As the Ravens' quarterback race officially began, Chris Redman's steady start was overshadowed by Kyle Boller's sizzling finish.
In his NFL debut, Boller nearly strong-armed the Ravens to victory, but he fell one pass short in a 20-19 loss to the Buffalo Bills last night in the preseason opener before 68,550 at M&T; Bank Stadium.
The game was a memorable first step for the first-round draft pick. His 26-yard touchdown bullet sailed between two defenders to Randy Hymes, pulling the Ravens within a point with 23 seconds left in the game. But the two-point conversion failed as Boller's lob to Hymes in the end zone was overthrown.
Beyond that final pass, Boller was at his best in the pinch. He was 4-for-7 for 54 yards on the last drive, moving the ball over half the field in 1:09 and providing an exciting glimpse of his potential.
"The two-minute [offense] is the toughest of all situations for a young quarterback, particularly with a group around you that didn't know each other two weeks ago," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "So, yeah, Kyle showed some real poise."
Boller finished 10-for-21 for 124 yards in one half of play, which took away from Redman's 5-for-8 passing for 55 yards in the first quarter.
In contrast to Boller's flash, Redman worked methodically. Showing confidence in the pocket, Redman efficiently hit the intermediate routes to march the Ravens to their first touchdown of the preseason.
"It was not bad," Redman said of his performance. "It was good to get the ball in the end zone."
While all eyes were on the quarterbacks, special teams proved to be the difference. Antonio Brown's 87-yard punt return for a touchdown with 3:19 left in the broke a 13-13 tie.
When asked about the special teams, Billick said, "It needs to get better, obviously."
In his first game since offseason back surgery, Redman proved he is better than last season, quarterbacking the Ravens into Buffalo territory on the first series and then playing a major role in the touchdown drive.
The fourth-year quarterback was 2-for-2 for 32 yards, having a hand in all but 10 yards on a scoring drive that started at Buffalo's 42-yard line. Redman displayed patience and arm strength in hitting Marcus Robinson on a 15-yard comeback on the sideline to convert a third-and-four, and found Terry Jones in the right flat for a 19-yard gain to put the Ravens at the Bills' 3.
Two plays later, Jamal Lewis followed the lead block of fullback Alan Ricard to reach the end zone from 1 yard out and staked the Ravens to a 7-0 lead midway through the first quarter.
But the touchdown spoke more about Redman's one-year progression.
In last year's preseason, Redman didn't lead a touchdown drive in 23 tries. Last night, he broke the goal line on the second series.
"We had the ball in good field position and we hit everything we needed to hit," Redman said.
An in-sync offense soon got out of rhythm after the score.
Ravens receiver Marcus Robinson should have caught a short slant, but the free-agent pickup from the Chicago Bears let the ball slide through his grasp and into the hands of closing cornerback Nate Clements. That interception set up a short touchdown drive for the Bills.
"The interception was not Chris' fault," Billick said.
Robinson was playing with the starters because Frank Sanders dislocated two toes on his right foot and left 1:24 into the game. Ravens officials said Sanders is day-to-day.
Meanwhile, the Ravens' starting defense continued its dominance in training camp and had its way with Pro Bowl quarterback Drew Bledsoe. The Ravens forced three-and-outs on the first two series and limited Buffalo to a combined 4 yards.
The only trouble followed Redman's interception, which put the Bills at the Ravens' 14. After a couple of short gains and an illegal use of the hands penalty on the Ravens' Adalius Thomas, Olandis Gary had little trouble with a 1-yard dive over a mis-aligned defense.
The game-tying touchdown with 3:06 left in the first quarter came against the Ravens' 3-4 defense instead of their beefy goal-line group. The Bills' two field goals -- the only other points allowed by the defense -- were against the Ravens' reserves.
"We had the wrong call," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said of Buffalo's touchdown. "There was a miscommunication on where the officials would mark the ball. That won't happen in the regular season."
Said Ray Lewis, who was playing his first game since shoulder surgery: "Preseason or no preseason, I don't like people getting into my end zone."
Redman's final series was stalled immediately by a similar miscommunication.
After the Bills tied the game at 7, Redman was sacked when left tackle Damion Cook didn't pick up a stunting Pat Williams. The silver lining of this mishap was Redman quickly jumping back to his feet after the 317-pound Williams hit Redman's surgically repaired back.
"I didn't even think about it when I got hit," Redman said. "It felt normal."
Anthony Wright took over as the Ravens quarterback in the second quarter and had trouble building momentum. While he was 7-for-11 for 75 yards, he didn't move the ball past Buffalo's 35.
Wright's best throw came near the end of the second quarter, connecting with Hymes on a 41-yard pass. Hymes made the play by running 20 yards after the catch, a play which set up Matt Stover's 54-yard field goal miss that closed the first half.
Wright's worst throw ended his first promising drive. He stared down Ron Johnson in the right flat, allowing linebacker DaShon Polk to get a jump and intercept the pass at the Bills' 34.
"Anthony's got to be smarter," Billick said.
Before his electric ending, Boller learned that comebacks take a little luck.
His 21-yard pass deflected off the hands of Bills cornerback Terrence McGee and into the waiting arms of Ravens receiver Ron Johnson at the 2-yard line. Dameon Hunter's 1-yard run tied the game at 13 with 7:52 remaining, but Boller still had something left for the final minute.
"I had to tell myself to slow down," Boller said. "You have a million things that you're thinking about. Toward the end, I got a little more comfortable."
Next for Ravens
Preseason opponent: Atlanta Falcons
Site: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
When: Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 45, Comcast SportsNet/WJFK (1300 AM, WQSR (105.7 FM)