Harbaugh wins in head coaching debut

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)—The Ravens need a successor to the retired Steve McNair. The Patriots don’t have to worry about replacing Tom Brady any time soon.

Baltimore began an exhibition season that actually means something—from John Harbaugh’s 16-15 win in his debut as an NFL head coach Thursday night to the final game when the starting quarterback competition should end.

“It counts. There’s the excitement of the players coming up here and getting a victory in this stadium against this team,” he said. “It was a real thrill to be here.”

Brady had the night off—watching from the sideline in a New England cap and jacket—as the Patriots played their first game since a 17-14 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants ended their hopes for a 19-0 season. This preseason, the Spygate issue that sullied their reputation has received little attention.

When Harbaugh walked into the postgame interview room, he was asked about the competition to succeed McNair, who went to three Pro Bowls before ending his 13-year career in April.

Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and rookie first-round draft pick Joe Flacco, who lost a fumble on his second play, all have a shot.

“How come I knew that would be the first question?” he said. “The games are very important, practice, too (and) your gut. Statistics are important.”

The Patriots are trying to settle on a backup to Brady, last year’s NFL MVP and a three-time Super Bowl champion, but the three competitors were average Thursday night.

Rookie Kevin O’Connell performed best, Matt Gutierrez was next and fourth-year veteran Matt Cassel struggled as he tries to retain the No. 2 job.

“I threw four passes (completing one) and we weren’t really able to generate much offense,” he said. “Preseason is really important to me.”

Each of the Patriots quarterbacks threw one interception, and O’Connell directed them to their only touchdown on a 31-yard drive, and ran twice for 22 yards.

Another newcomer to New England had one of the best games for the team. LaMont Jordan, fighting for a job behind Laurence Maroney, ran with power, picking up 76 yards and scoring on a 1-yard run just 13 days after being released by Oakland.

“Today’s performance is important because I’m trying to make this ballclub,” said Jordan, who rushed for a total of 54 yards in the last 10 games last season. “I’m not thinking about Oakland.”

The Ravens got key plays from Yamon Figurs with a 52-yard punt return that set up their only touchdown and a 48-yard kickoff return that led to one of Matt Stover’s two field goals.

Fabian Washington had two interceptions for the Ravens.

“On the second one, the quarterback (Gutierrez) just telegraphed it. He was looking at me the whole way,” Washington said. “The first one (by Cassel) was underthrown.”

Harbaugh took over after 10 seasons as a Philadelphia assistant following the firing of Brian Billick on Dec. 31.

Boller “was impressive,” Smith “was very poised” and will start the next game Aug. 16 at home against Minnesota, and Flacco “will learn very fast,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens led 16-3 on field goals by Stover of 42 and 44 yards and by Piotr Czech of 37 yards and a 1-yard touchdown run by Le’Ron McClain. Stephen Gostkowski kicked three field goals for New England. Jordan’s 1-yard run made it 16-15 with 6:07 left. But O’Connell’s pass for a 2-point conversion was knocked down at the line.

O’Connell went 6-for-13 for 57 yards. Second-year pro Gutierrez was 10-for-16 for 76 yards.

“We have a great role model” in Brady, Gutierrez said. “He sets the bar very high.”

Last season, the Patriots and coach Bill Belichick were penalized by the NFL for videotaping New York Jets’ assistant coaches in the season opener.

Their drive for a perfect season nearly ended in their 12th game, at Baltimore, when they overcame a 24-17 deficit to win 27-24 on a touchdown with 44 seconds left.

The passing combination of Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss had the night off after a season in which they set NFL records—Brady with 50 touchdown passes and Moss with 23 scoring catches.

For Baltimore, leading rusher Willis McGahee sat out with a knee injury.

Notes

Patriots LB Shawn Crable, a third-round draft choice, had an interception after getting none in his four years at Michigan. … New England outrushed Baltimore 133 yards to 35, but held only a 236-204 edge in total yards. … The Ravens beat the Patriots for the first time, winning the first exhibition game between the teams. New England is 4-0 in the regular season.

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