Ravens stay on island in survival game

Ravens 22 Rams 3

Ravens Gameday

October 15, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

A lot of words were flung around after the Ravens reached 4-2 with yesterday's 22-3 slog through the still-winless St. Louis Rams, but none should be embraced with more relief than one word Brian Billick spoke in his post-game comments.

That word was "unlikely," and it described the chances of Billick's starting Steve McNair on Sunday in Buffalo.

The Ravens might not have proved a whole lot in their past two Lunesta Specials, yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium and last week in San Francisco. But they proved that even with an unnervingly young and raw offensive line, with Todd Heap unavailable after the first series and with Kyle Boller taking a pounding, the Ravens can survive.

That's what they did yesterday. That's the word Billick used after the 49ers game, and it fits this week, too. The defense and Matt Stover's leg saved this one. The scoring drives, outside of the one touchdown -- no, really, a touchdown! -- were comical in their so-called length: 27 yards, 19, 8, 14, 26. Not exactly "Move Those Chains."

Plus, no one can deny that Gus Frerotte, like Trent Dilfer the week before, was in the right place at the right time. Six turnovers by himself and one more, by Samari Rolle in the fourth quarter, was dropped. The Rams could have put a ribbon and bow on at least half of them.

Of course, in Frerotte's defense, he was playing Boller's role for the Rams, who are much better with a healthy Marc Bulger, except they don't have a healthy Marc Bulger. Nor do they have a defense that was capable of making Boller have the kind of day Frerotte had, to make him pay for his and the offense's mistakes. That's exactly the defense the Ravens unleashed on Frerotte yesterday.

Nevertheless, the Ravens will take all of it without apology. They'll take their shot at another win Sunday -- against yet another quarterback, the Bills' Trent Edwards, who won't remind anyone of Tom Brady -- then take their bye week and their likely 5-2 record and exhale. For that not to happen, things would have to completely fall apart in Buffalo.

Which no one can rule out. The key is to get Boller, not just McNair, out of Ralph Wilson Stadium in one piece. That was no sure thing yesterday, especially early in the second quarter, when the lead was still just 3-0, the offense was shaky and the fans were getting testy.

Boller already had taken some teeth-rattling hits, bobbled a snap, been sent running for his life and been forced to unload passes just ahead of the rush. On the third play of the quarter, he was chased down and smothered by Leonard Little, who was a terror all day. As Boller writhed in pain near the Rams' sideline, McNair quickly started warming up.

Boller limped around on a stiff knee ("It kind of locked up on me a little bit"), had to be tended to on the field, decided to stay in and inched the Ravens close enough for the second of Matt Stover's five field goals.

"It's tough to see Kyle get hit like that, to see him get up limping," said right tackle Marshal Yanda, one of the three rookie starters up front and the one who had to deal with Little the most. "But he's tough. He came back and said, `I'm ready to roll, let's go.'"

And as it unfolded, without wishing ill on Boller, all you could think was, "At least that's not McNair."

This is how the season has evolved: Boller will have to be more than the game manager and the bridge between the defensive turnover (seven in the past two games) and the Stover field goal (eight in that same span). He has to be the sacrificial lamb.

"It's in our best interest to come back after the bye with Steve fully healthy," Billick said. "I don't know that we're going to do that with just one week's time."

It has been all but unavoidable since Week 1 in Cincinnati and became practically a done deal when McNair's back tightened up in practice last week.

Having made it past the one-time Greatest Show on Turf, the Ravens have the window open to play it as safe as possible. In fact, they can play it even safer than they did yesterday: Don't even let McNair get on the plane this week. Same for Heap if he's limited in practice. Jonathan Ogden, Adam Terry, Mike Flynn, all of them. Just leave 'em home.

Heck, if they just want to bring the defense, Stover, long snapper Matt Katula and punter/holder Sam Koch, they might get by. But league rules sort of demand that the Ravens' offense, what's left of it, shows up.

Fine. As long as it shows up in much better health two weeks after that.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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