Boulware sacks doubts; Despite shoulder pain, Ravens linebacker making an impact


Quarterback Stoney Case's first touchdown drive with the Ravens -- a total of 1 yard in Sunday's 17-10 win over the Cleveland Browns -- got a major assist from someone many thought would not even be around for the third game.

That would be linebacker Peter Boulware, whose 11-yard sack on Tim Couch at the Browns' 2-yard line caused a fumble that defensive end Michael McCrary recovered at the 1.

It was his second sack on an afternoon that produced Boulware's first AFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

More importantly, Boulware may have finally put to rest any doubts about how effective he was going to be with the Ravens this season because of his injured shoulder.

"People were saying that maybe I shouldn't be playing," Boulware said. "I'm not going to be effective out there. It is just encouraging to know that I went out there and made a few plays to help the team. I think this is the way the season is going to be all year. I'm just praying that my shoulder stays together and I can make plays.'

That is about all he can do. He re-injured his shoulder on the last day of the team's final minicamp and will have to play in pain the rest of the year.

Boulware decided not to have surgery that would have forced him to miss part of the season, instead opting to wear a protective harness.

Boulware, who is the first Raven to win a Player of the Week award since McCrary in Week 10 last year, originally injured the shoulder in Week 2 of last season -- a 24-10 win over the New York Jets.

The harness limits the mobility of Boulware's shoulder. What it does not limit is his speed coming around hard from the outside on the opposite side of McCrary in passing situations.

Coach Brian Billick limited the number of plays for Boulware in the first two games. Boulware still managed two sacks in those games and is tied for the league lead with four.

"We're still on a game-by-game watch, so to speak," Billick said. "But it is not a death watch. It is not, 'Did he get through that play? Is he OK?' You can't really think about it. Certainly I have to be conscious of it, the way we built the team defensively. What the depth is and who we have available. But it is encouraging that he feels as good as he does. He is playing real physical."

Boulware started for the firsttime this season against the Browns. He finished the game with six tackles, three behind the line of scrimmage.

"I really did not think I would be able to do anything like that [win the Player of the Week award]," said Boulware, whom the Ravens drafted fourth overall in the 1997 draft out of Florida State. "That is why every day, I am thankful and blessed. It is an honor that I take with humility."

Boulware has answered the question of his effectiveness but still has the question of whether he can last the whole season.

If he does, he'll owe an assist to Cornell Brown. Brown started the first two games of the season after having an excellent preseason.

The original plan was to have Brown play on first and second down, and have Boulware come in on obvious passing situations.

But that plan got revised last week when Boulware started and ended up playing around 50 snaps.

"Last week, his snaps weren't limited," linebackers coach Jack Del Rio said. "He started and basically played the whole game. He's worked hard, playing despite occasional pain and discomfort in a joint that is not working as well as it might. But he is playing hard and competing. He gives people problems with his speed and play-making ability."

Brown will still get in at times depending on the nature of the game. But the Ravens know they need Boulware, a Pro Bowl player who registered 20 sacks in his first two seasons, to play as much as possible.

"It [less snaps] has got to keep him fresher, and maybe a little hungrier," Billick said. "Not that he needed to be motivated. But he knows he has fewer snaps to show up. And to be AFC Defensive Player on 50 snaps is pretty good."

Brown said: "He's a top-notch player, one of the best in the league. Now he's more fresh because I go in and spell him. It is an inspiration to everybody to see the pain that he is going through and still going out there and performing."

Next for Ravens

Opponent: Atlanta Falcons

Site: Georgia Dome, Atlanta

When: Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)

Line: Falcons by 2 1/2

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