Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller seemed to be in pretty good spirits following the 17-10 victory over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field last night. Halftime, however, was a different story. The second-year quarterback had just endured one of the worst quarters of his short professional career, and he was at an emotional low.
"It's hard. You try to think about the great ones that have thrown four picks in the first half, and you've got to come back," said Boller, who was intercepted on three consecutive series in the second quarter. "Every time after that is a new play. I have the type of team that I can rally around and go out there and hopefully do good things. But it's definitely tough when you throw three picks in the first half."
The Ravens' victory is perhaps further proof that they don't need Boller to play like a Pro Bowl quarterback to win, as long as the defense and special teams make big plays. Teams that face the Ravens focus most of their attention on defense to stopping running back Jamal Lewis, who ran for more than 2,000 yards last season. The Redskins were no different.
"The plan was to keep the ball in Kyle Boller's hands and make him beat us," said Redskins defensive back Todd Franz, who had the third interception. "We did a pretty good job of that, but for some reason we still couldn't get it done."
The Ravens have a standard response when asked if they can win a Super Bowl with Boller at quarterback: They point out that they won Super Bowl XXXV with Trent Dilfer. Boller, they say, only has to be adequate.
So the key for Boller is avoiding costly mistakes. He wasn't able to do that in the Ravens' 20-3 season opening loss to Cleveland; he was intercepted twice and lost a fumble, which led to 10 points for the Browns.
And he certainly wasn't able to do that in the first half against the Redskins. Boller hadn't thrown an interception since that fourth quarter against the Browns but his three miscues led to all of Washington's points.
The first interception wasn't Boller's fault; tight end Daniel Wilcox bobbled the pass and knocked it high in the air, allowing Fred Smoot to swoop in and grab the ball. The second one, however, was very much Boller's fault; he completely missed Randy Hymes, and his pass hit Shawn Springs in the chest.
Billick stayed with Boller in the second half, and he wasn't asked to do much, other than hand the ball to running backs Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor. He threw only three passes in the second half, completing one. For the game, he completed 9 of 18 passes for 81 yards.
Boller said that the coaches didn't have much to say to him during the break.
"Basically you've got to be smarter with your throws," Boller said. "The main thing is they don't want me to go out there and play timid. Go out there and throw the ball. Obviously we didn't throw the ball much in the second half, but mistakes are going to happen. You've got to try to limit them."
Boller, the 19th overall pick in the 2003 draft, is still a work in progress. He started the first nine games last season before being sidelined because of a torn quadriceps; he completed 51.8 percent of his passes for 1,260 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. His quarterback rating of 62.4 was the lowest in the AFC.
The Ravens brought in former New York Giants coach Jim Fassel as an offensive consultant, to work with Boller in particular. Fassel, who tutored John Elway and Phil Simms, focused on Boller's fundamentals, everything from his footwork to the way he carried the ball. During minicamps and training camp, Fassel was never far from Boller, always barking instructions.
But four games into the 2004 season, the Ravens found themselves once again at the bottom of the NFL in passing offense (126.5 yards per game). The Ravens are missing two of Boller's favorite targets, Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, Baltimore's leading receiver the past two seasons, and wide receiver Travis Taylor, both of whom have been sidelined because of injuries.
The Ravens are going to have to rely more on Boller in their next two games because they will be without Lewis, their Pro Bowl running back. Lewis pleaded guilty to a drug-related federal offense earlier in the week and was suspended for two games by the NFL. He will miss games against Buffalo and Philadelphia.
"It was tough, throwing three interceptions in the first half," Boller said. "But I'm very impressed with our defense, our offensive line and our running backs taking over the game like that. They really covered me."