Ravens' QB picture remains hard to look at

The Baltimore Sun

With the Ravens driving - sort of - behind Kyle Boller, deep into Indianapolis Colts territory with eight minutes left and a chance to close to within 30, Troy Smith took off his jacket and started playing catch. The remaining 5,000 or so fans in M&T; Bank Stadium noticed immediately.

"Troy! Troy! Troy!" they chanted.

There was nothing better to yell. They had long ago given up on booing Boller or anyone else. On the field, Boller scrambled out of trouble for about the 7,000th time, coming up short on fourth down at the Colts' 6-yard line. The score remained 44-13, Indianapolis. At least Boller didn't turn over the ball for a fifth time.

With 2:21 left, after a drive led by Colts backup quarterback Jim Sorgi, stalled, Smith took the field to what will pass as an ovation.

Unfortunately, Smith's NFL debut bore a resemblance to an outfielder coming in to pitch in a 30-3 game. Speaking of which, the Orioles did no such thing in that debacle last summer. Then again, they didn't have any Heisman Trophy winners on the roster that night against Texas.

This one not only took the Ravens to their second offensive touchdown - and their third overall - with 59 seconds left, he scored it himself, on the kind of run that earned him the trophy a year ago this week while at Ohio State. That made the final score 44-20. A misleading 44-20.

Also unfortunately, by then the audience on NBC had probably dwindled to something a locally-televised preseason game might envy. That loud click you heard around 9 last night was the sound of channels being changed across America, with the Colts leading 23-0 before the first quarter had ended.

There was nothing else worth watching. To hang around in the rain to root on the debut of ... well, the fifth-round pick, intriguing as he might be, was like rubbernecking at a 10-car pileup.

This is what's left for the Ravens in the final three weeks of what is now a wasted season. They've lost seven in a row, they turned their most honorable loss of that streak, against the New England Patriots last week, into something dishonorable with their griping at officials. And now they've humiliated themselves before the whole country, looking like the JV team scrimmaging against the varsity.

Now, the fans get to chant for Troy. Smith might play a little more the rest of the way. As Brian Billick said afterward, "At some point he may have to carry the load."

But this isn't much to root for. Nobody sane is thinking that Smith is auditioning for the starting job for next year; he would have to make a leap of Tom Brady- or Kurt Warner-level proportions for that to happen. Still, the present alternative is pretty grim.

Not to pin all the blame for last night on Boller - unlike the old saying about defeat being an orphan, this one had dozens of fathers - but he gets his share. His whole night consisted of running from trouble and throwing it to the other team.

His three interceptions were classic Kyle, seemingly as if he never saw the defender there. That included the one in the end zone in the third quarter, long after the drama had been drained from the game - except for the "will Troy play?" drama - but plenty gruesome anyway, straight to Gary Brackett for the second time in the game.

"They say, 'Don't miss the layups," ' Brackett said.

Sorgi then came in to replace Peyton Manning, who threw one more incompletion than Boller threw interceptions. You could say Manning's night was more the defense's failure than Boller's, especially when you consider David Pittman's coverage skills and Derrick Martin's tackling.

Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle deserve Pro Bowl berths based solely on how awful the Ravens look when they're both out.

Yes, it was one sieve of a defense. Problem is, three of the Colts' touchdowns came almost immediately after Ravens turnovers, including one Boller interception and his fumble. Those three scores all came on drives of two plays or fewer.

That is what the Ravens have been all about this season. Ugly losses. Lousy quarterback play. And wondering whether the next guy is any better. Once upon a time, more than 80 percent of fans voting online demanded Boller take over from Steve McNair.

It looks and sounds as if Election Day is near again. Some fans cast their votes last night. But by the time they did, it was a mighty small sampling. david.steele@baltsun.com

Listen to David Steele on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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