Game 3: Boller, Stover rise to occasion

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Failing to hold a big lead in the fourth quarter shouldn't come as a surprise anymore.

Yet after Matt Stover kicked a game-winning, 46-yard field goal as time expired yesterday, there was a level of amazement as the Ravens celebrated a 26-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium.

Not only did the Ravens' offense bail out the once-fearsome defense - a rare occurrence in the nine-year Brian Billick era - but backup quarterback Kyle Boller was the one who did it.

After the Cardinals tied the game at 23 with 1:50 left, Boller went 5-for-5 for 32 yards on the final drive, converting two third downs and putting the Ravens within range for Stover's 13th career game-winner.

Watching Stover's kick split the uprights on one of the end-zone stadium screens, Boller let out a scream and pumped his fist high in the air toward the sellout crowd of 71,372.

"I love that situation," said Boller, the often-criticized former first-round pick who finished 8-for-10 for 83 passing yards. "I like the pressure."

The Ravens improved to 2-1- one game behind the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North - albeit in an unconventional way.

Boller replaced starting quarterback Steve McNair with 12 minutes left in the game and the Ravens holding a 23-13 lead.

The move surprised the offensive players, including Boller and McNair, who said his injured groin was "fine." But Billick indicated that he pulled the quarterback because McNair was "favoring" it.

"Rather than push it over the edge and turn it into a two-to-three-week [injury], I think he's fine," Billick said. "We're lucky to have Kyle there."

McNair never told Billick there was a problem with the groin, and the switch at quarterback was announced during the game as a coaching decision.

Asked whether he would be ready to start Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, McNair said, "Of course I'm good. I could have finished the game."

McNair then added: "It was the smart thing to do. We were up, and I think we wanted it to rest and heal. In this league, it takes two good quarterbacks to go where you want to go."

In three quarters, McNair completed 20 of 27 passes for 198 yards and one touchdown. He led the Ravens to scores on four of seven drives.

When Boller came in, he had two forgettable series. After a three-and-out on his first possession, Boller was sacked on third down to take the Ravens out of field-goal position on his second series.

On the last drive, Boller took over at the Ravens' 20-yard line with three timeouts and 1:50 remaining in the game.

"I have a lot of faith in Kyle and what he can do on a football field," receiver Derrick Mason said. "He proved it last week, he proved it last year when he had to come in and he's going to continue to prove himself. Whenever Kyle comes in, it's never a panic in the huddle."

Boller converted a third-and-two with a 5-yard pass to Mason and then found tight end Todd Heap for 12 yards on the biggest and roughest play of the game. Going over the middle at midfield, Heap leaped in the air and was hit in the head by the shoulder of 230-pound safety Adrian Wilson.

After lying on his back for a few seconds, Heap needed help walking off the field as the referee marked off a 15-yard penalty for unnecessary roughness.

"We had an airborne receiver hit by a defender, who we called launched into him, and he had a blow above the shoulders into the head area," referee Jerome Boger said.

Boller hit Mason for a 7-yard pass that essentially set up the game-winner.

"I'm not real certain what happened after [the catch]," said Heap, who suffered a mild concussion and is considered day-to-day. "I did kind of wake up enough to see that Matt made that field goal."

Stover finished with four field goals including the final one, which was the fourth-longest game-winner of his career.

"You don't want to have to come back and do that after you're up by 17," Stover said. "But if it does happen, you have to be the guy that wants the ball. That's what it came down to."

Just a week ago, the New York Jets nearly rallied from a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter against the Ravens. Yesterday, the Cardinals (1-2) tied the game after being down 17 points (23-6) in the fourth quarter.

Replacing ineffective starting quarterback Matt Leinart, Kurt Warner led the charge back by picking on cornerback Corey Ivy, who was replacing Samari Rolle (undisclosed illness), and backup nickel back Ronnie Prude.

Using a hurry-up offense, Warner was 11-for-14 for 151 yards in the fourth quarter. He connected with Anquan Boldin for two touchdowns (5 and 32 yards) to inch the Cardinals within 23-20.

A 41-yard field goal by Arizona's Neil Rackers tied the game at 23, but Boller rallied the Ravens for their seventh straight regular-season victory at home.

"It got pretty hairy out there," Ivy said. "We continue to let them back in the game. We just have to go out and seal the deal."

The game shouldn't have been this close.

The Ravens dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for nearly 15 1/2 minutes more than Arizona. They moved the ball up and down the field with McNair and running back Willis McGahee (21 carries, 98 yards). Rookie third-round pick Yamon Figurs even returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown.

As strange as it would have sounded a couple of years ago, the Ravens consider themselves lucky to have Boller with the game on the line.

"That's what I think the league is afraid of," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "If [the defense gives] up a couple of plays, then our offense can come out and do things like that. That's why we are going to be a very hard team to beat."