The Ravens' fears were confirmed Monday when a magnetic resonance imaging exam revealed that rookie long snapper Morgan Cox tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and will miss Sunday's regular-season finale against the Cincinnati Bengals and the postseason.
"He's got a torn ACL, and he's got a third-degree sprain in his MCL. So he's out for the year," coach John Harbaugh said. "And like we said after the game, that was kind of our fear. What he managed to do, to play through that, [running back] Willis McGahee would have been our long snapper. And Willis does a great job, but we'd rather have Morgan Cox or a professional long snapper doing that job. It would have been tough to win the game without him. For him to gut it out the way that he did, that was probably one of the keys to victory. So I'm really proud of his gutsy performance."
Cox's knee was wrapped and taped, and he required crutches to navigate the visiting locker room at Cleveland Browns Stadium. Cox said he suffered the injury while blocking on Billy Cundiff's 27-yard field goal with 13:35 left in the second quarter of the Ravens' eventual 20-10 victory Sunday.
Prior to learning the official diagnosis, Cox had tried to remain optimistic.
"This is extremely disappointing, but like I said, I'm trying to stay hopeful," he said. "Maybe somehow, it wasn't as bad as they say it is. But I'll do the best I can and get back as soon as possible."
The loss of Cox could be critical as he has developed a cohesion with Cundiff and punter Sam Koch, Harbaugh said.
"It's a factor," he said. "It's something that's going to be tough. They've really worked together since OTAs [Organized Team Activities], and they've taken every snap together. Those guys do get a chemistry built up, but we'll bring in a good long snapper and short snapper, somebody that's been a pro, somebody that's done it before, and we'll be OK."
Harbaugh said the team will spend Tuesday trying out long snappers.
Updates on Heap, Zbikowski
As Todd Heap said Sunday, the team elected to sit him for his third consecutive game rather than aggravate his pulled right hamstring.
"We just decided to play it safe," Harbaugh said Monday. "He probably could have played, but then we would have been risking more than we wanted to. We felt like we had two tight ends that could play. The young guys have done a nice job. But then we lose [rookie] Dennis [Pitta] on the very first kickoff on a concussion situation. So we ended up a little bit light there. But I'd say he's got a great chance this week."
Harbaugh said he's not expecting Tom Zbikowski to play Sunday, but he emphasized that placing the free safety on injured reserve and ending his season is not an option yet.
"We think he's got a good chance to get back for the playoffs," Harbaugh said. "He was running around today a little bit. So again, we'll keep our fingers crossed, but I'm hopeful for the first round of the playoffs."
Outlook on Gooden brighter than Pitta
The Ravens said they will be extremely cautious with Pitta, who sustained a concussion — his second of the season — on the opening kickoff of Sunday's win.
"I'm not really sure of the science on it, but we'll just sit tight," Harbaugh said Monday. "The thing we've learned to do with concussions is to assume that they're out until they're back. You just can't count on those guys. We had [offensive tackles] Oniel Cousins and Tony Moll [suffer concussions] in training camp, [and] it seemed like forever. And other guys come back the next day. [Rookie kick returner/wide receiver] David Reed's another guy who is in that boat right now. We've got to see how he does, too. So we'll keep our fingers crossed for both of those days."
Harbaugh sounded more optimistic about inside linebacker Tavares Gooden, who aggravated the left shoulder that he dislocated in the team's 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sept. 19.
"Pretty sore," Harbaugh said of Gooden's shoulder. "I think he's going to be OK. We just have to see how it responds, but our trainers are pretty confident that he'll be OK."
Since making the jump from special teams coordinator and secondary coach with the Philadelphia Eagles to head coach with the Ravens in January 2008, Harbaugh hasn't just met expectations, but he has exceeded them.
He became the fourth NFL head coach since 1990 to lead his team to the playoffs in his first three years, joining Bill Cowher, Dennis Green and Barry Switzer. But Harbaugh, who has one year left on his contract after this season, said he's not concerned about getting an extension.
"That is so far from my mind right now," he said. "People say, 'How can that be?' Because there's no time for that. And the organization, talking to [owner] Steve [Bisciotti] and [president] Dick [Cass] and [general manager and executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome], that's on the back burner. We agreed that would be on the back burner until after the season way back, a long time ago. We'll just figure it out when the time comes. Right now, we've got too much time to do. But thanks for asking."
Closer look at kick
Cleveland took a risk by opening the third quarter with an onside kick attempt that didn't travel the requisite 10 yards, but it was a chance the team was willing to take, coach Eric Mangini said.
"They were leaving early on that side, and [special teams coordinator] Brad [Seely] had felt really strongly about it," Mangini said. "We had executed it really well during the week of practice, and we took a look at it a couple times to make sure that what we had seen prior to us playing was still the same, and it was. They were leaving early on that side, which — if we get a good kick and execute it the right way — we had a chance to recover it. I felt good about it, too, based on what we saw after our other kickoffs."
On the onside kick, the ball bounded toward Ravens cornerback Cary Williams, who is not usually a member of the hands team.
"It caught me by surprise," he said. "I took two steps back, and then I just wanted to make sure that it went past 10 yards. If it didn't go past 10 yards, I wasn't going to touch it."
Cundiff's streak ends
The only kicker in the NFL this season to produce a touchback in every game, Billy Cundiff failed to register a touchback Sunday.
Cundiff, who still trails by two the Minnesota Vikings' Mitch Berger for the NFL record of 40 touchbacks in a single season, said a deceptively gusty wind coming off Lake Erie played havoc with his distance on kickoffs.
"If you didn't hit the perfect kick, the wind was going to beat the snot out of it," he said. "I had two kickoffs, one going in each direction, and they got into the end zone just because I hit it really, really well. We had another kick where I just got underneath it and didn't hit it that great and then the ball just fluttered. And then we had a ball where we purposely tried to kick it short and to the right. That was to try to throw them off a bit. And the footing wasn't really that great. But it was definitely challenging for us."
Dawan Landry finished with six tackles Sunday, but the one that got away was a sack attempt that Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy evaded two plays before free safety Ed Reed's second interception. "I came too free and wasn't under control, and I missed it," the strong safety said ruefully. … Joe Flacco's 10-yard pass to Mason at the end of the first quarter helped the quarterback become the sixth player in NFL history to compile 10,000 passing yards in his first three seasons.