Offense faces crisis without Lewis

OWINGS MILLS - The combination of Jamal Lewis' impending suspension and the growing pains of struggling quarterback Kyle Boller could create an offensive crisis for the Baltimore Ravens.

Between Lewis' two-game suspension after this week's bye for violating the NFL substance-abuse policy and Boller's inaccuracy and hesitancy, the Ravens (3-2) will have to lean heavily on their defense and special teams.

In a 17-10 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday night despite Boller's three interceptions, the Ravens' winning formula featured holding the Redskins' offense to 107 yards for the second-lowest total allowed in franchise history and B.J. Sams' game-winning punt return. Plus, Lewis gained 116 yards, 97 in the second half.

Boller completed 9 of 18 passes for 81 yards, no touchdowns and a horrendous 22.9 passer rating. Having the lowest-ranked passing game in the league with an average of 116.4 yards per contest doesn't bode well for a team one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North.

"Kyle needed to play better, and he will play better," Ravens coach Brian Billick said Monday. "Kyle is our starting quarterback." Five games into his second season after being drafted in the first round last year out of Cal, Boller has started 15 games. This season, Boller has completed 56.9 percent of his passes for 650 yards, two touchdowns, five interceptions and has a 61.3 passer rating. He has also lost three fumbles.

Boller completed 51.8 percent of his 2003 passes for 1,260 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions for a 62.4 passer rating.

"I think I've done some good things, and I've definitely done my fair share of things I need to work on," Boller said. "I think overall, minus the last game, I've protected the ball. We just need to continue to find ways to get that passing game going."

Boller is likely to get back Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, starting receiver Travis Taylor and center Mike Flynn after the bye in an Oct. 24 game against the Buffalo Bills.

The quarterback's plans for the week off: relaxing for a few days in California before analyzing his miscues on film. He said he wishes the Ravens had a game Sunday.

"Definitely, you want to get that bad taste out of your mouth," Boller said.

The Ravens are about to hand the football off to backup running backs Chester Taylor and Musa Smith, in that order.

Taylor has rushed for 164 yards on 28 carries, including 43 on seven attempts against the Redskins. Lewis rushed for a league-high 2,066 yards last season and was named the NFL Offensive Player of the Year.

Lewis, who's not allowed to visit the team's training complex during his suspension, left Taylor with specific instructions during his league-mandated absence.

"He told me, 'Make sure we're 5-2 when I come back,'" Taylor said. "I'm going to try to take care of business."

A third-round draft pick last season from Georgia, Smith has yet to carry the football but is an imposing, (6-0, 232 pounds) downhill runner whom the Ravens' personnel department rated as a first-round talent.

Boller ranks 30th out of 32 NFL passers. He's averaging 5.96 yards per attempt and his lone completion over 50 yards is a flea-flicker to Randy Hymes. Outside of that gadget play, Boller's next longest completion is a 46-yard swing pass to Lewis.

As Billick reaffirmed, Boller is the starter and the team is willing to endure his mistakes the foreseeable future. There aren't really any ideal alternatives.

Backup quarterback Kordell Stewart was the lowest-ranked passer in the NFL last season. Anthony Wright, who led Baltimore to the playoffs when Boller hurt his leg last fall, is on the physically unable to perform list after undergoing shoulder surgery and is unlikely to return until November.

The Redskins turned two of Boller's interceptions into 10 points. The Ravens regained the lead before their offense even took the field in the second half. Boller only threw three passes after intermission, completing one.

His longest completion was a 21-yarder to Hymes. Boller hadn't thrown an interception in his last 67 attempts before throwing three interceptions in the second quarter.

The first interception was caused by tight end Daniel Wilcox dropping an accurate throw. The second one appeared to be a miscommunication between Boller and Hymes. The third was intended for Kevin Johnson and was obviously a poor throw. Boller also missed a wide-open Clarence Moore on a few occasions that could have become big plays. "It's just the little things, being on the same page, but it's all correctable mistakes," Boller said. "You just can't turn the ball over."

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