If only the lineman with the most famous name played the position he became famous for.
"Mike" is Michael Oher, the star subject of both a wildly successful book (Michael Lewis' The Blind Side) and movie (the Sandra Bullock vehicle by the same name). Oher did indeed start the season protecting Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's blind side from the left tackle position. But with the playoffs came one more offensive-line swap, with Oher moving to right tackle, the veteran McKinnie sliding off the bench and over to the left side and Osemele moving inside, to the other side of Birk. Through three games, it's all worked brilliantly.
With Pro Bowler Marshal Yanda filling out the line at right guard, Flacco has had all sorts of time. The group is stymieing pass rushers and getting to the second level in run blocking, meaning that the San Francisco 49ers' fearsome front is facing a much bigger challenge than it would have had these teams met a month ago.
"We don't have a poor offensive line in Baltimore anymore," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said, almost gleefully, last week.
The Ravens have settled on a good mix of veterans (Birk is in his 15th season out of Harvard; former first-round draft pick McKinnie is 33) and youth. Osemele is the rookie, a second-round pick that Yanda has spent the season hassling about how "lucky" he is to have had so much success so early in his career. "He gives me a hard time," the 23-year old Osemele said.
Of his switch from right tackle to left guard, Osemele simply said, "It wasn't necessarily difficult." The words are virtually interchangeable with those McKinnie offered when attempting to explain how he became a playoff stalwart despite making zero regular-season starts. After reporting overweight and having to take a pay cut, McKinnie patiently waited for his chance. Since he's had it, the 6-foot-8, 350-pounder has been a flat-out mauler.
"We're just working well together. This group works," McKinnie said.
Like most offensive lines, the Ravens' unit has little interest in self-promotion or, Birk said, anything selfish. "It's all about the team, and what's best for the team," he said. "It might not be best for certain individuals to be moving around and playing different positions and playing out of position, but that really doesn't matter."
Birk is the center by position and role, the one who anchors the line and the one who McKinnie unabashedly says he's playing for. Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis has gathered the headlines after announcing his retirement, but he might not be the only key veteran set to make his last NFL appearance; McKinnie, who was teammates with Birk when both were members of the Minnesota Vikings, said his gut tells him Birk will retire after the Super Bowl. Birk remains mum and won't admit he's weighing the possibility, but McKinnie said, "I'm sure. So I want to win for him."
"It's being an offensive lineman," Birk says. "It's not an individual position."
And there is, of course, Oher, who has perhaps the highest Q-rating but has also, for two weeks now, refused a request to chat about anything related to the Ravens. Before the AFC Championship Game, Oher said he played better when he didn't talk. Last week, he said the Ravens were on a roll, and so he was going to keep it that way.
"He's nothing," Osemele said, "like the kid in the movie. That's not reality, anyway."
This line, however, is.