The Ravens' backups complicated the final preseason game, but Kyle Boller made the quarterback decision much easier.
In last night's mistake-filled 30-24 loss to the New York Giants, the first-round pick seemingly took all the suspense out of the team's open competition with a near-perfect performance before 68,169 at M&T; Bank Stadium. The Ravens (1-3) are expected to officially name their starter for the season opener at Pittsburgh over the weekend.
Five days removed from looking like a rookie in a road game against the Washington Redskins, Boller showed the decisiveness of a veteran NFL starter, producing scores on all three drives and finishing with a quarterback rating of 152.1 (out of a possible 156.3).
His duel with Chris Redman was essentially over three minutes into the game, when Boller hit Travis Taylor in stride on a 49-yard touchdown strike.
Asked who would start at quarterback in 10 days against the Steelers, coach Brian Billick said, "We'll get resolution on this Saturday. This is one more piece in the total profile."
If there was any doubt after the Ravens' longest play of the preseason, the final statistics eliminated it. Boller was 7-for-9 for 99 yards and two touchdowns; Redman was 1-for-6 for 11 yards for a rating of 39.6.
In the midst of the quarterback derby, the Ravens' reserves flopped and failed to hold a 17-point lead against the previously winless Giants (1-3). Two muffed catches, a fumble off a bad snap and a partially blocked punt led to 20 unanswered points by New York in the last 8:23 of the second quarter.
But the main story centered on Boller's success. The 19th overall pick in the draft flashed his arm strength on a couple of short hitch passes and on a post pattern to tight end Todd Heap, and he also demonstrated poise in his decision-making.
"I think I just went out there and played tonight," Boller said. "I think that last week I tried to be a little too perfect. I relaxed tonight and had much more confidence in myself."
Said Billick: "I think he had a very complete game."
Once considered the front-runner for the starting job, Redman didn't have any luck or a strong supporting effort.
Expected to enter during the second quarter, he didn't take his first snap until 6:14 left in the first half because of special teams mishaps. Then, Redman's first series ended with a bad snap from Casey Rabach, which led to a turnover.
Redman's troubles continued with shaky pass protection and dropped passes by his receivers.
"There's no excuses," a dejected Redman said. "When you go in there, you've got to play."
He offered no predictions on the quarterback race.
"I'm going to sit back and wait and see what happens," said Redman, who won three of his last four starts last year before missing the rest of the season with a back injury. "I just want to contribute whatever way I can, whether that's starting or helping out Kyle."
The players also distanced themselves from the decision.
"You never know," Taylor said, "especially since I've been through eight different quarterbacks in three years here."
In the first quarter, the Ravens showed no resemblance to the team that self-destructed against the Redskins.
Behind a more composed Boller, the Ravens' offense moved the ball at will, producing scoring drives of 71, 53 and 71 yards in the first 17 minutes.
The defense was equally dominant, pounding a Giants team playing without five starters, including quarterback Kerry Collins. In three drives against the Ravens' starters, New York managed 12 yards of total offense and no first downs.
"I told the defense if they gave me three three-and-outs, they were done," Billick said. "And the sons of guns did it."
The Giants went three-and-out on the opening series, then running back Jamal Lewis, who had averaged 2.7 yards a carry in the first three preseason games, broke a 16-yard gain on the Ravens' first offensive play. The drive was capped by Boller's scoring pass to Taylor.
After another three-and-out by the Giants, Lewis and backup Chester Taylor rushed six times for 29 yards to lead the Ravens into the red zone again. The series stalled at the New York 8, where receiver Ron Johnson was covered after running a poor route and Boller wisely threw the ball out of bounds.
Matt Stover's 26-yard field pushed the Ravens' first-quarter lead to 10-0.
The end of the first quarter was a reversal of fortune for Airabin Justin, a cornerback considered a long shot to make the roster. Over a span of 42 seconds, the undrafted rookie had a hand in turning the ball over and getting it back.
A punt hit off Justin's leg and was recovered by New York in Ravens territory. But two plays later, linebacker Johnny Rutledge stripped Ron Dayne, and Justin recovered the fumble.
The Ravens' offense then marched downfield again with a balanced game plan.
After gunning a 19-yard throw to Heap to get to the goal line, Boller sold a play-action pass and lofted a 1-yard touchdown toss to a wide-open Marcus Robinson for a 17-0 lead just over two minutes into the second quarter.
"Kyle put on a good show," Jamal Lewis said, "and we are going to put it all together."
The Ravens' near-perfect game quickly turned once their backups entered. Four miscues were converted into two touchdowns and two field goals as the Giants went into halftime ahead 20-17.
New York added a 32-yard field goal by Matt Bryant and a 6-yard touchdown run by Delvin Joyce as the margin grew to 30-17 early in the fourth quarter.
But the focus now shifts from a dismal preseason finish to the start of the regular season.
Said Billick: "I think everyone can breathe a collective sigh now."
Next for Ravens
Matchup:Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers in season opener for both teams
Site:Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
When:Sept. 7, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio:Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)
Series:Steelers lead 11-4
Last meeting:Steelers won, 34-31, on Dec. 27, 2002, in Pittsburgh