This should be a rather pleasant week for Kyle Boller, the oft-criticized Baltimore Ravens quarterback. He will face the usual round of questions about his performance on Sunday, but this time he is coming off of one of his best games, during which he rallied the Ravens from a 14-point deficit to an exhilarating 20-17 overtime win against the New York Jets.
During his weekly news conference on Monday, Baltimore Coach Brian Billick praised not only the play of his young quarterback, but also his resilience.
"It's been tough on him," Billick of the criticism that Boller has faced. "It's tough when you can't turn on a radio or read a paper for six weeks. He still doesn't know Bush won."
It was only five weeks ago that Billick repeatedly was forced to defend Boller, as well as to defend his belief that the 19th overall pick of the 2003 draft would turn into a quality NFL starter. Boller hardly looked like one in a nationally televised game against the Redskins on Oct. 10. The Ravens won, 17-10, but Boller had one of his worst games as a pro: a season-low 81 yards passing, two interceptions that led to Washington's only points, and a career-low 22.9 rating.
Boller has steadied himself in the four games since. He has completed 58.3 percent of his attempts, passed for 664 yards (an average of 166 per game) and thrown three touchdown passes. Most important, he has only one interception in that span, and that came on a last-second Hail Mary.
Boller's final numbers against the Jets were solid: 213 yards and two touchdowns on 19-of-33 passing and a rating of 97.2. He completed six third- or fourth-down passes to six different receivers that resulted in first downs.
In the Ravens' final three drives -- which resulted in 10 points -- he was 6 of 8 for 81 yards. Boller also was the holder on Matt Stover's game-winning 42-yard field goal, a task that usually falls to punter Dave Zastudil.
The second touchdown pass -- which gave Baltimore a 17-14 lead -- was actually Boller's call. Facing third and 11 from the New York 16, Boller knew that linebacker Jonathan Vilma would drop deep in coverage -- something he picked up while watching film during the week -- and that all he had to do was get the ball over the linebacker and give rookie Clarence Moore a chance to go up and grab it.
"It was great; he had a definitive opinion as to what he wanted to do," said Billick, whose team is 6-3, two games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North. "When your quarterback does that, you're going to have a lot of confidence in dialing that one up."
Billick said Sunday's victory was one of the most significant of his tenure in Baltimore, considering all the circumstances -- the injuries to key players, the early deficit, the caliber of the opponent (the Jets were 6-2), the New York crowd. He also drew some parallels between the victory and the Ravens' last big comeback win, a 44-41 overtime victory over Seattle last November.
In that game, Anthony Wright, who was making his second start of the season at quarterback, led the Ravens back from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit. Baltimore went on to win four of its next five games to secure the AFC North title. That comeback played a big role in bringing that team together, Billick said, and hopefully the victory over the Jets will do the same.
"This team has a lot of faith in Kyle Boller," Billick said. "To do something like that is to take the next step; it's the next little box you can check off, and say, 'Okay, I have done that now, and you go on to the next one.' There's a lot to be said for that."
Ravens Notes: The Ravens will audition punters this week, including former Maryland standout Brooks Barnard, to find a temporary replacement for Zastudil, who will be sidelined for three to four weeks with a separated shoulder. It won't be backup quarterback Kordell Stewart, who stepped in for Zastudil, averaged 35.4 yards on five punts and was awarded the special teams game ball.
"I love Kordell, but I don't want to see him back there punting a whole lot more," Billick said. . . .
Cornerback Chris McAlister, who left in the second quarter against the Jets, had an MRI exam on his shoulder Monday. Billick said that it appears to be a severe stinger, but said it's too early to comment on McAlister's availability this week. . . .
The Ravens will have to make a roster move to accommodate the return of Wright, who will come off the physically unable to perform list this week. Billick has said in the past that the team plans on keeping all three quarterbacks.