Ravens escape with win over lowly Texans

BALTIMORE -- In a narrow escape against the worst football team in the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens mustered enough clarity and execution in the final minute to overcome nearly an entire afternoon of confounding bumbles and fumbles.

When quarterback Kyle Boller and receiver Mark Clayton broke the huddle with 20 seconds remaining, no timeouts and Baltimore trailing by two points, the two former roommates immediately recognized that the Houston Texans were bringing an all-out blitz.

The oft-criticized quarterback got rid of the football in time to Clayton on an inside route, and the rookie dashed past defenders on a 35-yard reception that set up Matt Stover's 38-yard game-winning kick with six seconds left.

That clinched a 16-15 victory over the Texans (1-11) Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium that earned the Ravens (4-8) no style points, but may have salvaged several individuals' prospects at keeping their jobs. Especially Boller and embattled coach Brian Billick.

"I knew they were blitzing, and me and Kyle looked at each other before the play even started because we had it figured out," said Clayton, who caught a career-high seven passes for 86 yards. "He made a great throw and gave me an opportunity to make a play. It felt good to have a huge influence on us winning."

One week after throwing two interceptions and fumbling three times in a loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, Boller ran for a touchdown and threw no interceptions. He hit tight end Todd Heap for 24 yards and Clayton for 11 more before spiking the ball to stop the clock with 20 seconds left prior to his critical throw to Clayton.

"It was a ‘Cover Zero,' an all-out blitz technically," Boller said. "I didn't really think they were going to do it, but if they did that's what I had to be ready for."

The Ravens committed some disturbing blunders that were ultimately outdone by the Texans' ineptitude.

While the Ravens fumbled four times and rushed for only 73 yards against the NFL's last-ranked run defense, Houston fumbled five times with 11 penalties for 93 yards.

"You're damned if you do, damned if you don't," linebacker Bart Scott said. "If you beat the Houston Texans, people say you're supposed to beat a 1-10 team. If you lose to them, then people say it's a terrible loss."

One week after the Texans blew a 10-point lead against St. Louis rookie quarterback and Harvard graduate Ryan Fitzpatrick, they collapsed again. Boller marched the Ravens 67 yards in eight plays before Stover converted his 11th game-winning kick.

"Effort-wise, I think we can pick it up a little bit as well as execution with our team," said said Stover, a 15-year professional. "It excites me as a veteran here to see that we didn't give up and we did enough to win the game."

It wasn't without drama, or head-scratching decisions, though.

After Kris Brown's 29-yard field goal with 3:45 left to bring the Texans to within one point as Baltimore was clinging to a 13-12 lead, return specialist B.J. Sams inexplicably had a fair catch at the Ravens' 10-yard line.

The decision immediately drew boos from the crowd and sparked arguments on the sidelines between Billick and special teams coordinator Gary Zauner with Zauner chastising Sams.

Afterward, Sams said he was following Zauner's orders.

"He asked me to fair-catch it and I just fair-caught the ball," said Sams, who later took a kickoff four yards out of his own end zone. "It was other situations that I could have did."

When asked if he would necessarily follow those orders again, Sams replied: "Sometimes, that's what I have to do: overrule everything and go on my own instincts."

After Brown connected on his fifth field goal with 1:08 left, the Texans were momentarily in control.

Boller -- playing with an offensive line missing three starters including Jonathan Ogden (hamstring) -- completed four passes for 67 yards to get Stover in position.

"You've got to make something happen," said Boller, who completed 17 of 33 passes for 198 yards and ran for a 6-yard touchdown. "All you can hope for is to execute the way we did."

Versatile outside linebacker Adalius Thomas gathered in a David Carr pass tipped by defensive end Jarret Johnson, waiting it out before returning an interception 20 yards for a touchdown with 7:16 left for a 13-9 advantage.

"It took a couple of days to come down," Thomas said. "I didn't feel like I necessarily had to, but we talked about how we needed to score."

Sams' 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the third quarter was nullified by rookie Mike Smith's block-in-the-back penalty.
That began an eye-sore sequence where Boller fumbled and recovered at the Ravens' 1, the Texans' Jerome Mathis muffed a punt at the Baltimore 36 and Baltimore's Chester Taylor gave the Texans the ball back again with a fumble at the Ravens' 29.

Andre Johnson, though, dropped a sure-fire touchdown in the end zone and Houston settled for a field goal.

The Ravens sacked Carr five times, including a career-high three sacks from Terrell Suggs. They endured 155 rushing yards on 29 carries from Domanick Davis, the fourth-most ever gained against Baltimore.

Despite the win, the brutal reality hasn't changed much for the Ravens. They were only one point better than an expansion franchise destined to win the Reggie Bush sweepstakes with the first overall pick in the NFL draft.

"What would be most embarrassing is to quit on your teammates and we're not about that," receiver Derrick Mason said. "We're going to fight. Win or lose at the end, we gave it our all."
 

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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