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FINISHED

The Ravens ended Kyle Boller's season by placing the embattled quarterback on injured reserve yesterday with a shoulder injury.

Now, after five seasons of uneven play and unfulfilled expectations, is Boller's career with the Ravens over, too?

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It's not a question general manager Ozzie Newsome wanted to address.

"If you're asking me what is going to happen next year, I can see no further than the Cincinnati Bengals," Newsome said, referring to the Ravens' season opener Sunday.

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Boller, the first quarterback selected in the first round by the Ravens, becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Based on the team's quarterback situation, it's unknown whether the Ravens want Boller to return or whether Boller would want to come back.

The Ravens appear committed to rookie Joe Flacco as their quarterback of the future after drafting him with the 18th overall pick this year. The team also has Troy Smith, who can be retained through 2010, as its long-term backup.

Boller, who was unavailable for comment yesterday, likely could find an opportunity elsewhere.

A first-round pick in 2003, Boller failed to establish himself as the Ravens' starting quarterback because of inconsistency and untimely turnovers.

Rushed into the starting job as a rookie, he quickly became a lightning rod for criticism from the media and fans. The worst moment came in the 2005 season opener, when some fans among the hometown crowd cheered while Boller was on the ground writhing in pain with a toe injury.

Despite watching Boller's up-and-down career, Newsome said the quarterback, 27, has a shot to be successful in the NFL.

"If he was to continue to progress the way he was doing, then yes, I think he can still be a productive quarterback in this league," Newsome said.

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The most experienced quarterback in training camp, Boller was thrown into a competition against Flacco and Smith, who had a combined two NFL starts.

But Boller was out by the second preseason game after taking a vicious shot against the Minnesota Vikings. Even though he hadn't thrown a pass since Aug. 16, the Ravens waited as long as they could before putting him on injured reserve.

"He has got either one of two injuries, either the torn labrum or he's got, I don't know the medical term, but there's a connection in the biceps to the shoulder that might be a problem," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

"The torn labrum has not responded to the medication, and the other injury is a season-ender. He's done."

Boller's teammates were saddened by the news.

"It's unfortunate it had to happen this early in the season," said tight end Todd Heap, one of Boller's closest friends on the team.

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"He never got a chance to really get out on the field and do what he can do."

If Boller has thrown his last pass for the Ravens, the exit would be as painful as the memories.

Known for his arm strength and athleticism, Boller often showed flashes of turning the corner before stumbling because of a lack of poise. In 52 career games, he has lost 19 fumbles and thrown 44 interceptions.

But he remained a consummate professional, never lashing back at fans or pointing fingers at poor pass protection. No one could ever question Boller's toughness after watching him withstand some violent hits.

Boller has a 20-22 record as a starter (which includes no playoff starts) and has completed 56.9 percent of his passes for a franchise-record 7,846 yards in his career. He will be forever linked to former coach Brian Billick, one of his most ardent supporters.

"I don't know. I don't make those decisions anymore," Billick said about Boller's future in Baltimore. "It's been a tough road for Kyle.

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"I was quite appreciative and - quite frankly - surprised when we were able to extend Kyle's contract and that he accepted that and wanted to do that. Conventional wisdom says maybe he wanted to go somewhere else given what has happened in Baltimore. I was very appreciative, and I think it speaks to Baltimore that it meant enough for him to stay. Whether that is going to be his future going forward, that's up to him and the Ravens to decide."

Said Newsome, "He worked his butt off during the offseason program and was having his best training camp in my mind.

"To say Kyle and I are disappointed that he isn't able to play is probably an understatement."

The Ravens signed journeyman Todd Bouman to fill Boller's roster spot. Bouman, 36, who has played for five NFL teams in his 11 previous seasons, will be Flacco's backup in the season opener.

He hasn't thrown a pass in a regular-season game since 2005.

"I've been through this before," said Bouman, who was selected over free agents Joey Harrington and Chris Simms. "You just accept your role whatever it might be, whatever they ask me to do. You're one play away and have to prepare like you're going to be the starter. You've got to be ready. If you're not, then you're foolish."

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It's unknown how long Bouman will serve as the primary backup because there is no timetable for Smith's return from a tonsil infection.

Harbaugh said: "It could be weeks, and it could be next week."

Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

Season opener: Bengals @Ravens, Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 13

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1300 AM

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Line: Bengals by 1 1/2

BEST AND WORST OF KYLE BOLLER

BEST

Nov. 14, 2004 (Ravens 20, Jets 17, OT): Boller connected on two TD passes to Clarence Moore to rally the Ravens from a 14-0 deficit before directing a seven-play, 32-yard drive to set up Matt Stover's game-winning field goal. Boller was 6-for-8 for 81 yards on his final three drives after going 13-for-25 for 132 yards on his first nine.

Dec. 19, 2005 (Ravens 48, Packers 3): Boller out-dueled Brett Favre on Monday Night Football, throwing for 253 yards and three touchdowns. He shredded the NFL's top-ranked pass defense, completing 19 of 27 passes (70 percent) and producing a career-best 136.8 quarterback rating (out of a possible 158.3).

Dec. 17, 2006 (Ravens 27, Browns 17): Coming off the bench to replace the injured Steve McNair, Boller helped the Ravens secure their first playoff berth in three seasons. With the score tied at 17, he hit Demetrius Williams for a 77-yard touchdown.

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WORST

Oct. 10, 2004 (Ravens 17, Redskins 10): Boller was picked off on three straight possessions and over a span of eight throws. Each of his career-high three interceptions set up the Redskins in Ravens territory, but the Ravens' defense held them to 10 points. It marked his career-low quarterback rating (22.9).

Nov. 13, 2005 (Jaguars 30, Ravens 3): Boller threw three interceptions, the result of nonstop pressure applied by Jacksonville. He was sacked four times, including once when he was sandwiched between two Jaguars. After that sack, Boller was 10-for-21 the rest of the game.

Dec. 11, 2005 (Broncos 12, Ravens 10): Boller stymied the Ravens, with two of his three turnovers (two interceptions and a fumble) coming in the red zone. The most inexplicable mistake came one play after the Broncos fumbled at midfield in the fourth quarter: Boller fumbled while on the run with no one near him.


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