Ravens' Boller is growing up

OWINGS MILLS -- Kyle Boller hurdled a few credibility barriers in his quest to establish himself as a viable NFL quarterback. Not only did the Baltimore Ravens' oft-criticized second-year starter craft his first game-winning drive in a 20-17 overtime win Sunday over the New York Jets, he was authoritative in doing so and even called one of his own shots.

With the running game bottled up for Baltimore (6-3), Boller had to be a major part of the solution, not a problem. Can he duplicate this showing?

"This team has a lot of faith in Kyle Boller," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "To do something like that is kind of the next step, the next box that you can check off and say, 'OK, I have done that.' He has started his second season and he has done it under adverse situations."

Leading up to his second touchdown pass to rookie Clarence Moore late in the fourth quarter, Boller talked the coaching staff into changing the play call in a 3rd-and-11 situation at the Jets' 16. From film study, Boller noticed that Jets middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma was dropping deep into the zone. Moore is 6-foot-6, roughly six inches taller than Vilma.

"It was great that we got a definitive opinion on what he wanted to do," Billick said. "When your quarterback does that, then you're going to have a lot of confidence in dialing that one up."

Boller delivered the football where only Moore could secure it -- high above the ground -- and the touchdown gave the Ravens a lead en route to New York forcing overtime.

Last year's first-round draft pick performed adeptly, completing 6-of-8 passes for 81 yards on his final three drives after going 13-for-25 for 132 yards on his first nine.

"Kyle gets better every week," said Jamal Lewis, limited to 71 yards despite 30 carries. "That's what we need and expect him to do. He played a great game."

Plus, the 23-year-old California native demonstrated poise despite a lot of rough hits in addition to being called upon to hold for kicker Matt Stover's decisive field goal because of an injury to punter Dave Zastudil.

With his right arm firing much more accurately than usual, Boller set up that 42-yard kick into howling easterly winds. On third-and-5 at the Ravens' 49, Boller hit Kevin Johnson with a 21-yard pass. Then, he found Travis Taylor for a 10-yard completion to set up better field position.

"You grow up watching John Elway and the other guys do it," Boller said of engineering a game-winning drive after failing in three previous tries. "It was an opportunity to do your thing. That's my job. That's why I am the quarterback on this team."

The Ravens remain two games behind the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers (8-1) in the AFC North, but this win boosts their wild-card prospects.
Statistically, it was one of Boller's best football games. In his 18th NFL start, he completed 19 of 33 passes for 213 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The Ravens' passing game remains last in the NFL statistically, though, averaging 130.7 yards per contest. However, this was definite progress.
"It did feel great," Boller said. "Our offense stuck together. It's been hard to take the criticism, but this was a team effort."

Boller has completed 57.6 percent of his passes for 1,314 yards, five touchdowns and six interceptions for a 70.4 passer rating.

For a change Monday, Billick singled out the running game for criticism instead of being peppered with questions about what's wrong with his quarterback.

"We got Jamal the appropriate number of runs," Billick said. "One thing I wasn't pleased with was the lack of efficiency in our running. We were able to keep it balanced, get Jamal involved, but I thought we would run the ball much better on them."

The Ravens have slowly allowed Boller to throw more often, increasing his attempts markedly of late. He's come a long way since hurling three interceptions in one quarter Oct. 10 against the Washington Redskins.
Boller's last interception since that game came on a Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half in a 17-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
"He continues to manage the game very well and be very smart with the ball and where he puts it," Billick said.

Boller is definitely not all grown up, but this was a game where increased maturity was evident. For a change, his actions met teammates' testimonials that didn't always sound grounded in reality.

The former Cal star has been one of the most heavily maligned athletes in the region and in national circles for his slower development in comparison to Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. No rational people are canonizing Boller yet, but Sunday was an obvious sign of progress.
Despite still not having offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and tight end Todd Heap, the Ravens have remained in contention.

Boller has taken a lot of shots for his erratic play, but retaliated in a constructive way Sunday in the Meadowlands with crisp throws and smart decisions.

"It has been tough on him," Billick said. "He's a young man, he's out here by himself and it's tough when you can't read a paper or turn on a radio for six weeks. He still doesn't know Bush won."

Aaron Wilson writes for ravensinsider.com and the Carroll County Times.

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