The Baltimore Ravens were delighted and disheartened today after ending an unbeaten preseason with a 28-24 victory over the New York Giants on rookie wide receiver Brandon Stokley's 37-yard touchdown catch on the last play of the game.
The joy came from several areas, including starting quarterback Scott Mitchell's 39-yard touchdown pass to Jermaine Lewis, who also drew a pass interference penalty near the goal line on another play to set up a touchdown. Third-team quarterback Stoney Case threw the decisive pass to Stokley after completing a 41-yard pass to Billy Davis for the winning touchdown against the Carolina Panthers six days earlier.
Stokley made the play, catching the ball near the right sideline at about the 10 on free safety Lyle West, then twisting and darting into the end zone. The fourth-round draft choice from Southwestern Louisiana almost certainly had earned a spot on the team even before that catch, but he showed the crowd at half-empty PSINet Stadium what the Ravens already knew.
"He has a phenomenal sense of where his hands are in relation to his body when the ball's coming," Coach Brian Billick said.
Said Stokley: "I believe in myself. I believe I can make the plays."
The major concern for the Ravens was Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware apparently having his troublesome left shoulder pulled from its socket on the 16th snap of his first preseason appearance. Boulware, who played with the injury much of last season, suffered a recurrence on the final day of a late June minicamp and returned to full speed just last week.
Boulware walked slowly off the field after being double-teamed on a pass rush late in the first quarter. He left the clubhouse early after the game.
"It kinda came out a little bit," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "He's very depressed."
The Ravens will continue to gamble that the shoulder will stay in place and did not list him as so much as questionable for the regular season opener Sept. 12 in St. Louis.
"The alternative is [surgery] and just give up on the season," Billick said. "The doctors have told us that would be ill-advised right now. That's not what Peter wants."
A Ravens spokesman said Boulware and team physician Claude T. Moorman told him that Boulware could have returned to action had the game been more than an exhibition. He said only wide receiver Patrick Johnson (calf) is questionable for the season opener.
For the Giants, starting running back Gary Brown suffered a knee injury, and a team official said it would take "a miracle" for him to be available for the season opener in Green Bay against the Packers.
The Ravens had a vast advantage in many of the statistical categories today, but trailed by 24-21 early in the fourth quarter on a 23-yard pass from backup quarterback Kerry Collins to wide receiver David Patten.
Baltimore seemed doomed when two later possessions inside the New York 5-yard line ended with an interception, off a tipped pass, and a fumble by Jay Graham that cornerback Andre Weathers forced and recovered in the end zone.
But Case, signed two weeks ago, led a four-play drive from the Ravens 43 and lofted the ball to Stokley with eight seconds left. He talked about being "really comfortable" with the offense, but will not even get any meaningful work in practice unless Mitchell and backup Tony Banks are hurt.
As Billick knows, the Ravens also won all four preseason games last year. But a 6-10 performance in the regular season with a team that included six players selected to the Pro Bowl cost Ted Marchibroda his job.
"These players work hard," Billick said. "They want to do well. Their whole mentality from Day One has been: `Just show me what you want done.' But [only after the roster is trimmed from 65 to 53 by late Sunday] will we begin to think and talk about what it is to be a team."