Ravens start off with big mistake, lose to Falcons

ATLANTA – Kyle Boller stared down his primary read all the way, thinking and acting on a quick slant pass to Derrick Mason to begin the football game for the Baltimore Ravens. Unfortunately for Boller in Saturday night's preseason debut against the Atlanta Falcons, the quarterback was on the exact same wavelength as former Ravens inside linebacker Ed Hartwell.

Hartwell jumped the route for an interception, reading Boller's eyes on the first play from scrimmage at the Georgia Dome.

Boller eventually tackled the bulky middle linebacker at the Ravens' 14. Hartwell rose quickly and thumped his chest several times to celebrate a turnover that led to a field goal minutes into the Ravens' 16-3 defeat.

For the Ravens (0-1), it was another classically familiar case of their defense excelling and their offensive struggling.

It was generally an uneven display for Boller and the entire passing game as the third-year quarterback was plagued by dropped passes in the first half once he regained his poise and began to redeem himself for his initial miscue.

"I didn't get the play in my helmet," said Boller, referring to how the technology that transmits the play-call from offensive coordinator Jim Fassel to a microphone in his helmet apparently malfunctioned. "I had to call a quick play and I tried to force the ball into Derrick, but that's what the preseason is for: to correct mistakes like that."

A passing game that ranked 31st in the league last season remains a work in progress despite the additions of Mason -- a two-time Pro Bowl selection -- and first-round draft pick Mark Clayton.

"To start off the second play with a pick and to almost take it to the house made me feel really good," Hartwell said. "I felt really good to go out there and compete against people that I know and played with."

Although Boller connected with Clarence Moore on a well-thrown, 30-yard sideline route in the second quarter, Moore bobbled a potential jump-ball touchdown pass in the end zone with Falcons cornerback Ronnie Heard draped over his back.

It was Moore's second drop of the game and the Ravens had to settle for a 23-yard Matt Stover field goal to cap an 11-play, 77-yard drive in the second quarter to tie the game.

Boller completed 5-of-9 passes for 57 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 35.2 quarterback rating. He was the second-lowest rated quarterback in the AFC last season.

"I'm not happy with the turnover," Fassel said. "Kyle followed the rule, but they had a plan they ran. We can help that with some game-planning. We did some good, some bad. It looked like a first preseason game."

Veteran backup Anthony Wright didn't fare any better. He completed 2-of-6 passes in the second quarter for 15 yards and a 42.4 rating.

The major bright spot offensively was how running back Chester Taylor performed as Jamal Lewis sat this game out after reporting to training camp a week late because of legal obligations stemming from his cocaine conspiracy sentence.

Taylor rushed for 55 yards on eight carries, darting through holes and demonstrating again why the Ravens

"We managed the ball well except for one mishap early on," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who cancelled Monday's practice. "We were moving up and down the field and that's good. I like some things, but there are other things we need to work on. It's a typical preseason game."

The offensive problems represented a major contrast between how the Ravens' revamped, aggressive defense attacked Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

After Hartwell's interception, new outside linebacker Tommy Polley sacked Vick two plays later to hold the Falcons to a 29-yard field goal.

When Vick pulled off an electrifying escape from the Ravens' defensive line to find Brian Finneran for 14 yards, the Ravens maintained their poise.

"I think we established what we wanted to establish," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said.

Three plays after a 32-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Chris McAlister for hitting receiver Michael Jenkins before the football arrived, Deion Sanders reprised his blitzing role. Sanders burst upfield, stripped the football away from Vick and recovered it, all in one fluid motion.
"It was an all-out blitz," Sanders said. "We sent in everybody and I mean everybody and their mama.

"With a guy like Michael Vick scrambling around, you know he is going to be free with the ball. I knew I would be able to make a play on the ball if I got to him."

The Ravens limited Vick to two completions and 32 yards in three attempts, and held backup Matt Schaub to 3-of-10 inaccuracy for 33 yards in the first half. The Falcons rushed for 45 on 13 carries, averaging 3.5 yards on the ground in the first half.

Although the first and second strings played to a 3-3 tie, the Falcons came out on top when third-string quarterback Ty Detmer found tight end Mark Anelli in the fourth quarter for the game-winning touchdown. Baltimore rookie quarterback Derek Anderson was intercepted in the end zone with two minutes left.

"Our guys responded on the short field," first-year defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "We gave up three instead of six. We attacked and Prime made the big play because of it. We can get better. We're working on it."

NOTE: Tight end Darnell Dinkins left the game with a shoulder contusion, and return specialist B.J. Sams (hamstring) didn't play. … Tellis Redmon rambled for 34 yards in the third quarter before being pushed out of bounds at the Falcons' 29. ... An intentional grounding penalty on Wright stalled the promising drive. …Rhys Lloyd's 39-yard field goal attempt in the third quarter was blocked. … Randy Hymes caught a 28-yard pass. ... Disgruntled Philadelphia Eagles All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens, who spurned a trade to Baltimore last year and lives in Atlanta, was in the stands and constantly mugging for the cameras.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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