The Ravens (2-2) cautiously held out middle linebacker Ray Lewis and offensive
tackle Jonathan Ogden while successfully testing out a trio of key veterans in
their season debut.
Running back Jamal Lewis' initial action since undergoing right ankle surgery and being incarcerated four months in a federal prison didn't include major production, or drama in an uneventful outing. The former Pro Bowl runner showed flashes of explosiveness while hampered by rust as he was limited to 15 yards on six carries.
His cuts were naturally not as sharp as usual and he was stuffed on two 3rd-and-1 situations. He endured a rough tackle from Redskins linebacker LaVar Arrington.
"It felt great," Lewis said "I was anxious to get out there. I'm ready to go. The ankle felt good, it held up for me. I had a nice little test run on it, and now it's time to get going."
Tight end Todd Heap played in his first game since offseason surgeries on his ankle and shoulder. Most importantly, his shoulder absorbed a solid tackle after catching a 6-yard pass and bounced up from the turf.
"Once that adrenaline gets pumping, you forget about everything else," Heap said. "All the aches and pains go away, because it's time to play football. I'm happy, especially with our performance. We weren't in there very long."
Meanwhile, former All-Pro linebacker Peter Boulware had perhaps the most impressive individual effort. Playing in his first game in 20 months after missing all of last season with knee and toe injuries, Boulware had a coverage sack of Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey.
"To get out there on my first play and get the quarterback, I was awfully excited," said Boulware, whose last game was Dec. 21, 2003. "I feel pretty good, but I still feel a little rusty. I have a long way to go, but hopefully I'll be ready for the Colts."
Matched opposite offensive tackle Chris Samuels, Boulware kept working upfield as the secondary blanketed the Redskins' receivers before spinning outside Samuels to slam Ramsey.
"How about a sack on the first play," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "Typical of Peter, didn't quit on the play. It's a comfort to see No. 58 get after the passer."
The major exception to the Ravens' otherwise crossed-off checklist was a breakthrough performance by an oft-maligned passing game that ranked 31st last season.
Depending how progress is measured – starting quarterback Kyle Boller didn't commit a turnover for the first time after surrendering five in the first three games – the Ravens' timing still appears off.
Boller completed 2 of 6 passes for 10 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a subpar 42.4 quarterback rating. He was victimized by two drops by inconsistent wide receiver Clarence Moore, costing him a pair of first downs.
However, Boller appeared more poised and wasn't sacked for the first time in the preseason. Boller showed the wherewithal to throw the football out of bounds rather than take a sack or force the football into heavy traffic.
In the race to make the team, it appears that cornerback Zach Norton has gained an edge by intercepting a pair of passes from Redskins rookie quarterback Jason Campbell. However, Norton was also beaten for two touchdown passes as he started in place of resting Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister
Norton was beaten by Jimmy Farris up the sidelines for a 37-yard touchdown as Baltimore fell behind 17-6. And he didn't react well to a well-thrown Mark Brunell pass for a 22-yard touchdown to Jimmy Farris.
Hymes caught a touchdown pass and a leaping 2-point conversion from rookie Derek Anderson with 1:46 remaining.
After a hard-hitting preseason, rookie linebacker Mike Smith left the game with a concussion. Although it might be a stretch to keep five tight ends, tight end Trent Smith helped his cause with a touchdown catch from Anthony Wright (15 of 27, 138 yards) to finish with four receptions for 25 yards.
Competing with Hymes to be the fourth receiver, Patrick Johnson caught a 30-yard pass from Wright and had four catches for 57 yards.
The Ravens have until Sunday to shave their roster to 53 players, but will make their final decisions today and will likely announce the moves Saturday.
"We're getting done what we wanted to do, notwithstanding the game," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We got Jamal some good shots, we got Todd Heap some, Peter Boulware showed up, got some good reps in. Now, we're finding out who's going to make this club."
NOTES: Jim Nelson started at middle linebacker in place of Ray Lewis. … Rookie Adam Terry started for Ogden. He left the game with a sprained ankle and had X-rays, but it wasn't believed to be serious. … Cornerback Samari Rolle (knee) and nickel back Deion Sanders (hamstring) didn't play. Dale Carter started in place of Rolle. … Top draft pick Mark Clayton caught three passes for 38 yards. ... Fullback Alan Ricard returned to the lineup. ... Linebacker Bart Scott and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards had seven and six tackles, respectively.
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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