- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 12, 2003

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Maybe Jeff Blake should have stayed in Baltimore.

Instead of remaining with a playoff contender, the journeyman quarterback spurned the Ravens and decided he rather would be the starter for the NFL’s version of purgatory, the Arizona Cardinals. Blake will lead his downtrodden Cardinals (1-4) against his former team, the AFC North-leading Ravens (2-2), today at Sun Devil Stadium.

Blake, 32, went 4-6 as the Ravens’ starter last season after Chris Redman went down in Week 6 with a season-ending back injury. Blake said he chose to leave in part because coach Brian Billick would not guarantee he would remain the starter, but money also played a role.

“I want to play,” said Blake, who is in his 12th year. “Nobody wants to sit on the bench anywhere, especially if you know that you are better than somebody else. But [the Ravens] were giving the other person the opportunity to play just because he has been there longer than you. That doesn’t have anything to do with it. Who’s better than whom? Not having the opportunity to compete, I might as well retire, and I’m not ready to retire. I want to compete, and I want to go out and play. If the other person beat me out, fine. He’s a better man.”

Contrary to what Blake said, Billick conducted an open quarterback competition in training camp only to have rookie Kyle Boller beat out Redman. Had Blake accepted the Ravens’ contract offer, he might have won the job. Billick even flew to Blake’s Florida home but was unsuccessful in persuading him to return. Blake signed a three-year, $7.5million deal with the Cardinals in the offseason.

“Anytime someone has a different color jersey on, he is the enemy, regardless of whether he was on your team or not,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. “It won’t be me and him giving each other high-fives after the plays. Jeff has been around a long time. He has his assets. He can be impressive in some eyes and not impressive in others.”

Playing for a moribund team is nothing new to Blake. In every stop of his checkered career — with the Cincinnati Bengals, New York Jets, New Orleans Saints, Ravens and Cardinals — he has played on bad to mediocre teams.

Blake has been one of the Cardinals’ few bright spots so far, completing 79 of 136 passes (58.1 percent) for 895 yards with five touchdowns and six interceptions.

“We have the youngest team in the NFL, and I needed an experienced quarterback in here,” Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis said. “[Blake] has done a very nice job with it. Jeff is like all of us are right now in this building: extremely disappointed in our performances in the last two weeks. He has been nothing but positive. We don’t have any more high energy player at practice than Jeff Blake.”

With Emmitt Smith, the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, out indefinitely with a shoulder injury, the Cardinals will rely on Marcel Shipp (24 carries for 80 yards) to handle the rushing load.

“We have no running game whatsoever right now,” Blake said of the NFL’s 30th-rated ground game.

That means it will be up to Blake today. Cardinals rookie wide receiver Anquan Boldin (33 receptions for 497 yards and two TDs) has developed into Blake’s favorite target and is capable of making big plays.

“No, I’m not frustrated,” Blake said. “I’m just determined to get this organization and the team turned around. I knew that it was going to be tough going in. I’ve always been in tough situations. I’ve never been on a team where they were already stacked with [Pro Bowl players] and players that are ready to go. I’ve always been on teams where I had to make it happen and try to get the team turned around.”

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