team is actually in a playoff race.
In his 11th season, Blake has the Baltimore Ravens (7-7) in position to win the AFC North title.
For six seasons (1994-99) Blake played in plenty of meaningless December games with the Cincinnati Bengals. Now, for the first time in his professional career, the 31-year-old quarterback finally has an opportunity to guide a team into the postseason.
"You can't wear yourself out throughout the week beating yourself up with it; you just have to bring it all out on Sunday and keep it on an even keel," Blake said of playing in a game with postseason implications.
This Sunday at Ravens Stadium, Blake will lead the Ravens into a critical game against the Cleveland Browns (7-7). If the overachieving Ravens lose to the Browns, Baltimore will be eliminated from the playoffs.
Blake is coming off his best game as the Ravens' starting quarterback last week against the expansion Houston Texans, going 18-for-30 for 228 yards and two touchdowns in Baltimore's 23-19 victory.
With Blake playing well and the team's season at stake, the Ravens are comfortable knowing that a veteran is in command down the stretch rather than untested third-year man Chris Redman.
"There's been some games where he's had to say, 'Hey, let's go make this thing happen,' and sometimes it doesn't turn out that way," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "But when the game has been manageable and in control, and he's done those things that he's needed to do. He's been very good with the ball, and this is a very important time to do that. He's been around the league long enough to know what December is about."
Blake nearly tasted December glory two years ago with the New Orleans Saints. He started the first 11 games and led the Saints to a 7-3 record before breaking his foot against the Oakland Raiders on Nov.19. Backup Aaron Brooks took over and has been the Saints' starter ever since.
This season Redman's back spasms thrust Blake into the starting lineup in October, and he has gone 4-4. In eight games, Blake has completed 53.9 percent of his passes (130 of 241) for 1,605 yards and 10 TDs, with eight interceptions and a quarterback rating of 74.8.
In his career, Blake has thrown for 18,804 yards and 116 TDs. Although he has saved the Ravens' season from certain disaster and cemented his starting status, the club won't decide on his future until after the season.
Blake says he would like to return to Baltimore, and Billick calls him "a young 31." If the Ravens re-sign Blake, what does that mean for Redman, who was named the starter in training camp? Blake probably won't re-sign unless there are assurances that will remain the unquestioned starter.
"Jeff certainly has more game experience having been a starter in Cincinnati and New Orleans and from that standpoint, he's brought experience and the poise of a veteran who has been under the pressure of being the guy," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "They haven't dramatically made any major adjustments to their offensive game plan [since Redmans injury]."
Redman started in a 26-21 victory against the Browns on Oct.6. It has taken Blake time to become familiar with Billick's intricate passing offense, but in the past three games, he has thrown six TDs and just two interceptions.
"If we do what we did last week, we'll compete and be in the thick of things," Blake said. "The answer to every question is, don't turn the ball over. I've only been here for eight weeks. Things get a little better the second half of the season for a quarterback. It always does."

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