For first action of season, Boller starts off just fine

August 14, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

ATLANTA - Terrell Owens had to have been scouting new quarterbacks last night. After all, if you've been given an unscheduled break from training camp, and you've all but put out a casting call for a new quarterback, doesn't a Falcons game seem like a great place to start?

Sure. Except that last night at the Georgia Dome, T.O. - in his adopted hometown, a place where he's hinted he wants to play - didn't have as clear-cut a choice as one would assume. Kyle Boller fought Michael Vick to a draw, and the Ravens faithful will take that any day, even on a preseason opening night, especially with two Pro Bowl skill position players missing.

After one quarter-plus of each team's starting offenses engaging the other's starting defense, the game was tied at 3. Boller and Vick had committed one unsightly turnover each - and each had converted the other's miscue into his team's only points. Boller redeemed himself enough for Ravens followers, surely panicking early and often, to give him a very tentative thumbs-up.

All things considered - mainly the absence of Jamal Lewis and Todd Heap, plus a crop of receivers still wearing "Hello, My Name Is ... " tags - it could have been worse.

As he sat behind the Falcons' bench during last night's 16-3 Ravens loss, it was hard to tell whether Owens was impressed with his almost-teammate of last season; security near his seat waved away fans and reporters all night, and it was even hard to read his facial expressions. Of course, he's made it clear how tough he is to impress, having viciously denigrated his last two quarterbacks, most recently Donovan McNabb.

Still, T.O. would have had to work too hard to knock Boller's play too much last night, even after the first pass Boller threw this season - directly to Ed Hartwell, not a good thing even when they were Ravens teammates - caused groans to emanate from living rooms all around the area. Four plays later, and 2:49 into the game, the Ravens trailed 3-0. Yet that could have been worse; Vick could not get the Falcons into the end zone from the Ravens' 14.

Vick provided his requisite highlight moment midway through the first quarter. From his own 12 on 3rd and 7, he hip-hopped to his left out of trouble, twisted back right, threw across his body, hit receiver Brian Finneran in the right flat and saw him turn it into a 14-yard gain. That promising drive, however, ended when Deion Sanders stripped Vick on a corner blitz inside the 20. Either Ravens fans should be thrilled with Rex Ryan's scheming, or Falcons fans should be worried about Vick's handle. Probably both.

Boller already had erased part of the memory of the bad throw - one he admitted he had rushed because he didn't receive the play call quickly - with a solid possession after the Falcons' field goal. The drive moved from inside his 20 into Falcons territory thanks largely to Chester Taylor's running, but also because Boller found his tight ends for completions of 15 and, on third-and-four, of 8 yards. His one shot downfield was too early and too high for Clarence Moore, who had a mismatch. But Boller got the Ravens out of trouble, and sometimes you can't ask for more than that.

The next time they got the ball, after Vick's fumble, Boller probably should have gotten them a touchdown; Moore got his hands on the ball twice on a third-and-goal pass in the middle of the end zone, where he was solid last season, but he couldn't hold on. But Boller and Moore had connected three plays earlier for 30 yards to get them inside the 10, with Boller finding Moore in another size mismatch and put the ball right where Moore could get it.

Boller also made plays with his feet, nicely ducking under a blitzing cornerback earlier in the drive, turning upfield and, well, not exactly sliding down. It was cringe-inducing, but it set up third-and-short and propelled the drive.

You'd be shocked to know that coach Brian Billick enjoyed the shots downfield. He surely liked them even more considering the missing starters and the fact that the big-play additions, Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, aren't integrated into the offense yet. It was impossible to give a complete grade because of that. But assuming he won't start every game the way he began this one, nothing Boller did was particularly terrifying.

Tune in the next three weeks to check Boller's progress with more of his ammunition on hand. Along the way, you might catch the occasional T.O. sighting, maybe even a comment or two.

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