The Baltimore Ravens' former first-round draft pick was sharp, focused and accurate, at least he displayed those qualities at the beginning of a 16-15 victory Thursday night over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium to open the preseason as Baltimore won in first-year coach John Harbaugh's debut.
Ultimately, though, Boller would falter as he reverted back to his troubling old pattern of mistakes and inconsistency with a set of turnovers. It marks a dashed opportunity to separate himself from the pack in the Ravens' quarterback competition.
"Kyle did okay," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "He was in control and was sharp at times. He'll be fine, and he knows better than anyone that we have to protect the ball."
Boller completed 11 of 15 passes for 102 yards, including a 21-yard strike to Derrick Mason on the Ravens' first play from scrimmage, before giving way to Troy Smith halfway through the second quarter.
However, Boller fumbled on the Ravens' second drive on 3rd-and-4 at the Ravens' 44-yard line as former Baltimore linebacker Adalius Thomas chopped the ball out of his hands on a sack with defensive end Ty Warren pouncing on it.
Boller's final pass of the night was a poorly-thrown attempt intended for tight end Adam Bergen and was intercepted by rookie linebacker Shawn Crable. There were three defenders in the vicinity, way too much traffic to try to force the ball into such a tight space.
"I don't want to turn the ball over, that's the most important thing," said Boller, who had two passes dropped. "I think we had some good plays and a few solid drives, but we have to continue to work on not turning the ball over."
Although the turnovers didn't really damage the Ravens' cause, it put a damper on an otherwise sterling performance.
Finding four different targets on the game-opening drive, Boller completed five of his first six throws to set up a 42-yard Matt Stover field goal for a 3-0 lead.
"We drove down the field right away and put some points on the board that first drive," Boller said. "The main thing we wanted to do early was not turn it over and put points on the board."
Besides Boller's up-and-down performance, the Ravens had several more conclusive outings.
Especially from newcomer cornerback Fabian Washington, who intercepted two passes in his first game in a Ravens uniform.
Washington twisted his body to snag a Matt Cassel pass during the second play of the ensuing drive after Boller's fumble. He returned it to the Patriots' 23-yard line.
Later, Washington read quarterback Matt Gutierrez's eyes to pick off another pass. It halted a Patriots drive at the Ravens' 9-yard line with 12 seconds remaining in the first half.
That takeaway was greeted with enthusiasm by cornerback Corey Ivy, who hoisted Washington on his shoulders and carried him off the field in celebration.
"It just feels good to finally play football again," said Washington, who was recently suspended for one game without pay for violating the NFL's personal-conduct policy. "You only get one chance to make a first impression, so I felt like I had to go out there and make an impact for my first time as a Raven.
"On the second one, the quarterback just telegraphed it. He was looking at me the whole way, and I broke on the ball when he let it go. The first one was underthrown. He threw it behind the receiver and I was right there."
The Ravens acquired the former Oakland Raiders cornerback during the draft for a fourth-round draft pick. They consider it a relative bargain at this point.
"I guess Fabian Washington is worth that fourth-rounder Ozzie Newsome gave up," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said.
Meanwhile, return specialist Yamon Figurs had an electrifying night.
On a stop-and-go 52-yard punt return, the speedy wide receiver was sprung by big blocks from linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, safety Tom Zbikowski and cornerback Frank Walker. Figurs stepped out of bounds at the New England 2-yard line, setting up a 1-yard touchdown plunge from fullback Le'Ron McClain to stake Baltimore to a 10-0 advantage.
After being stopped on his previous dive attempt, McClain busted into the end zone off a major push on drive blocks from left guard Ben Grubbs and center Jason Brown.
New England got on the scoreboard with a 36-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal following Boller's interception.
Then, Figurs displayed the sprinting ability that once dusted Chicago Bears star Devin Hester in a high school track meet. He dashed 48 yards on a kickoff return to set the table for Smith.
"The guys were blocking really well and they opened up some big holes," Figurs said. "They opened them up, but they also closed pretty fast. I was just glad that I could hit them fast enough to get through. Making plays like that will really help our offense this year. I'm glad we were able to put them in good position to score."
When Smith entered the game, his first throw was wild as he badly overthrew Marcus Smith.
On his second pass, the former Heisman Trophy winner delivered a nice touch pass over the middle to hit wide receiver Darnerien McCants for a 30-yard gain. He threw another well-timed, looping spiral to McCants that was bobbled and ruled incomplete deep in New England territory.
Smith completed 5 of 12 attempts for 74 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He will start the Ravens' second preseason game next week against the Minnesota Vikings.
Stover capped the drive by booting a 44-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 13-3 lead.
In the third quarter, Baltimore rookie Piotr Czech hit a 37-yard field goal .
