One of the many positive and exhilarating aspects of any NFL team's first preseason game is the opportunity for everybody to wildly exaggerate the outcome.
Did I say "many"? Make that "only."
Anyway, when the Ravens open the preseason tonight against the New England Patriots in Foxborough, Mass., never mind the madness that will ensue tomorrow morning. The overreaction to what Kyle Boller does won't even wait until he leaves the field for good. In fact, it might not wait until the second pass he throws or the second snap he takes.
He stumbled turning around to hand off! Same old Kyle. Nothing has changed. We're doomed! We want Troy! We want Brian back!
Regardless of all the other evils inherent in NFL preseason games, including bonus chances for a catastrophic injury, the Ravens, Boller and the entire wretched offense have pretty much brought that level of pessimism on themselves in recent years. (That should calm any "We want Brian back" talk, OK?)
Still, it would be best for all to follow the lead of John Harbaugh, making his NFL head coaching debut. And that of Boller himself, for that matter.
Neither the coach nor the quarterback has blown the decision to start the first game with Boller out of proportion. Harbaugh took great pains to make it clear that starting Boller tonight signaled nothing about who was leading so far in the battle to be the regular-season starter. The decision to pick a starter for tonight based solely on, as Harbaugh put it, "experience and seniority" only reflects the exceedingly sane notion that there was no way a clear-cut winner could have emerged in two weeks of training camp.
None should have with the way Harbaugh structured the competition - dividing the first-team snaps among Boller, Troy Smith and Joe Flacco and understanding that concerns about a lack of continuity and rhythm couldn't be avoided and would have to take a back seat to giving all three a fair shot.
Harbaugh said during the marathon of spring minicamps that he wasn't going to jump to any conclusions as the process moved on. He's sticking to that. A lot of assumptions have rippled through the observers in Westminster (fans and media alike) - that Smith's being named the starter is just a formality, that he has looked better more often and bad less often, that he carries himself more like a field general than the others. That he will be the starter is a pretty logical assumption to make, actually.
But if Harbaugh believes that right now, he's keeping that not only close to the vest but deep in an inside pocket. Good place to keep it without having seen any of them play against outside competition. He'll be closer to deciding after tonight, but not all the way there, and he shouldn't be.
Neither should anybody else.
Boller, meanwhile, looks and sounds as if he gets it. He knows a great showing helps his cause and a lousy one hurts it, but neither will close the door to the competition. This is just the latest step in a journey.
That's how Boller can say this Tuesday: "I can't put so much pressure on myself that I have to be perfect every play. I hope I am, but if something goes wrong, it's not the end of the world." And then say a few minutes later, without sounding contradictory or conflicted: "You want to execute and you want to do well. How I play in these games is going to determine who is going to be the starter. All of these games are important."
And it's how he can talk about needing to get the offense moving and how it's his responsibility to not only know the offense but to convey it to his teammates, while still remembering there's another week of camp and three more preseason games after tonight.
Plus, it's impossible to ignore the patched-together unit Boller will be directing tonight. As he evaluates the quarterbacks tonight and the rest of the way, Harbaugh is all but obligated to factor that in.
The bottom line is that if the worst-case scenario develops with the quarterbacks in Foxborough tonight, don't instinctively call for crisis intervention. If Harbaugh and Boller aren't, why should anybody else?
Listen to David Steele on Wednesdays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).