Boller delivers good, bad and ugly in outing typical of his pro career

ON THE RAVENS

Ravens 27 Browns 17

Ravens Gameday

December 18, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens fans should hope that quarterback Steve McNair has a speedy recovery and is ready to face Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday. If the Ravens have to hire a TV evangelist to heal him, do it. If this requires McNair to be flown to Europe overnight for surgery, then owner Steve Bisciotti needs to gas up the private plane and get it done.

As McNair stood on the sideline yesterday with an injured throwing hand, the four-year career of backup Kyle Boller was being played out on the field in microcosm. He made some great plays that only good quarterbacks make. He made the dumb ones that almost cost the Ravens the game. He made you laugh. He made you cry. Sometimes he stood tall in the pocket, and sometimes he fell down.

For the sentimentalists, the only thing missing was Barbra Streisand singing "Memories" in the background.

On a day when the Ravens clinched a playoff berth, Boller showed why the Ravens made him a first-round draft pick in 2003, and why he might become the team's biggest first-round bust.

Boller wasn't great, but he did complete 13 of 21 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns, which was good enough to beat the sorry Cleveland Browns, who have one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

"Huge," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of Boller's effort. "He did some good things, he did some not-so good things, but those big plays are always going to be a factor."

Haven't we heard that before? It's like an old Billick CD, but that statement summed up Boller's career in Baltimore. He was OK but never good enough. Even some of the players brought back memories by trying to rebuild Boller's confidence. Rookie receiver Demetrius Williams called Boller a "great quarterback." Several offensive players said they never lost confidence while Boller was on the field.

Hmmm, nice try, guys, but let's cut the spin. This is not the Bush administration. McNair exudes confidence. Boller gives everybody the jitters. When Boller overthrew tight end Todd Heap with a pass in the right flat late in the first quarter, left tackle Jonathan Ogden hunched his shoulders and looked to the sky as if to say, "No, not again."

And then after running back Jamal Lewis ran 52 yards to the Cleveland 26, Boller launched a deep pass intended for Williams that was way short and intercepted by defensive back Leigh Bodden at the Cleveland 10 with 10:26 left in the half. Ogden, the team's unofficial offensive coordinator, went straight to the sideline to talk with Billick. His first words had to be "Why, why, why?" His next had to be "Anybody seen Steve lately?"

Boller has played in four games this season, and little has changed. He still doesn't step up in the pocket and throw. He can't make it through his progressions without panicking. He still stares down his primary receivers and he reminds you of a newborn giraffe with those stumbling, bumbling legs.

But realistically, you really didn't expect much, did you?

"It means a lot. You're only as good as your weakest link. Kyle stepped in, and we won the game," said outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, in a minor slip of the tongue.

What has improved for Boller since last season is the supporting cast. Receivers Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason are in the second year with this offense. Tight end Todd Heap is no longer bothered by ankle and shoulder injuries, and is at full speed for the first time in two years. The Ravens have a legitimate vertical threat in Williams. The running game still needs a lot of work, but at least this team has quality skilled players.

Boller made some exceptional throws yesterday. The 77-yarder to Williams was a beauty with great touch, as was the 42-yarder down the right sideline to Clayton. But every time he makes a great play, he makes an awful blunder. It's like he has this cloud around him.

Yesterday, Boller dropped snaps seconds after the exchange. He fell down because he couldn't plant his back foot. When he was in the shotgun formation, snaps rolled up his chest. His interception was a late throw and into what appeared to be double-zone coverage as the Browns baited him.

It was the typical Boller stuff that has driven fans crazy the past three years. Fans didn't seem to care one way or another about Boller's performance yesterday because they know it's only temporary. But at the same time, especially when McNair is in the lineup, you realize that making Boller the starter as a rookie was the worst personnel decision the Ravens have ever made.

The Ravens wasted three great seasons in the careers of players like Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Ogden, Heap, cornerback Chris McAlister and Jamal Lewis waiting for Boller to develop. Oh, what could have been if the Ravens had a real quarterback ...

Maybe somewhere down the road, the decision to draft Boller will pay off. When you watch the kid play, there's enough talent there to fool you into believing he can still become a good quarterback. At least yesterday, it paid off for the Ravens. He teased you again into thinking what could be, and then brought you back to reality with those clumsy feet.

He made you laugh and he made you cry, but at least he was good enough to beat the Browns. And for nearly 60 minutes yesterday, that's all that really mattered.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral

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