Players won't say, but it's clear as day: Boller needs to go

December 12, 2005|By DAVID STEELE

Denver -- One by one, the Ravens' players stood in front of the cameras and tape recorders in the Invesco Field locker room and bit their tongues almost clean in half.

For two seasons, they have closed ranks around their quarterback, Kyle Boller, protecting and supporting him in public regardless of how many times he did something to cost the Ravens a chance to win. Yesterday against the Denver Broncos might very well have been rock bottom, the worst performance Boller has ever turned in, the biggest giveaway of a game in his entire career.

His teammates, on offense, defense and special teams, managed to compose themselves and talk to the reporters about how no one player wins or loses any game. But they knew what the outside world was thinking. Almost to a man, they added this: "We can never say anything like that. You guys can. You write your opinions. It's your job. We have to support each other."

So they did what they had to do. And now it's our turn.

This absolutely, positively, unquestionably, has to be the last season Boller is the quarterback for this team.

It was a nice try. It was a courageous show of faith in an unproven first-round draft pick. But no matter who is the coach, the offensive coordinator, the running back, the wide receivers or any of the other offensive players next year, these final three weeks had better be the countdown to the end of the Kyle Boller era.

The Ravens' brain trust had better be making its list and checking it twice. Better to check that twice than to look at tape of this game once.

Demanding that he sits now is pointless. As one veteran said quietly as the crowd in the locker room dispersed: "We've got to keep this up. They're not going to bench him; he's going to keep going out there. So we've got to stick together."

But honestly, who believes that something will click in the final three weeks that hasn't clicked in three years? Boller is nothing more than the heir to a sad legacy, that of Chris Redman, Stoney Case, Scott Mitchell, Elvis Grbac, Tony Banks, Randall Cunningham and Jeff Blake. (Wow, that looks bad even in print, all in a bunch like that.)

With Boller, Brian Billick is just about the only one left on the island. For yesterday's loss, the two of them share the blame. In fact, Billick's faith in his hand-picked leader cost them points that could have won them the game, convincing himself that his offense, trailing 12-3, could score a touchdown on fourth-and-goal at the 1 in the fourth quarter, and that he didn't need to kick the chip-shot field goal.

Instead of three points, they got none. The Broncos won by two. Billick will have to live with that. But in a way, the game had been given away long before, by Boller and his instinct to do the wrong thing at the wrong time.

No more excuses can be accepted. No talk about the "growth" made in late-game rallies the past four weeks. Boller made plays that couldn't be justified, decisions that can't be rationalized.

The quarterback and his coach tried yesterday. The horror couldn't be overlooked. Billick talked a lot about Boller learning from his mistakes. Now, the question is "if" Boller does, not "when." Something Boller picked up in his three years in the league, even including the time he has been injured, should have taught him to do something, anything, besides throwing the ball the way he did on the first interception, in the end zone at the end of the first half.

Forget throwing the actual pass, though. How many years does it take to learn how to drop back without falling down?

With each ensuing gaffe, the chances decreased for the defense being rewarded for stuffing the second-best rushing team in the NFL. The effort made by the patchwork offensive line went for naught. B.J. Sams' making up for his fair-catch debacle last week by running the opening kickoff back to the Broncos' 10 also was wasted.

Declining to bury Boller in the media was admirable. Trusting him ever again is another matter. It's asking too much for a depleted defensive unit that has held up its end of the bargain - for the second straight year - and a game yet battered offense to keep shrugging off multiple turnovers, misjudgments and brain-freezes by the quarterback.

Merely avoiding a turnover one of those times might have sent the Ravens home with their most improbable win of the season. Instead, it was just another soul-crushing loss, clinching a losing season.

So Boller's teammates sighed and expressed disappointment and frustration, but went out of their way not to hang him out to dry.

If there is any justice, they won't have to make that choice again next season. If there is to be an overhaul for 2006, let it begin at the most important position on the field.

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