Ravens, Boller taking on Bills

OWINGS MILLS -- Beyond the bitter vitriol directed toward running back Willis McGahee from the angry Buffalo Bills' faithful, other obstacles are looming for the Baltimore Ravens. As the shorthanded Ravens (4-2) take on the Bills (1-4) today, they'll be competing with the NFL's worst defense and the league's second-worst offense.

That advantage is mitigated by an injury bug that has decimated the starting lineup.

Because of injuries, the Ravens are expected to be without six starters. Backup quarterback Kyle Boller will be under center due to starter Steve McNair's back injury.

Plus, the unfriendly environment of Ralph Wilson Stadium isn't an ideal setting for Boller. He has lost his past seven road starts, a streak that dates back to a Nov. 14, 2004 overtime win over the New York Jets at The Meadowlands.

"Buffalo is definitely a hostile place," said Boller, who has thrown five touchdowns with 13 interceptions during a personal road losing streak that includes losses to the New England Patriots, Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns. "It's going to be awesome to be able to go there, and it's a challenge. To play on the road versus playing at home, there's a lot of distractions that you've got to set aside and just go out there and focus.

"We definitely have our work cut out. This is a really good Buffalo team. The stats and numbers might not say it, but they're a really, really good team."

Boller is coming off a 22-3 victory over the winless St. Louis Rams where he threw an interception on an errant pass intended for tight end Quinn Sypniewski.

Overall, though, Boller appears to be an improved quarterback this year.

He's undefeated in two starts in place of an oft-injured McNair, completing 63.0 percent of his throws for 471 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

"If he needs to make the tough pass, he's going to make it," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "But he knows now he's not going to put this offense in a compromising position, as opposed to him sitting back throwing the ball out of bounds.

"He won't make that throw that you probably shouldn't make and get an interception. He's not going to do that now. He's either going to pull it down and run or check it down and throw it out of bounds."

Boller has played in four of seven games, emerging as a more pivotal player because of McNair's injury issues that began in the season-opener at Cincinnati.

Even though Ravens coach Brian Billick has emphasized that there won't be a quarterback controversy since he has already declared that McNair will start Nov. 5 against the Pittsburgh Steelers following the bye, this represents an opportunity for Boller to prove himself on the road.

Now, he's had a week to prep for this pop quiz against a defense that allows 421.4 yards of total offense per contest.

"The main thing is you just prepare as a starter," Boller said. "The reps is the biggest thing, to be able to get that timing down and to kind of go through the repetitions of what it's going to be like in the game.

"I haven't been a starter in awhile and haven't had the chance to start, so every opportunity that I get, hopefully, I will take advantage of it. Just help this team win, do anything I can to help get a ‘W' on the road."

Meanwhile, McGahee is bracing for a rude greeting.

There are billboards in downtown Buffalo that read: "Baltimore got our garbage because Willis is trash."

There are inflammatory messages on Web sites, rap songs and YouTube videos along with bars offering drink specials for fans willing to shred or burn their McGahee jerseys.

This is the fallout from McGahee suggesting that Buffalo's civic treasure should be moved to Toronto and his critical comments about the shrinking upstate New York city's nightlife, restaurants and women.

"I think he said the wrong things that kind of offended a couple of people," Bills tight end Robert Royal told Buffalo reporters. "I don't know if he really knew what he was saying, but he said them and obviously, it upset a lot of fans. It's going to be rough for him, and that's the way we want it."

McGahee has attempted to downplay the negative feedback since this high-profile divorce in March when he was traded to Baltimore in exchange for three draft picks.

That public stance hasn't convinced his former and current teammates, though.

"He's geeked for this, don't let him tell you any different," said Bills receiver Roscoe Parrish, who also played with McGahee at the University of Miami. "I know how Willis is. Willis lives for this. He's ready to get out there and show people what he's got."

Added Ravens offensive guard Jason Brown: "This one means all the world, going up there facing some of your old teammates. You definitely have something to prove. He's going to take a lot of baggage up there. Hopefully, we'll kick butt and leave it out on the field."

The Bills' fans might have more ferocity than the league's No. 25 run defense.

Grudges aside, the Ravens will have to walk a fine line today between resting starters and still being able to defeat a team that has gone 1-2 at home with both losses by a combined two points.

The Ravens are expected to be without McNair (back), offensive tackles Jonathan Ogden (turf toe) and Adam Terry (sprained ankle), cornerback Chris McAlister (knee), tight end Todd Heap (hamstring) and defensive end Trevor Pryce (broken wrist).

"We'll use all hands that are available," Billick said. "By the same token, we're not going to put any player at risk."

Plus, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and center Mike Flynn are questionable with knee injuries and cornerback Samari Rolle isn't at full strength after an undisclosed illness.

To get to 5-2 heading into the bye, the Ravens will have to overcome a lot against a team that pushed the Dallas Cowboys to the brink in a last-second loss.

"You definitely don't want to go into your bye with that sour taste in your mouth," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "To get this win is very big, very important.

"I think this team is built for adversity, for things to totally not go in your favor. We just have to see how we react to it. Champions perform at a time like this."

NOTE: The Ravens cut kicker Rhys Lloyd (Minnesota) and running back Cory Ross (Nebraska) on Saturday, promoting tight end Lee Vickers (North Alabama) and offensive tackle Mike Kracalik (San Diego State) from the practice squad to the active roster.

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

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