Waiting game no longer on schedule

November 15, 2007|By DAVID STEELE

Kyle Boller said he is taking his new role as Ravens starting quarterback one game at a time. "I really don't try and think too much ahead," he said yesterday.

Nothing wrong with that, especially in the midst of a three-game losing streak and with Steve McNair suddenly out of the picture. But he's about the only one not thinking ahead. Everybody else's view of Boller's latest chance goes way beyond Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns - it goes right through the rest of the season.

It's Boller's best chance. But it's also his last chance - definitely in his Ravens career and possibly in his NFL career. If he does not, or cannot, prove that he is a legitimate NFL starting quarterback by the end of this season, he never will.

No more waiting for the maturity, development, improvement and leadership skills. No more hoping it will click eventually, that the production will match the potential, the draft position, the premature promotion, even the contract extension.

It's Year 5, and the reins are firmly in his hands. Brian Billick all but said so yesterday - in front of the media this time, instead of on the radio show he gets paid to do.

If Boller steers the Ravens out of the hole they've dug for themselves, then everyone will know the ups and downs he has taken everybody through since 2003 were worth it.

If he drops the reins, then the Ravens need to drop him.

Seven games. That's Boller's window. Time to put up or ... ah, we'll skip the cliche for now. Boller is not one to talk a lot anyway, certainly about himself, about what he will or won't do or has or hasn't done. The record speaks for itself, anyway. So will the record for the rest of the season.

Sunday's game will be the 38th start of his career; he's 2-1 this season, 20-17 overall. Even with the dire circumstances the Ravens are in now - the losing skid and the remaining schedule - personally, he has never been in better position to show what he can do. At 26, he's not a kid thrown into the deep end as he was in his rookie year; in hindsight, even he acknowledges he was in over his head then.

Few players on offense have been around as long as he has - which might or might not be a benefit, because it means he also has been part of the inept system and execution the longest. But it means he has help he didn't have before, not even earlier this season: better receivers (no Travis Taylor or Kevin Johnson in sight), a stable and healthy line, no waiting for his featured back to get out of prison.

And he has now had the advantage of veteran tutelage the past two seasons he was denied the previous three. Those around the team agree McNair's presence has speeded Boller's growth. And, Boller said, McNair's public support of him as his backup - even last Sunday, when McNair came out of that horrendous game against the Cincinnati Bengals and said he was comfortable with Boller replacing him - made a difference.

"It means a lot to me, because he doesn't have to say that," Boller said. "That's not something he has to say to you [media] guys or anybody. So having a relationship like that with a guy, that means we're together, and that's important. It's a healthy relationship, and it's good for our offense."

How good, we're about to find out.

Boller insists the game has "slowed down" for him more and more each season. Teammates swear they see McNair's calm in the face of crisis rubbing off on Boller, a welcome change from the frantic, rattled style he showed off so much before. Plus, it's painfully obvious that, physically, there are things Boller now does better than McNair.

Whether that means the wishes of 88 percent of the fans (through the infamous unscientific Web polls of the past two weeks) are going to be rewarded remains to be seen. But it will be seen. For better or worse.

This is Boller's chance not just to turn the Ravens' season around, but also to prove that the five years of the experiment with him weren't a waste of everybody's time. And that the Ravens don't have to start from scratch this offseason, finding someone to continue or alter their under- whelming legacy at the position.

If Boller is going to create a new legacy, it will happen in the next seven games. So yes, it's a smart move for him not to look too far ahead.

david.steele@baltsun.com

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