Rookie running back Ray Rice started in place of injured starter Willis McGahee, who's dealing with a sore left knee, and was welcomed to the NFL with a fierce tackle by Patriots rookie linebacker Jerod Mayo that knocked off his helmet.
Rice shrugged off the big hit, but didn't find much room to run all night as he finished with a dozen yards on six carries while catching four passes for 17 yards.
"I got the jitters out and got the first one out of the way," Rice said. "I was more excited and you catch yourself looking around and checking out the situation. It was like, 'They were the Patriots.'"
Another positive development was how an injury-riddled offensive line held up against a formidable Patriots front seven that features defensive linemen Richard Seymour and Vince Wilfork and linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
With a lot of three-step drops and play-action fakes from the quarterbacks buying time, left tackle Chad Slaughter and right tackle Mike Kracalik had a solid night in place of injured starters Jared Gaither and Adam Terry.
Slaughter did have a holding penalty, but hadn't played in a football game in nearly two years after being out of work last season after being cut by the Raiders.
"The offensive line did an unbelievable job," Boller said. "I don't think I was touched one time."
During the final minutes of the fourth quarter, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco had a rude introduction to the NFL.
The first-round draft pick from Delaware was incomplete on his first professional throw and fumbled on his second snap when he was sacked from behind by Pierre Woods, setting up a Lamont Jordan touchdown run. The former University of Maryland runner gained 76 yards on 19 carries.
Meanwhile, Flacco went 0 for 3 with two sacks for a 39.6 passer rating.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick went for two points rather than try to force overtime after Jordan's touchdown, but linebacker Edgar Jones pressured quarterback Kevin O'Connell into an incompletion to preserve the lead.
Overall, Harbaugh was pleased with the Ravens' play as the former Philadelphia Eagles assistant paced the sidelines during his first game as a head coach at any level.
"The thing that was good to see was we were being physical," Harbaugh said. "We were aggressive. We played like Ravens. There are some things we could clean up, but overall I like how hard we played."
Star middle linebacker Ray Lewis presented Harbaugh with the game ball and passed on this message, according to team spokesman Kevin Byrne: "From men to a real man. This is for you. Thanks for getting us ready."
NOTES: Linebacker Prescott Burgess broke his wrist and said he will undergo surgery as soon as today. "It's pretty bad," said Burgess, whose arm is in a sling. ... Defensive tackle Kelly Talavou injured his shoulder and will undergo a medical exam today along with linebacker Tavares Gooden, who has an undisclosed injury. ... Ayanbadejo led the Ravens with eight tackles. ... The Ravens had six sacks with one apiece from Ayanbadejo, Nick Greisen, Dwan Edwards, Amon Gordon and Gary Stills. ... Robert McCune recovered a fumble.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Ravens banged-up for preseason opener
By Aaron Wilson
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The Baltimore Ravens were extremely shorthanded for their preseason opener Thursday night against the New England Patriots.
Baltimore played the game at Gillette Stadium without 11 starters, including two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs. The unsigned franchise player has yet to report to training camp and hasn't signed his $8.472 million one-year tender.
Not playing because of injuries or other reasons: safety Ed Reed (shoulder), wide receivers Mark Clayton (right shoulder), Patrick Carter (dislocated left shoulder) and Demetrius Williams (left Achilles' tendon), cornerbacks Samari Rolle (bereavement) and Chris McAlister (right knee), running backs Willis McGahee (left knee) and P.J. Daniels (shoulder), linebacker Dan Cody (right foot), offensive tackles Jared Gaither (sprained left ankle) and Adam Terry (sprained right ankle), tight ends Todd Heap (right calf), Daniel Wilcox (offseason toe surgery) and Aaron Walker (left knee), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right medial collateral ligament) and nose guard Kelly Gregg (left knee).
J'Vonne Parker started at nose guard in place of Gregg with Justin Bannan starting at Ngata's spot.
The Ravens started Antwan Barnes at outside linebacker in Suggs' absence.
Fabian Washington and Frank Walker started at cornerback with Washington intercepting two passes in his Ravens debut.
Veteran newcomer Jim Leonhard, a former Buffalo Bills starter, started at free safety.
Former Oakland Raiders offensive tackle Chad Slaughter started on the left side with Mike Kracalik lining up at right tackle.
Yamon Figurs started in place of Mark Clayton, catching one pass for 12 yards.
Adam Bergen started at tight end with Heap out.
Rookie running back Ray Rice started for McGahee.
The Patriots deactivated cornerback Mike Richardson, fullback Kyle Eckel, offensive guard Stephen Neal, offensive tackles Matt Light and Oliver Ross and defensive linemen Jarvis Green and Mike Wright.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Boller squanders chance in win over Patriots
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