Boller given ball, not job

Mum on 2006, Billick tells erratic QB to `follow up' on Ravens' record outing

Billick tells Boller to `follow up'

December 21, 2005|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

A day after Kyle Boller produced the most efficient quarterback performance in Ravens' history, coach Brian Billick didn't offer his much-maligned starter any guarantees about the status of his job for next season.

Instead, he rewarded Boller with a game ball, a few encouraging words and another goal to set his sights upon.

"Kyle stepped up; it was his time to do it," Billick said at yesterday's news conference. "Now, the challenge is to follow up."

In Monday night's 48-3 rout of the Green Bay Packers, Boller provided the first signs of hope in a disappointing season, recording the highest quarterback rating (136.8) in the franchise's 10-year existence and completing a career-best 70.4 percent of his passes.

His surprisingly stellar play paved the way for the Ravens to set team records for points scored, touchdowns (six) and margin of victory.

"It's another game, another set of data to draw from," Billick said. "This one is obviously very positive; that's why it's important he follows it up with another one."

Yet history shows that for every step forward Boller has taken, he usually takes one backward.

The past two times he's posted a quarterback rating over 100, he has failed to complete half of his throws in the next game, turning the ball over twice on each occasion.

Handling success, however limited, has been difficult.

"I hope [Monday's game] boosts his confidence," defensive end Terrell Suggs said, "and lets him know that you are here for a reason. You can play. Go out there and play and have fun."

One of the reasons why Boller might respond differently to success this time, the Ravens say, is to look at how he reacted to recent adversity.

Boller, who entered Monday's game with the second-worst quarterback rating (63.0) among active starters, was coming off perhaps the worst game of his career.

In a 12-10 loss in Denver, he was intercepted in the end zone because he threw into double coverage and was picked off at the Broncos' 6-yard line because he stared down his receiver.

Eight days later against Green Bay, he threw two touchdowns in the red zone by making better decisions. He exploited a mismatch on a 2-yard pass to tight end Todd Heap, who was being covered man-to-man by a safety. He then tossed a jump ball 13 yards to receiver Randy Hymes, who had a five-inch height advantage on cornerback Ahmad Carroll.

"I think he showed a lot of mental discipline to overcome that [Denver] game," Billick said. "He's got a strong sense of conviction to hold onto the good things he did in Denver but be very cognizant of what he didn't do well and to not let that repeat itself."

Billick seemed to have run out of answers with Boller last week. In trying to calm Boller down during games, Billick suggested "alternative" methods to help him, which could include a sports psychologist.

Before Monday night's game, Boller received his best counseling from Heap, one of his closest friends on the team. They talked about how there was no pressure in a battle of last-place teams, and Heap said they agreed to "go have fun and see what we could do."

There was a noticeable difference in Boller's demeanor in the huddle.

"When he's making throws the way he was and all of us guys were making plays for him, of course he's going to have a totally different attitude and a totally different mind-set toward every play," said Heap, who tied a career high with nine catches Monday. "I think he was confident."

Unlike last week in Denver, where he stood alone on the sidelines to contemplate his mistakes, Boller was in the thick of every joyous moment Monday night. He sprinted downfield to join the touchdown celebrations in the end zone and joked endlessly with teammates.

"There may have been speculation about people saying this or saying that, but my teammates have been behind me through everything," Boller said. "I can't tell you how much that kept me going, guys pushing me and keeping my confidence up."

Billick said he won't need to push anyone heading into the Ravens' home finale Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. It provides one last taste of a playoff run for the Ravens (5-9), who have long been eliminated from postseason play.

Locked in a tight race for the NFC wild card and two games behind Chicago in the NFC North, the Vikings (8-6) need to win their final two games if they hope to have any chance at the playoffs.

"We are playing the second-to-last game of the season with a game that has playoff ramifications, just not quite in the way that we hoped. We'll tap into that," Billick said. "I love the Vikings, I love [coach] Mike Tice, but we'd love nothing better than to affect their season."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Top-rated performance

In Monday night's 48-3 rout of the Packers, Kyle Boller produced the highest quarterback rating in Ravens' history:

Quarterback ................ Year ............. Opp. ....................... Rat.

Kyle Boller .................. 2005 ........ vs. Green Bay ............ 136.8

Tony Banks .................. 1999 ........ vs. Tennessee ........... 134.7

Eric Zeier ..................... 1998 ........ vs. Cincinnati ........... 133.3

Vinny Testaverde ......... 1996 ........ at Jacksonville .......... 130.6

Vinny Testaverde ......... 1996 ........ vs. Pittsburgh ............ 128.3

Note: Based on games where quarterback had a minimum of 20 pass attempts.

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