ATLANTA - As far as first impressions go, the Ravens' new-look offense still resembles the old one.
In the Ravens' 16-3 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last night, their running attack carried the load in the preseason opener while their passing game showed it has a ways to go.
Quarterback Kyle Boller's frustrating night began with an interception by former teammate Ed Hartwell and ended with Clarence Moore's drop in the end zone. The third-year starter finished 5-for-9 for 57 yards, 30 of which came on a jump-ball throw to Moore on the first-team offense's only scoring drive (a 23-yard field goal by Matt Stover).
It was not the debut envisioned for a passing game that upgraded this offseason with the hiring of Jim Fassel as offensive coordinator, the free-agent signing of Derrick Mason and the drafting of Mark Clayton.
"We did some good, some bad," Fassel said. "It looked like a first preseason game."
The Ravens' running game didn't lose a step from last season, despite playing without running back Jamal Lewis (ankle) and fullback Alan Ricard (calf).
Chester Taylor pounded away with several authoritative runs up the middle, gaining 55 of the starting offense's 118 yards of total offense. Six of Taylor's eight carries went for 6 yards or longer.
"I'm really happy with the way we ran the ball because they stacked it up pretty good," Fassel said.
The Ravens' opening offensive series was a forgettable one. After staring down Mason on a slant, Boller had his first throw picked off at the Ravens' 27-yard line by Hartwell, who had just one career interception in four seasons with the Ravens.
"I didn't get the play in my helmet," Boller said of the communication glitch that lasted the first two plays. "I had to call a quick play and I tried to force the ball into Derrick. But that is what the preseason is for, to correct mistakes like that."
Like it has done so often in the past, the Ravens' defense firmly dug in, much to the disappointment of the half-empty Georgia Dome. Backed up at their 14-yard line following the turnover, the Ravens limited the Falcons to a 29-yard field goal after linebacker Tommy Polley sacked elusive Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick.
Trailing 3-0 in the first quarter, the Ravens watched the Falcons move into the red zone again. A questionable 32-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Chris McAlister staked Atlanta at the Ravens' 18-yard line.
Three plays later, nickel back Deion Sanders came untouched from the blind side to strip Vick and recovered his own forced fumble. With two sacks in last week's scrimmage against the Washington Redskins, Sanders might have discovered a new calling.
"It was an all-out blitz. We sent everybody and their mama," Sanders said. "With a guy like Michael Vick scrambling around, you know he is going to be free with the ball."
The Ravens' starting defense essentially shut down Atlanta in one quarter of work, surrendering just 49 yards and three first downs. Showing a mixture of defenses, from the 4-3 to the 46, the Ravens held the Falcons to 3 yards or fewer on seven of 13 plays and sacked Vick as many times as completions allowed (two).
It was even more impressive considering NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed and linebacker Adalius Thomas both sat out the game with knee injuries.
"I think we established what we wanted to establish," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said.
Immediately following the Vick fumble, the Ravens' starting offense delivered its best drive. Taylor ran for 36 yards on four carries before Moore leaped down the left sideline for a 30-yard catch.
But the Ravens failed to crack the goal line on three tries inside the 8. After Tellis Redmon's 4-yard run, Boller was sacked and then had a sure touchdown bobbled by Moore.
The Ravens had to settle for Stover's field goal to tie the game at 3 early in the second quarter.
The uneven performance of the Ravens' passing game couldn't be placed solely upon Boller, especially since he made just one poor decision. Half of Boller's four incompletions were drops. Moore had the one in the end zone, and Mason couldn't handle a pass on a shallow crossing route.
"So far in camp, we've been pretty good about not having drops," coach Brian Billick said. "We had three or four drops that were big plays. You try to address them, practice and go forward."
Mason, the team's top free-agent pickup this offseason, didn't make a strong connection with Boller in his Ravens debut. He had three passes thrown his way and came away with one catch for 5 yards.
Then there was first-round pick Clayton, who had a quiet first NFL appearance with one catch for 6 yards.
On the whole, Billick seemed satisfied with the offense's initial outing.
"We managed the ball well except for one mishap early on," Billick said. "We were moving up and down the field and that's good. It was nice to get a couple of big plays on offense, so I was impressed with that."
The Ravens' backups had less punch on offense.