Feeling heat, Boller delivers a mixed bag

Poor pass blocking dogs Ravens QB, but his TD throw helps beat Saints, 21-6

Friday night's game

Pro football

August 28, 2005|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

NEW ORLEANS - In the Ravens' 21-6 win over the New Orleans Saints on Friday night, the question wasn't whether Kyle Boller would succeed but whether he would survive.

Trying to turn around a troublesome preseason, the Ravens' quarterback had trouble staying on his feet at the Superdome, where he was knocked down on more than half his throws in yet another ragged performance.

There was the good: Boller hit receiver Clarence Moore for a 31-yard score just before halftime, his first passing touchdown against a starting defense this preseason.

There was the bad: He was wild on several throws and was intercepted for the fourth time this preseason, having his pass deflected at the line.

And there was the ugly: He took a vicious hit to the head that flattened him.

"It's hard to evaluate a quarterback on his back," said coach Brian Billick, who watched his starting quarterback get hit seven times on 12 passing plays. "We have to pass block better."

In one half of work, Boller finished an unspectacular 5-for-11 for 53 yards as the Ravens (1-2) recorded their first victory of the preseason.

What saved his night was the touchdown on his final throw. Three plays after taking that helmet-to-helmet hit, he narrowly avoided being sacked on a blitz by lofting a sideline pass to Moore that made it 14-3 as the cornerback fell down trying to defend the pass.

Before that score, Boller had not converted on four third-down attempts and had completed four passes for 22 yards.

"We knew they'd bring pressure and I wanted to take the shot," Boller said. "It was easy. I threw it up and Clarence went up and got it."

For most of the first half, the Ravens maintained their lead with their reliable formula of running the ball and playing hard-hitting defense.

Against a Saints defense that ranked 30th against the run last season, the Ravens' rushing attack produced 125 of the offense's 127 yards in the first quarter and 176 of the offense's 228 yards in the first half.

Chester Taylor, who was filling in for Jamal Lewis for the third week, had runs of 43, 50 and 23 yards and went into halftime with 151 yards on 13 carries, an 11.6-yard average.

"[The offensive line was] giving me a crease to hit, giving me a chance to look up and see the end zone," Taylor said. "They've done it all preseason. They're building for the opener."

Unlike in the first two preseason games, the Ravens' opening drive didn't result in a turnover, thanks to their special teams and rushing attack.

After a 48-yard kickoff return by B.J. Sams, Taylor ran 43 yards for a touchdown on the first play. Hitting a hole on the left side, he cut back to his right and followed downfield blocks by receivers Derrick Mason and Moore to reach the end zone.

"It was designed to go to the left and it's a play where I get a chance to read the blocks," Taylor said. "I saw a crease and cut back and then just hit it."

Taylor broke free again on the first play of the second drive, running to the left side this time for a 50-yard gain.

But three plays later, a pass by Boller was deflected at the line and intercepted by defensive end Charles Grant at the Saints' 22-yard line. It marked the fourth time Boller was picked off in his first 26 pass attempts of the preseason.

"I just came off to the sideline thinking, `I must have done something bad because I can't get the monkey off my back,'" Boller said. "It's one of those things that's out of my control. Hey, I'm glad it's happening in the preseason, because when it's all said and done, all the stats go back to zero. Hopefully, that won't happen in the regular season."

The defense, meanwhile, stuffed the run inside and contained New Orleans quarterback Aaron Brooks. The Ravens didn't allow the Saints into their territory until the last play of the first quarter.

New Orleans' biggest play came midway through the second quarter when receiver Donte Stallworth ran past Ravens cornerback Zach Norton and caught a 47-yard pass. Norton was replacing the injured Deion Sanders (hamstring) in the Ravens' nickel package.

But the Ravens ended that drive by denying the Saints three times inside their 7.

After a Saints field goal by Nate Fikse, the Ravens responded with an eight-play, 84-yard drive that featured Boller getting hammered one moment and celebrating his one highlight the next.

The quarterback, who had withstood several hits already, took a helmet-to-helmet shot from linebacker Ron McKinnon. Three plays after the 15-yard penalty for roughing the passer, Boller connected with Moore for a 31-yard touchdown, increasing the Ravens' lead to 14-3 with 1:54 left in the second quarter.

Trainers later examined Boller's shoulder and chest.

"It was a good shot," Boller said. "It's all part of the game in that you just have to stay out there and take the hits. But I'm 100 percent healthy."

The Ravens put the game away with 2 1/2 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter when undrafted rookie Jarvis Johnson returned an interception 78 yards for a touchdown.

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