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At last, Boller shows why he was first-round pick

THE BALTIMORE SUN

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Now, it's time to talk about Kyle Boller possibly being a legitimate NFL quarterback. He still has a long way to go, but Boller finally reached a major milestone yesterday.

On a day when his offensive line was horrendous and running back Jamal Lewis couldn't find an inch much less a yard, Boller survived a beating and carried the offense in the Ravens' 20-17, overtime win over the New York Jets.

Finally, he played like a No. 1 draft pick. Finally, he made throws like Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer, where he left your mouth agape. Finally, he directed late drives, one in the fourth quarter and the other in overtime. As the Ravens ran off the field in celebration of their first road win against a team with a winning record in three years, there was a sense of relief for Boller.

He won the game, and in front of a large television audience, and in New York.

"I thought he was outstanding," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "He had two other opportunities, should have had one of these things happen earlier. That was the next thing for Kyle to do, to take a team on a game-winning drive. It's all part of the evolution."

Boller's numbers, 19 of 33 for 213 yards, weren't spectacular, but they don't need to be in a West Coast offense. The key is efficiency and accuracy on the short passes, the staple of the offense.

Billick and Boller have taken criticism for not opening up the passing game, but they're playing it right. The offensive line doesn't pass-block well, and Boller is inconsistent on intermediate and long passes, even though he's getting better with the mid-range stuff. Seven receivers caught passes of 14 yards or more yesterday.

But more importantly, this is a team in search of an offensive leader that has been missing since Trent Dilfer left after the 2000 season. Boller didn't earn that status yesterday because of one victory, but at least he's making progress toward it. You earn respect by taking charge and having a presence in the huddle.

But nothing gets a teammate's attention quicker than winning games.

"He was excited. Everybody was excited because we knew we had it in us," said rookie receiver Clarence Moore. "We were just a play away every time. Nobody got down at any time during the game at all."

Boller said: "This feels good, finally. I got another opportunity and pulled it off. I've been through some hard times, taken some criticism, so this feels great."

Boller actually made all the throws an NFL quarterback is supposed to make, and some of them came in crunch time. Touch or soft passes had been lacking from his game, but Boller made two for touchdowns with high, lofting passes to Moore, the last one with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter.

During the game-winning drive in overtime - seven plays and 32 yards - Boller threw a perfect 21-yard pass over the middle to receiver Kevin Johnson on third-and-five from the Ravens' 49, a pass that sailed over the head of cornerback Donnie Abraham and in front of safety Erik Coleman.

Three plays later, he converted on a curl-in route to Travis Taylor for 10 yards, setting up Matt Stover's game-winning field goal.

"It was a team effort. I was just out there trying to do my job," said Boller.

He didn't get a lot of help from his supporting cast. Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson, the Ravens' former secondary coach, kept the Ravens' offensive line off balance most of the afternoon with an assortment of blitzes.

And when New York wasn't blitzing, the Jets were winning a lot of man-to-man battles along the front lines. Boller was sacked three times and hurried numerous others. He managed to get a lot of passes off just through sheer athleticism.

The running game was just as poor as the pass blocking. Lewis had only 71 yards on 30 carries. When the running game isn't going and Boller is getting harassed, it usually adds up to an easy loss.

But with the Ravens down 14-0 in the first half, the Boy Quarterback kept the Ravens in the game. If there hadn't been several drops, Boller may have thrown for close to 275 yards.

His best pass of the game may have come with 7:42 remaining in regulation. Taylor was going across the middle, and Boller delivered a dart through three people. He was just as impressive in looking off receivers and then showing enough patience to throw to his running backs in the flats.

His feet never got nervous, not even with the pounding he took from Jets defensive end John Abraham.

"He is now in his second season, and he's playing like he's seen these things before, and it's exciting to watch," said Billick.

The next step for Boller is consistency. He now has shown it from play to play, quarter to quarter and at times game to game, but not consistently enough.

But at least we're talking about his being a legitimate NFL quarterback these days. He actually won a game. There's a real sign. Finally.

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