Ravens' play a comedy of errors

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens' quarterback race seems more like a comedy than a competition.

In last night's 23-15 preseason loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Troy Smith nor Kyle Boller stumbled at a time when one should have taken control of the battle.

Smith had more yards rushing (35) than passing (25). Boller didn't lead the offense past the Vikings' 38-yard line.

And both threw interceptions on their last passes of the game.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh tried to shine the best light on his murky quarterback situation.

"I think they had some good moments and not so good moments," Harbaugh said. "I think they both showed they can move the football in this league."

In his first start of the preseason, Smith had little production in one half of work, completing three of five passes for 25 yards. The Ravens scored on their first series with Smith, but they were carried by rookie running back Ray Rice (55 yards on drive, including 6-yard touchdown run).

Smith didn't connect on a pass over 10 yards and was intercepted on a pass thrown behind receiver Mark Clayton.

"It felt pretty good, but there were definitely some situations where we could've done better," Smith said. "That's what the preseason is all about, where you go out and keep learning. Then you come out stronger in the regular season."

Starting the second half, Boller failed to capitalize on Smith's subpar performance, going 8-for-12 for 40 yards. He didn't complete a pass over 11 yards and was picked off by rookie Brandon Sumrall.

It's difficult to tell which quarterback is ahead when looking at the ragged ratings of Smith (33.3) and Boller (36.8).

"It's hard to say what kind of separation it was or wasn't," Harbaugh said. "You have to look at the tape."

Asked which quarterback would start the third preseason game next week, Harbaugh said, "We haven't decided yet."

Smith and Boller have floundered so badly that one reporter asked if rookie first-round pick Joe Flacco still had a chance to start the regular-season opener.

Flacco nearly led a comeback in the final two minutes of the game, throwing for 74 yards on 10-for-15 passing. His final pass - which could have helped send the game into overtime - sailed beyond the end zone and never came close to intended receiver Justin Harper.

"By the basis of practice and what [Smith and Boller have] done so far has separated themselves from Joe," Harbaugh said. "It's not to say it couldn't happen. But right now, they've moved ahead of him."

The only bright spot for the Ravens' offense was Rice, who ran for 77 yards and a touchdown.

With Willis McGahee out after having arthroscopic knee surgery, Rice took advantage of the start and some powerful blocking by his line. Bouncing to the outside time after time, the second round pick out of Rutgers hit gaping holes against last season's top-ranked run defense in the NFL.

The Vikings led the league last season by allowing 74.1 rushing yards a game. By halftime, Rice had darted for 71 yards.

Harbaugh downplayed any potential battle for the starting running back job.

"[When] Willis is healthy and he's ready to go, he's our starter," Harbaugh said. "But [Rice] played like a starter."

Much like the Ravens' offense, their defense struggled throughout the first half, allowing the Vikings to score on four of their five possessions.

The short-handed secondary - which was missing starters Chris McAlister (knee), Samari Rolle (knee) and Ed Reed (shoulder) - was picked apart by Tarvaris Jackson and Gus Frerotte, who combined for 154 yards passing and two touchdowns by halftime.

Fabian Washington and Dawan Landry had a miscommunication that led to Minnesota's first touchdown. Corey Ivy got beat on the Vikings' second touchdown. And Frank Walker got picked on throughout the entire first half.

The starting defense allowed Minnesota to convert three third downs on the opening drive, including a 23-yard pass from Jackson to rookie Martin Nance. The Ravens let Nance get wide open in the end zone because neither Washington nor Landry picked him up.

After Rice's touchdown tied the game at 7, the Vikings regained the lead on a 21-yard field goal before marching down the field again.

Frerotte, who had taken over for the injured Jackson, found receiver Robert Ferguson for a 5-yard touchdown pass, extending Minnesota's advantage to 17-7 with 6:58 left in the second quarter. It was an easy throw for Frerotte because Ferguson was open after beating Ivy to the left corner of the end zone.

The Ravens got a small dose of payback in the fourth quarter, when Derrick Martin returned an interception 22 yards for a touchdown. Cory Ross' two-point conversion closed the Ravens to 23-15.

"That wasn't Ravens defense," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "Our communication from the coaches and on the field wasn't what it should be. You can put that on me."


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