Running out of time, QBs

The Baltimore Sun

Coming into this game, the consensus was there was more riding on it than your average preseason finale. More than any other preseason finale in the entire NFL. More than any other preseason finale ever. There was no downplaying how important this was.

And what did we learn from the Ravens' 10-9 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at a half-empty M&T; Bank Stadium on a drizzly weekday night?

Uhhhhhh ... that Casey Bramlet can throw an interception at the goal line as well as any Ravens quarterback ever has. Not much else.

More than one position matters on this team, and every team, but only one can grab the attention for traditionally the least-meaningful and least-riveting game of the preseason. However, this game was notable for what it didn't resolve.

It wasn't the Ravens' fault, but they're paying the price. The countdown now begins toward the regular-season opener a week from Sunday, and they have to figure out who the starter is based on circumstances completely out of their control, as well as out of the candidates' control.

"Even if we planned to name a starter," John Harbaugh said at halftime last night, "we couldn't right now."

Grading Kyle Boller and Troy Smith on preseason first-team snaps evenly distributed must seem like a luxury now. Boller wore a cap and held the clipboard for the second straight week, and Smith was too sick to even be in the building for the second straight week. Crazy thing is, in terms of taking the field against Cincinnati, Smith and his raging fever and weakened state might have a better chance than Boller and his shoulder that might or might not need surgery.

Frankly, it was more encouraging back when the winner would be the least unprepared to take over. Who could have imagined there would be a chance that none of the quarterbacks on the roster last night might be the opening starter?

We learned a little about what Bramlet has and doesn't have - and to be fair and far less cruel than the above remark, Bramlet played decently for a guy fresh off a plane and pressed into service. We learned that much because Joe Flacco took a seat for the night early in the second quarter, after he led the Ravens to their first field goal.

The rookie's rapid elevation must have made him dizzy. Last week, Flacco was the one getting the desperate call to action, and he unexpectedly played the whole game. This week, he was the incumbent getting the veteran's early exit, safeguarded against injury.

When the games start to count, Flacco might have to repeat his effort from the game in St. Louis last week, whether he or the organization likes it or not. He didn't seem any more or less ready during his four possessions last night, although to his credit, once again he did not turn the ball over and got better the longer he played.

But whether he is up for the task is being rendered more irrelevant every day as the men ahead of him struggle with their health. Unless the Ravens maneuver their way into a veteran after NFL roster cutdowns this weekend, Flacco might be the last quarterback standing.

Harbaugh asks for no sympathy for what turned into a disastrous first preseason as an NFL head coach.

"Is it ever smooth?" he said this week. "That's one thing no one ever promised as a coach in the NFL. It's never smooth; it's never easy."

Someone must have promised him a chance to pick a starting quarterback by now, though. Right?

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

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