McGahee Carries the Load

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All season long, head coach John Harbaugh has talked about his Ravens as warriors, mighty men, men of character.

On Sunday night, running back Willis McGahee displayed just why he fits that description.

Though injuries frustratingly limited his output for much of 2008, McGahee maintained that he would be ready whenever he was called upon. When the Ravens took the field against the Steelers for the AFC Championship, that time came.

McGahee shouldered the bulk of the load for the Ravens' running game, carrying the ball 20 times for 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Among those unsurprised by that production was McGahee's backfield mate Le'Ron McClain, who led Baltimore with 902 rushing yards in the regular season.

"The dude had a great game," McClain commented. "I could see it in his eyes in practice all week, that he was going to come out and have a great game like he did."

McGahee delivered a pair of key plays deep in the second quarter that first lit up the scoreboard for the visiting Ravens.

Provided excellent field position by Jim Leonhard's 45-yard punt return, the Ravens faced third-and-nine at the Steelers' 16-yard line staring at a 13-0 deficit.

As quarterback Joe Flacco faced an onrushing defender, McGahee displayed his veteran prowess, stepping to Flacco's right to try a chip block on the would-be tackler – not a crushing block, mind you, but instead just the right amount of interference to reroute the pass rusher from his path.

As a result, Flacco got an unimpeded look at Derrick Mason, who drew a pass interference call against Bryant McFadden.

With the ensuing first down at the Steelers' 3-yard line, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron dialed up a McGahee run off left guard, which he took into the end zone to get Baltimore on the board.

Later, as the game threatened to get away from the Ravens, it was again McGahee hitting paydirt.

Early in the fourth quarter trailing 16-7, McGahee capped a six-play, 58-yard drive by taking the handoff and walking into the end zone nearly untouched for his second score of the game.

"He's gone through a lot this season, but he was still running hard," offensive tackle Adam Terry said. "He was fighting out there with us."

Unfortunately, McGahee's night ended on a somber note.

With three and a half minutes showing in the fourth quarter, McGahee came out of the backfield and caught a Flacco pass for his second reception of the game. But, as McGahee made his move up the field, Ryan Clark dashed in and leveled McGahee with a helmet-to-helmet blow that left both men shaken up.

While a clearly woozy Clark was helped to the Pittsburgh sideline, McGahee was carted off the field by medical personnel.  McGahee was transported to Pittsburgh's Presbyterian Hospital and was "neuroligically intact," according to a team spokesman.

"First of all, it was a heck of a hit," Harbaugh noted. "And Willis made a nice play before the hit. He ran a good route, made the catch.

"Your first concern is for the player. Once we got out there and hearing the doctors talk and seeing him move around, it felt like everything was going to be OK."

In the locker room after the game, Terry expressed the sentiment all the Ravens held regarding their teammate: "It was unfortunate what happened. You're concerned for Willis."

As the Ravens await news on McGahee's diagnosis, one thing they do know for certain. McGahee is a warrior, and he will fight through whatever adversity is thrown his way just like he did all game on the gridiron Sunday night.

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