Taylor's early departure leaves Ravens with big questions

Taylor's early departure leaves Ravens with big questions
Rookie QB Tyrod Taylor walks off the Georgia Dome field to get checked out by the Ravens' medical staff. (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron)

Instead of solidifying his spot as the Ravens' backup quarterback, Tyrod Taylor added another question mark to the situation in the Ravens' preseason finale.

Taylor left the first quarter with a bruise on his left shoulder and didn't return in the Ravens' 21-7 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at a nearly empty Georgia Dome.

Hunter Cantwell (13-for-28 for 111 yards and one interception), a little-used third-string quarterback, struggled with his touch and accuracy as the Ravens' offense repeatedly stumbled and piled up the punts (a total of eight).

Taylor and coach John Harbaugh said the injury isn't considered serious.

"We'll see how serious it is tomorrow," Harbaugh said. "But it doesn't appear right now to be real serious."

Taylor, who had his left arm in a sling, didn't have his shoulder X-rayed Thursday night but indicated that tests showed no separation.

"I think it's just something minor," said Taylor, who was 2-for-3 for 16 yards. "It's a short setback. I think I'll be ready for the regular season."

Taylor's status to return to the game was listed as questionable, which could sum up his hold on the backup spot to Joe Flacco. The Ravens might have to consider signing a veteran free agent (Todd Bouman, Jake Delhomme or J.P. Losman) or pick up a quarterback cut this weekend (perhaps Sage Rosenfels from the New York Giants).

Asked whether Taylor's injury affects the decision on the backup quarterback, Harbaugh said, "It depends on who's out there. That's what affects the decision more than anything."

Taylor wasn't on his way to a convincing performance even before the injury. On the Ravens' opening drive, the rookie sixth-round draft pick threw an errant and underthrown pass just before getting hit and was intercepted by Brent Grimes.

It was a rough first quarter for Taylor, who constantly got hit from his blind side. With the Ravens sitting the entire starting offensive line, left tackle Ramon Harewood couldn't handle Kroy Biermann.

It appeared as if Biermann's hit on Taylor on the second drive injured his nonthrowing shoulder. Cantwell had to come in for the last play of the drive as Taylor headed into the locker room.

So, what conclusions were made in the preseason finale?

Bernard Pollard made a strong case to be the Ravens' starter at strong safety with three tackles, one sack and one fumble recovery in the first half. Jimmy Smith, the Ravens' first-round pick, continues to push for a starting cornerback job with physical play. Paul Kruger has found his comfort zone at linebacker and could be the other edge rusher the Ravens need on the opposite side of Terrell Suggs.

The shutout ended late in the second quarter when Smith's aggressive play deflected a pass that was intercepted by Jason Phillips at the Atlanta 24-yard line. The Ravens nearly had a touchdown, but David Reed was called for a questionable pass interference penalty after making a catch in the end zone.

Instead of the touchdown, the Ravens settled for a field goal with 1:01 left in the first half. The Falcons took a 7-3 lead in the third quarter when Antoine Smith scored on a 46-yard touchdown by outrunning two undrafted rookies, linebacker Josh Bynes and safety Nate Williams.

The backups on defense were still the strong point for the Ravens Thursday night. After Cantwell's wild pass was intercepted and returned to midfield, rookie fifth-round pick Chykie Brown made his first play of the preseason by intercepting a fluttering pass from John Parker Wilson. He returned it 65 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 10-7 lead in the third quarter.

The third turnover forced by the Ravens was created by pressure from undrafted rookie linebacker Chavis Williams, who hit Wilson and caused his pass to wobble. The play helps Brown's attempt to make the Ravens as their 10th defensive back, but he could be headed to the practice squad.

The Ravens' defense almost added to that margin in the final minute of the third quarter, when cornerback Danny Gorrer dropped an interception with no one between him and the end zone.

This marked the third straight year that Flacco didn't play in the preseason finale. A total of 15 starters didn't play Thursday night for the Ravens.

The Ravens extended their lead with a 44-yard field goal by Cundiff with three minutes remaining. Then, one play after a forced fumble by Michael McAdoo, running back Damien Berry scored a 5-yard touchdown to put the Ravens up, 20-7 with 2:32 left.

This marked the third straight year that Flacco didn't play in the preseason finale. A total of 15 starters didn't play Thursday night for the Ravens.

Now, the Ravens have to make their final major cutdown on Saturday, when the 80-player roster has to trim to 53.

"That's what this game is for. It's an opportunity to see those guys in the line of fire," Harbaugh said. "There will be some decisions made off this game."