Boller shines again in win over Vikings

BALTIMORE -- Kyle Boller wasn't the problem. He was a major part of the solution. Apparently, the Baltimore Ravens oft-maligned quarterback's breakthrough performance from a week ago can't be dismissed as a mere aberration. In another eye-opening outing that had to increase his chances of retaining his starting job next season, Boller delivered three touchdown passes as the Ravens ruined the Minnesota Vikings' playoff bid with a 30-23 victory Sunday night in a home finale at M&T Bank Stadium.

"Obviously, the confidence is there," Boller said. "I haven't made bad decisions the last two weeks. I'm seeing the field clearly now. It's one of those things where I can't wait to get back out on the field."

Baltimore (6-9) has won four out of its last six games, finishing 6-2 for the season at home.

For the second consecutive game, Boller threw three touchdown passes as he outdueled veteran quarterback Brad Johnson. One week after registering the highest quarterback rating in franchise history with a 136.8 mark against the Green Bay Packers, Boller responded to the challenge of following that up.

"I think he responded to the situation," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think you can see his command of the game and his subtle things. He has gotten more and more confident and in command of it."

Boller completed 24 of 34 passes for 289 yards as Johnson finished 24 of 33 for 237 yards.

"Kyle has been amazing, and we know what Kyle is capable of doing," rookie wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "Toward the end of the season, we are starting to get into a groove."

After a Minnesota field goal in the final seconds, Baltimore fielded a poor onsides kick to put the game away.

Boller lobbed a 39-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Derrick Mason in the fourth quarter for the game-winning touchdown, slightly short-arming it as Mason badly beat defensive backs Dovonte Edwards and Will Hunter with a sharp stutter-step pattern.

Boller's improving confidence, accuracy and awareness over the past two weeks followed a period so rough that Billick said he would consider alternative methods, including possibly having Boller consult a sports psychologist.

Boller was intercepted by safety Darren Sharper in the fourth quarter for his first turnover in two weeks, but Minnesota failed to capitalize.

Kicker Matt Stover capped the Ravens' scoring with a 19-yard field goal with 1:03 remaining.

Outside linebacker Adalius Thomas ran down Johnson for a sack with 1:31 remaining, forcing a fumble recovered by defensive end Tony Weaver at the Vikings' 10.

Both Boller and Johnson were particularly sharp. They both completed 17 of their first 22 passes for 180 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.

Running back Chester Taylor fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half, directly leading to an Edinger field goal as Baltimore fell behind 17-10 with elapsed in the third quarter.

However, Baltimore countered with their longest scoring play of the season.

Boller hit Clayton in stride over the middle for a 47-yard touchdown pass, Clayton's third consecutive game with a touchdown to tie the game at 17-17. Clayton finished with five catches for 90 yards.

"It was a hell of a throw, a hell of a catch," Billick said. "Mark is hard to hit on that particular route because of his size, but he has leaping ability and Kyle had a hell of a throw with people in his face."

Minnesota managed to take the lead briefly, settling for a 40-yard Edinger field goal following a dropped pass by former Ravens starting wide receiver Travis Taylor at the Baltimore 2-yard-line.

The Vikings struck first, calling upon the familiar departed Baltimore sports figure to forge an early 7-0 lead.

In an apparent miscommunication, cornerback Chris McAlister stopped covering Taylor on a short post pattern and surrendered a 13-yard touchdown pass.

Safety Ed Reed blitzed, and McAlister appeared to be releasing Taylor, a disappointing 2000 first-round draft pick who left in free agency in the offseason, from coverage and counting on help in the middle of the end zone.

There was no one there, though.

Johnson completed all five of his passes on the opening drive for 43 yards, and Mewelde Moore rambled for 22 yards by running through several arm tackles.

In one of the Ravens' most workmanlike drives of the season, they issued a touchdown rebuttal by marching 73 yards in 17 plays with 9 minutes and 26 seconds ticking off the clock.

Boller was equally impressive with six completions in seven attempts for 48 yards, capping the drive with a well-thrown, 6-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap in the back of the end zone.

Boller waited until Heap slipped behind defensive back Ralph Brown to deliver the football.

"We talked all year long that it is what good teams do," Billick said. "We have a ways to go before we can be put in that category. Answering the challenges and the momentum in any given game, that is exactly what we did."

It took a while before either team approached the end zone again, although Reed could have likely scored if he had caught a pair of potential interceptions. He bobbled one twice in one play that was intended for Taylor.

Reed did deliver an intimidating hit on wide receiver Koren Robinson in the first half.

Meanwhile, Minnesota eventually dented the Ravens' secondary on a crossing pattern by rookie speedster Troy Williamson.

He ran through an arm tackle by normally sure-tackling outside linebacker Adalius Thomas and dashed 56 yards up the sidelines before Samari Rolle shoved him out of bounds.

Five plays later, Johnson threaded a strike to Jermaine Wiggins for a 5-yard touchdown. He located the blockish tight end between safety Chad Williams and linebacker Tommy Polley to stake Minnesota to a 14-7 lead with 1:12 remaining in the first half.

However, the Ravens were far from done.

Boller worked the sidelines adeptly with three completions to Clayton to get Matt Stover in position for a 37-yard field goal to trail 14-10 at halftime.

It marked two good outings in a row for a quarterback who has been plagued by inconsistency and injuries since the Ravens drafted him in the first round out of California-Berkeley in 2003.

"I think Kyle is playing great," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "The offense is playing great and it feels good. We are just rolling right now."

Although the Ravens were long ago eliminated from playoff contention and several things must improve for them to be considered a contender in 2006, this win helped ease the sting of an underachieving season.

"It feels good considering what we've been through this season, a lot of downs," Mason said. "Now, we finally get some ups. This is what we envisioned happening at the beginning of the season."

NOTES: By the fourth quarter, Mason eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark with his 83rd catch of the season. He registered season-highs with nine receptions for 103 yards. … Offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo injured his knee and was replaced by rookie Jason Brown. ... The Ravens honored the late Baltimore Orioles legend Elrod Hendricks, who died this week. He received a loud, sustained standing ovation from the crowd.

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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