Falcons 16, Ravens 3
-- The common refrain regarding the Baltimore Ravens as they prepare to open the 2005 season is that their chances for success largely hinge on the maturation of third-year quarterback Kyle Boller. So imagine the apprehension felt by Ravens fans as Boller dropped back to pass for the first time in Baltimore's preseason opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday night.
Boller looked to his right, waited, and then fired the ball -- directly into the midsection of Atlanta linebacker Ed Hartwell, a former Raven. Hartwell's interception, deep in Baltimore territory, set up the Falcons' first score.
Atlanta, which was playing in its second preseason game, went on to beat the Ravens, 16-3, at the Georgia Dome in front of an announced crowd of 67,123 that included disgruntled Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens.
"I didn't get the play in my helmet," Boller said of the interception on the second play from scrimmage. "I had to call a quick play, and I tried to force the ball into Derrick [Mason]. But that is what the preseason is for -- to correct mistakes like that."
Boller settled down after the turnover and led the Ravens on one scoring drive, an 11-play, 77-yard series that resulted in a 23-yard field goal by Matt Stover. He completed 5 of 9 passes for 57 yards. He made a handful of nice throws, rolling to his right and hitting tight end Darnell Dinkins for a 15-yard gain, zipping a ball by a defender into the hands of tight end Daniel Wilcox, and lofting a pass that 6-foot-6 receiver Clarence Moore brought in for a 30-yard gain.
"I thought outside of that initial interception -- and that's a lot to overlook, I'm not trying to dismiss it -- I thought he played very well," Coach Brian Billick said of Boller.
The Ravens' offense was missing two of its best players. Running back Jamal Lewis, who only began practicing with the team on Wednesday after spending the past six months serving a federal drug sentence, and tight end Todd Heap, who had offseason ankle and shoulder surgery. Lewis likely will play next week when the Ravens host the Philadelphia Eagles; Heap is expected to begin practicing with the team this coming week and could be available on Saturday as well.
Chester Taylor, Lewis's backup, ran well, gaining 55 yards on eight carries. As a team, the Ravens rushed 27 times for 116 yards.
Baltimore's starting defense -- minus NFL defensive player of the year, safety Ed Reed (minor knee injury) -- was on the field for the first quarter and held the Falcons to 49 yards on 13 plays. Quarterback Michael Vick made it through two series unscathed; the last time these two teams met in the Georgia Dome in the preseason, Vick broke his leg after being tackled by linebacker Adalius Thomas. Vick completed 2 of 3 passes for 32 yards and was sacked twice.
Hartwell's interception put Atlanta on Baltimore's 14-yard line early in the first quarter, but a Tommy Polley sack helped back up the Falcons. Atlanta settled for a 29-yard field goal from Todd Peterson. The Falcons' second drive was helped by a 32-yard pass interference penalty against cornerback Chris McAlister; that gave Atlanta a first and 10 on the Baltimore 18. The Ravens blitzed on third and five from the 13, and nickel back Deion Sanders, who lined up in the slot, broke through to sack Vick that forced a fumble Sanders recovered.
"We sent in everybody, and I mean everybody and their mama," said Sanders, who recorded one sack in his first 13 years in the NFL. He had two sacks in the Ravens' controlled scrimmage with the Washington Redskins last week "Fortunately, I was unblocked and was able to make a play."
Ravens Note: Billick canceled Monday's practice; players instead will have meetings and lift weights. Reed and fullback Alan Ricard (calf), both of whom were injured late in the week, were game-day scratches. Thomas (knee), linebacker Dan Cody (knee), running back Musa Smith (leg) and cornerback Dale Carter (leg) also did not play.