Billick: Boller remains a relief option

OWINGS MILLS -- Steve McNair retains a strong grip on the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback job, but he might have to become accustomed to relinquishing that hold late in football games. Ravens coach Brian Billick reiterated Monday that he won't hesitate to continue using backup Kyle Boller in relief to finish games.

As Boller did for the second time this season Sunday when he engineered the game-winning drive during a 26-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals because of ongoing concerns about McNair's nagging groin pull.

Billick also acknowledged, which he didn't Sunday, that McNair had tweaked his groin. Until Billick is satisfied that McNair, 34, is fully healed from an injury he suffered during the season-opening loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, then Boller, 26, will need to stay ready on the sidelines.

"I'll watch it," said Billick, who expressed concern about the injury becoming a three or four-week situation if McNair aggravates it seriously. "It depends. Obviously, I would anticipate he would be stronger and healthier this week than last week and we'll watch it.

"We'll watch it for a while until I'm comfortable and confident that Steve, late in the game, isn't vulnerable to re-aggravating the groin. I don't want this to turn into a long-term injury."

Against the Cardinals, McNair completed 20 of 27 passes for 198 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions prior to surprisingly being replaced by Boller.

Boller completed 8 of 10 passes for 83 yards, including going 5 for 5 on the final drive to set up Matt Stover's 46-yard field goal as time expired.

"I love that situation," Boller said. "I like the pressure. I would be lying if I said it wasn't stressful, but it isn't really that big of a deal because I feel like I prepare myself during the week."

While McNair incurred a minor setback with his injury early Sunday, Billick said he began noticing a difference in his throwing delivery toward the close of the third quarter. Plus, McNair lost a fumble on a hit from Darnell Dockett in the third quarter. The decision was made with Baltimore leading 23-6.

"I said, 'I'm worried about you, man, I'm not sure you're moving around as well,'" Billick said. "There were a couple throws that I don't think he really put his legs into, and that made me wonder if it was beginning to fatigue as the game went on. I just made the call."

Although the Cardinals rallied behind backup quarterback Kurt Warner to close the gap to 23-13 by the time Boller entered the game and eventually tied it on Neil Rackers' field goal, the former Ravens starter responded by marching the Ravens 52 yards to set up Stover.

"I have a lot of faith in Kyle and what he can do on the football field," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Whenever Kyle comes in, it's never a panic in the huddle."

Despite the Cardinals closing the gap so rapidly, Billick said it wouldn't have been fair to take Boller out and reinsert McNair.

In two games, including a start in a 20-13 win over the New York Jets, Boller has completed 64.7 percent of his throws for 287 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for an 84.4 quarterback rating.

Conversely, McNair has completed 65.6 percent of his throws for 401 yards, one touchdown, one interception and an 82.8 rating.

McNair, though, has committed five of the Ravens' eight turnovers, including four lost fumbles.

Billick even ventured that he didn't think McNair would mind if Boller kept regularly appearing in the lineup even after he's over his injury.

"I have a sense that Steve would be all right with that under the right circumstances," Billick said. "That's 20 fewer plays, five fewer hits. There was a freshness to Steve's arm in the game, because of the week he had off. We're lucky to have that latitude with Kyle."

After being pulled, McNair said he was surprised. However, he stressed that he didn't have a problem with the decision and was complimentary of Boller's work.

"I didn't want to put myself in harm's way," McNair said. "The one thing with Kyle, the offense still goes. Guys go in, guys go out, the bottom line is that we get the job done."

Apparently, chemistry isn't a concern for Billick because of McNair's relatively selfless approach and the fact that Boller isn't trying to undercut the three-time Pro Bowl quarterback. Still, it's a delicate situation whenever a quarterback change is executed or even considered.

"It can be a huge problem if you let your egos get involved, but Steve has one agenda and that's to win and get through the season and be the quarterback he has shown he could be for us," Billick said. "He's all about winning. It could become more of a problem if a guy didn't have the right character and the right ego."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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