Admitting error of ways says much about Boller

October 20, 2003|By MIKE PRESTON

CINCINNATI - After Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller emerged from the shower, he went to his locker and was greeted by a horde of reporters. He answered all of the questions and didn't take any consolation in some of the nice things said about him by his teammates.

He didn't want to hear about future greatness or his toughness. He offered no excuses concerning new defensive looks, nor did he point fingers at his offensive line, which allowed him to get smacked around the field quite a bit, or the team's season-high 13 penalties for 113 yards.

The kid, despite a sore left shoulder, stood up and faced reality. If he hadn't committed three turnovers, the Ravens probably wouldn't have lost, 34-26, yesterday to the stumbling, bumbling Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. Let's repeat that. The Ravens got beat by the ugly, often-basement-dwelling Bengals in a game they needed to win.

Ooh, it just sounds so bad, doesn't it?

On a day when the Bengals jumped out to a 24-7 halftime lead and Boller's arm had to carry the Ravens, he threw like Steve McNair on some plays and fumbled like Tony Banks, Vinny Testaverde and Jeff Blake on others.

His season was played out in microcosm. He was hot, cold and hot, finishing 15-for-27 for 302 yards, with two fumbles and an interception that led to 17 Bengals points.

Rookies have days and games like this, and Boller firmly pointed a finger at himself.

"Those fumbles were huge fumbles in the beginning," he said. "You can't give the opponent the ball on the 20-yard line and not expect them to score, no matter how good your defense is."

Slowly, whether you like him or not or still believe in Chris Redman, Boller is taking a leadership role in this offense. Forget the numbers yesterday. They are misleading, because the Ravens' offense near the end of the game was nothing more than the usual jump balls they toss up for the receivers, and the Bengals haven't learned to finish teams off.

But there were other intangibles. Boller came back strong after playing poorly in the first half. He played with pain late in the game. He threw two beautiful passes over the middle (crossing routes - wow, finally) to tight end Todd Heap.

And now, finally, the Ravens have a quarterback who is actually a stand-up guy.

Redman wasn't because he never got the time. Blake was more of a standup comedian. Elvis Grbac once cried during a game.

"I put my team in a bad situation," Boller said. "As far as the fumbles, I can't really explain to you what happened there."

Boller lost the first fumble on a play-action fake as the ball skipped off the hip of fullback Alan Ricard and the Bengals recovered at the Ravens' 47 in the first quarter. Three plays later, Cincinnati quarterback Jon Kitna threw a 45-yard touchdown pass to Matt Schobel.

Boller's second fumble came later in the first quarter. He was sacked and fumbled while going down. There was no excuse for that one, because he should have tucked the ball away. The Bengals recovered at the Ravens' 15 and, four plays later, Corey Dillon scored on a 2-yard run for a 14-7 lead.

"I thought I was down, but obviously it just slipped out of my hand," Boller said.

Coach Brian Billick said: "Kyle is pretty good about ball security. He's got very good fundamentals of holding onto the ball. Twice he didn't, and it cost us."

His third turnover came in the second quarter. Receiver Frank Sanders cut across the middle on a 13-yard pattern at the Cincinnati 26, but Boller threw behind him and Tory James returned the interception 31 yards to the Ravens' 46. The Bengals converted that into Shayne Graham's 44-yard field goal.

Accuracy is still a problem, like the time Boller threw too hard and high to Sanders on a slant pattern in the end zone from the 7 late in the third quarter.

But he also made some real NFL throws yesterday, such as the 22- and 21-yarders to Heap over the middle on the Ravens' first drive. The 19-yard touchdown pass to Travis Taylor in the first quarter was hard and high, thrown before the defensive back had turned around and in the only place where Taylor could make the catch.

Boller's best pass, though, was the over-the-shoulder toss to Heap along the right sideline for a 24-yard gain in the third quarter.

But the quarterback was even more impressive because of his resiliency. He looked extremely nervous in the opener against Pittsburgh, and he appeared to lose some poise against Kansas City in game No. 4. But teammates noticed a calmer Boller yesterday.

"When you're a young guy and make mistakes, it's easy for it to go to your head," said Ravens center Mike Flynn.

"As a rookie, you're going to have some good days and some bad days. Kyle was pretty good in the huddle. He was more frustrated at himself than rattled. But it didn't affect him. After a couple of plays, he realized it was time to move on, and he brought us back at the end."

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