Boller Earning Respect

OWINGS MILLS - Although Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller didn't have anything close to a glittery statistical line, he did earn a few nods of respect. Boller was in obvious discomfort throughout a 26-6 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday because of a sprained, non-throwing shoulder.

He was grimacing after nearly every hit and even when he jogged off the field. "He took a couple of shots, but we were watching it very closely and it didn't seem to inhibit him at all," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It would have taken a group of armed guards to get him out of there." 

Boller was sacked twice, but completed 15 of his 27 passes for 137 yards, one touchdown and an 81.9 quarterback rating. More importantly, the first-round draft pick committed no turnovers after losing three last week in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. The rookie did nothing to further aggravate the injury, even sliding on a few occasions. "Coming into the game, it was pretty sore," Boller said. "I'll continue to ice it and, hopefully, it will feel better, but that's just part of the game. It didn't slow me down much, but, yes, it did hurt." 

Boller entered the game as the lowest rated quarterback in the AFC with a 58.7 rating. Now, his season totals are up to 982 yards and five touchdowns with seven interceptions and a 62.2 quarterback rating.  "Kyle gets my tough-guy award this week," said receiver Frank Sanders, who caught his 500th career pass. "You've got to take your hat off to him." 

INJURY UPDATE: Veteran cornerback Corey Fuller has a pulled left hamstring and a strained right groin.  Fuller would be listed as doubtful if the injury report was announced today rather than Wednesday, according to trainer Bill Tessendorf. Tessendorf said Boller and running back Jamal Lewis are sore, but their sprained shoulders don't appear to be getting any worse.  Cornerback Tom Knight missed the game because of another groin pull, but performed well in a Monday workout. Tessendorf said he would likely be listed as questionable. 

SHOULDERING THE LOAD: Balancing a defensive resurgence with a bone-rattling effort from NFL rushing leader Jamal Lewis, the Ravens (4-3) handed Lewis the football a career-high 32 times. He rushed for 134 yards for his sixth consecutive 100-yard performance of the season. With 977 yards, Lewis is on pace to break Eric Dickerson's NFL mark for most rushing yards in a single season. The Broncos seemed to avoid tackling Lewis in the fourth quarter, when he rambled for a 28-yard touchdown. "You can see it in their eyes once you get the ball moving downhill and the offensive line is dominating them," Lewis said. "You can feel them wear down." 

Lewis is averaging 5.8 yards a carry with six touchdowns and is projected to carry the football 384 times for 2,233 yards and 14 touchdowns over a 16-game season. Dickerson rushed for 2,105 yards for the Los Angeles Rams in 1984. The Ravens don't seem overly concerned about Lewis wearing down. "Even though 32 carries is a career-high for him, we are not talking about the 40 to 45 carry range," Billick said. "Even at the pace he's on now, he is under a 400-carry year. I would like to keep him under 400. "If he has to go over 400, he has to go over 400. He's certainly not going to argue that." 

DEBUT: Dedric Ward replaced Lamont Brightful as the Ravens' return specialist on Sunday. Ward returned three punts for 26 yards, including a long return of 16 yards. He also returned one kickoff for 20 yards. "We want to continue to see what Dedric can do," Billick said. "We have faith in Lamont Brightful. We'd like to see a little bit more of what Dedric can do, so we will continue to investigate that." Brightful was forced into action at defensive back in Baltimore's nickel package because of Fuller's injury. He recorded one tackle in the fourth quarter. "He's a tough little nut," Billick said. "The guy is 5-foot-1 and you've got to love the toughness of the kid." 

ALTERCATION: Broncos offensive tackle Matt Lepsis attempted to chop block linebacker Ray Lewis' knees after the whistle. Lewis avoided injury by leaping over the diving blocker and began lecturing him. Lepsis was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and was ejected from the game after shoving an official trying to break up the skirmish. "I'm not going to say I play clean football, but I play between the whistles," Lewis said. "This play was clearly over and 15 yards downfield he went after me. I literally went and told him, 'This is football. You don't have to come downfield and try to blow my knee out.'" 

ROTATION: Offensive tackle Orlando Brown said he didn't mind splitting time with Ethan Brooks one week after complaining about the substitution pattern.  Offensive line coach Jim Colletto also inserted Casey Rabach at right guard for Bennie Anderson. "We were wearing them down together," Brown said. "You could see them getting tired. We switched it up on them and they couldn't handle it." 

QUOTABLE: Billick on apologizing for cursing while criticizing the instant replay system: "Trust me, I'm paying in penance with my mother and my wife and my daughter and will so for quite a while." 

QUICK HITS: Tight end Todd Heap caught three passes for 54 yards despite having two receptions negated by the Broncos' instant replay challenges. For the season, Heap has a team-high 27 receptions for 345 yards. … Defensive back Gary Baxter's interception gives him two for the season, a career-high total. … The Ravens improved to 17-9 under Billick following losses.  Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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