Gamble to name Boller starter may come back to haunt Billick

November 10, 2003|By Mike Preston

ST LOUIS - It was inevitable. Hardly any team goes through the entire 16-game schedule without using two quarterbacks, and it was the Ravens' turn last night. Once rookie starter Kyle Boller left the game at the end of the first half with a sprained left knee, the Ravens were in serious trouble unless the defense bailed them out.

The Ravens were fortunate last night. Embroiled in his own quarterback controversy, stubborn Rams coach Mike Martz kept his poor-performing starter, Marc Bulger, in for most of the game instead of giving him the hook for veteran Kurt Warner.

After the Rams pulled out a 33-22 win against the Ravens at Edward Jones Dome in a nationally televised game, it appears the Rams (6-3) will stay with Bulger. As for the Ravens (5-4), their season is hanging on a medical report. Boller was injured with 3 1/2 minutes left in the second quarter, and hobbled for the remainder of the half.

FOR THE RECORD - In yesterday's Sports section, two photographs from the Ravens-Rams game were incorrectly credited. The photos of Jamal Lewis fumbling, on Page 1D, and of a Ravens sack, on Page 8D, were by Elizabeth Malby.

The knee apparently stiffened up at halftime. Boller is expected to get a magnetic resonance imaging test today. He'd play Sunday against Miami if it were up to him, but it's not. The Ravens have so much invested in Boller, they won't risk a possible serious injury.

If Boller doesn't play, the Ravens will become even more of a one-dimensional team. It would be the result of a gamble that coach Brian Billick made at the beginning of the season when he named Boller the starter. He risked killing Redman's confidence and any progress the fourth-year player had made in 2002 when he started the first six games. It's one of the main reasons Boller should not have started in the first place.

Redman managed those games efficiently last season until a back injury forced him out of the starting role, which he never got back from Jeff Blake.

This is a different Redman from a year ago. He has no confidence and hasn't had any since Billick named Boller the starter right before the final preseason game against the New York Giants. He shakes more than a California earthquake.

Redman slipped and failed to get running back Jamal Lewis the ball on his first handoff of the second half. He took a sack two plays later on third-and-14 from the Ravens' 38.

On the first play of the Ravens' next possession, he threw behind tight end Todd Heap, and you could see he was either tight or extremely rusty. He threw another floater behind wide receiver Travis Taylor later in the quarter that was incomplete, and was intercepted by cornerback Jerametrius Butler at the Ravens' 49.

It never got any better for Redman. Once the Ravens fell behind in the fourth quarter, he became a target for St. Louis abuse. It was sack after sack after sack. Redman's final numbers: 7-for-12 for 58 yards. He was sacked five times. The Ravens aren't a come-from-behind team in the first place, and it's even worse when an immobile quarterback is in the pocket.

"Like any backup quarterback, it's tough," Billick said of Redman. "You have to perceptually take game plans from the meetings. You only get so many reps in the week, the typical plight of a backup quarterback, but that's his job."

Redman said: "I thought I was [ready], but you can never simulate game speed. Obviously, I struggled and turned the ball over too many times. I have to keep fighting and push through it and put it behind me. It was a rough start, but you can't find any excuses. You have to keep moving on."

You hope that Boller is OK. He walked off the field on his own, but so did Lewis two years ago before the team announced he had to undergo major knee surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2001 season.

But if he isn't, you have to go back to the decision in training camp to put Redman on the bench. If Redman had been the starter, the personality of this team wouldn't have changed. The offense would be conservative, the passing game would be almost nonexistent and the defense would have to win games.

So what else is new?

But you would have had a healthy Boller coming off the bench instead of Redman and his fragile psyche. It would have been a much better situation. But right now, the situation is in limbo until Boller is examined.

It would be a significant setback if Boller misses substantial time. The Ravens would have beaten the Rams with him in the lineup for the entire game last night. It was easy to see. The Ravens' defense and special teams were controlling field position and the tempo of the game, and Martz wasn't going to pull Bulger despite the Rams having only 121 yards of total offense.

The Ravens are ugly to watch. They are horrible inside the red zone, where they also lack discipline. But this team, its coach and a player named Ray Lewis have so much passion for the game that they find ways to win. The AFC North is a terrible division, but the Ravens can play with anybody. They played with the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs, and they outplayed the Rams last night.

Who can't they play with? The Dallas Cowboys? The New England Patriots? The Tennessee Titans?

Give me a break. A win last night would have put the Ravens into the category of serious contenders. They played well enough to win here, where the Rams have been nearly invincible, and had St. Louis on the ropes after falling behind 14-0.

But if Boller is out, the Ravens are starting from scratch again with two young quarterbacks in Redman and Anthony Wright. If not, then they might be able to bounce back against the Dolphins.

The Ravens will be holding their collective breaths waiting for that medical report on Boller today. It's all part of the gamble they made in August when they knew sooner or later Redman had to play. They where hoping for later, or, better yet, not at all.

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