Boller shows his confidence is well deserved

The Baltimore Sun

Kyle Boller was one of the last ones to leave the locker room. Why rush out the door? This was a feeling worth savoring.

He wore a smile that made it tough to remember that the guy has endured the kind of verbal abuse that would force most of us to rack up quite a therapy bill.

"I never paid attention to it," he said, "If I did, I wouldn't be here right now."

For four quarters, Kyle Boller made you forget all about Kyle Boller. The butt of jokes and target of endless criticism the past few years, Boller started in place of an injured Steve McNair and was key in the Ravens' first win of the young season, yesterday's 20-13 victory over the New York Jets.

The performance was noteworthy as much for what Boller didn't do as it was for what he did.

When the pocket collapsed, he didn't panic.

When a split-second decision was needed, he didn't allow the other team to react first.

When a play broke down and it came time to throw it away, he didn't allow defenders to have a play on the ball.

"That's kind of different from the past, when maybe sometimes he tried to force things," tight end Todd Heap said. "He made some good decisions when we needed them."

It wasn't necessarily the kind of game that provides film for highlight reels, but it was important nonetheless. It was a step in regaining the confidence of his teammates, his coaches and a skeptical fan base. It was a workmanlike performance, 23 of 35 for 185 yards, a pair of touchdowns and just as important, zero interceptions.

"Kyle just went out and did what he was supposed to do," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "He played efficient football, and efficient football is often overlooked."

You could tell Boller was comfortable in there, a description no one would have used not long ago. And he should have been - for the first time in his career, he could scan the offensive huddle and notice a change in the talent around him. In his failed three-year tryout as the Ravens' starter, Boller never had a supporting cast like the one yesterday.

The last time Boller started a game was at the end of the 2005 season, and not only did he look different yesterday, but the entire offense looked different. Boller was sacked 29 times in nine games in 2005. Yesterday, he wasn't sacked once.

"I don't think I got hit one time," he said.

He had a lot more receiving targets yesterday, which means a more varied offense. It helped him lead two impressive touchdown drives in the first half, both capped by short touchdown throws. On the first, Boller was 6-for-6 for 53 yards. And on the second, he was 4-for-6 but, more importantly, he ran for two first downs. The first was a keeper up in the middle, and even though he took a tough shot to the head - "That's football," he said later - he popped back up and scrambled for 12 yards on the next play.

"He orchestrated the game plan very, very well," head coach Brian Billick said. "With a great deal of poise."

Boller's performance didn't spark a quarterback controversy, but it should quell criticism - at least temporarily - of the Ravens' recent decision to extend his contract. McNair is always one hit away from the training room, and as long as he's atop the depth chart, the Ravens' No. 2 quarterback is going to get some playing time. Boller's contract extension upset some stomachs in Baltimore, but his presence on the roster suddenly feels somewhat reassuring given the fact that McNair has a frequent-customer punch card to some of the country's finest hospitals.

"Any time you win in this league, you've got to have two good quarterbacks to go where you want to go," said McNair, who hopes to be ready for next week's game against the Arizona Cardinals. "It's hard for one quarterback to play 16 games."

Boller says the game seemed "easier," than earlier in his career. As he's become more accustomed to the view through his facemask, the defenses appear to move slower, he recognizes more formations and seems to better understand where defensive backs might be prowling. Most importantly, he's had time to mature. The pressure isn't as daunting because "I feel more comfortable with myself," he says.

Boller said plenty of people have asked him in the past couple of weeks why he agreed to an extension that keeps him a city that had largely given up on him. He could have opted for a fresh start somewhere, a new town and a new system. To hear him say it, it sounds like a no-brainer, though. "I'm glad to be here," he says. "This is where I want to be."

Everyone gave up on Kyle Boller except for Kyle Boller. And it's a good thing he didn't. If his newfound comfort level results in more performances like yesterday's, the Ravens won't have to hold their breath every single time McNair feels a tinge of pain.

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