Boller to start next 2-3 games, McNair out

OWINGS MILLS -- The suspense regarding the Baltimore Ravens' quarterback situation ended predictably Tuesday night when coach Brian Billick revealed that Kyle Boller will start at least the next two to three games due to struggling starter Steve McNair's injured non-throwing shoulder.

McNair suffered a subluxation of his left shoulder, a condition where the shoulder joint keeps popping in and out, an injury the four-time Pro Bowl selection incurred during the Ravens' 21-7 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

"Kyle will start this week, and it will be two to three weeks before Steve can get back to activity," Billick said during his weekly WBAL radio program. "If you see the television copy when he took the last hit, you can see it happen. There's initially a numbness and then you wake up in the morning and it hurts.

"That subluxation will put him out for a minimum of two to three weeks. There's no way you can play with a subluxed shoulder and be able to protect yourself."

Now, Boller steps back under center against the Cleveland Browns this Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Rookie quarterback Troy Smith will operate as the backup.

An erratic three-year starter who was replaced by McNair last year when he was acquired in a trade from the Tennessee Titans, Boller has thrown 71 fewer passes than McNair this season. However, Boller has thrown one more touchdown pass with three than McNair and one less interception with three.

The 2003 first-round draft pick from Cal-Berkeley directed the Ravens to their lone touchdown against the NFL's 31st-ranked defense Sunday, hitting Mark Clayton with a 47-yard pass to set up running back Willis McGahee's 1-yard touchdown run.

"Kyle is cranked up and ready to go," Billick said of a player who has drawn heavy criticism in the past from fans and media.

Meanwhile, this is an unprecedented situation for Smith, the Heisman Trophy winner from Ohio State who was selected with the last pick of the fifth round.

Smith struggled with his accuracy during the preseason, but demonstrated flashes of a big arm and athleticism.

"A fun challenge for Troy," Billick said. "He has to be ready. This could be real. The focus and attention he has to bring to it is heightened."

Billick said the team would entertain some potential plays to take advantage of Smith's versatility.

"There are some things you can do with Troy in that capacity because of his ability to run the ball," Billick said. "That's something we can consider."

One unlikely scenario for the Ravens is signing a veteran quarterback. The market is regarded as thin.

"Quite frankly, there's not a lot out there for us to consider," Billick said. "I'm sure there's somebody out there, but right now that name isn't on the tip of anybody's tongue."

This injury could foreshadow the end of McNair's tenure in Baltimore.

A former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player, McNair, 34, has turned the football over 11 times this season and thrown just two touchdown passes. He led the Ravens to one touchdown in his past 35 drives, and that score came on a 33-yard run by McGahee in a 38-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If not for the injury, McNair could have been replaced anyway because of his substandard performance as he has completed 133 of 205 passes (64.9 percent) for 1,113 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions for a 73.9 quarterback rating.

Although hampered by back and groin injuries, McNair's regression in terms of arm strength, mobility, field awareness and ball security represents a dramatic dip.

It was discouraging enough personally that McNair conceded he should probably be replaced after passing for 128 yards with two lost fumbles and one interception against Cincinnati. He committed six turnovers over the past two games, and his last touchdown pass was Sept. 30 against the Browns.

"This is probably the lowest point of my career that I've had over the last two games," McNair said. "I'm trying to play hard, but it's just not there. ..

"My turnovers have been killing this team. If they decide to go with Kyle, that's fine. I'll probably agree with them."

McNair signed a five-year, $32 million contract last year.

After leading the Ravens to a franchise-record 13-3 campaign a year ago as he passed for 3,050 yards and 16 touchdowns with 12 interceptions, McNair has been unable to recapture that form.

Including a 15-6 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts where McNair threw two crucial interceptions, the Ravens have lost two of his past seven starts.

The Ravens are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, are 1-5 against AFC opponents and have fallen to third place in the AFC North.

"I don't have all the answers," Boller said after completing 6 of 8 passes for 89 yards with one interception against Cincinnati. "I just know the main thing is that we need to stick together as a team and as an offense and continue to work hard."

NOTES: Billick responded to a question on why cornerback Chris McAlister remains out with a strained knee after initially denying a broadcast report that said McAlister would miss four to six weeks. The Pro Bowl defensive back has been out the past three games, a four-week period of inactivity including a bye. "The original prognosis was just two weeks," Billick said. "Obviously, things react differently. It's not an exact science." ... The Ravens cut cornerback Willie Gaston. He's expected to rejoin the practice squad. Kicker Rhys Lloyd could take Gaston's spot on the roster.

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

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