Game 12: Last-ditch drive

Trailing by two points with 64 seconds left in the game, Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller stood deep in his own territory and in the middle of a half-empty M&T Bank Stadium.

He didn't have any timeouts. He didn't have three starters on the offensive line. And judging by the hometown crowd storming the exits, he didn't have any margin of error left in a much-maligned career.

Withstanding the pressure - including an all-out blitz on his final, 35-yard pass to Mark Clayton - Boller came through for the first time in the final minute of a game, setting up the game-winning field goal and allowing the Ravens to escape with a sloppy 16-15 win over the hapless Houston Texans yesterday.

Matt Stover's 38-yarder with six seconds remaining led to jubilation, sighs of relief and a new hope for the Ravens (4-8), albeit in a victory against the hopeless Texans.

By driving the length of the field - 67 yards on four completions - the Ravens say Boller might have finally turned the corner.

"When you're in a position like that, to be able to stand in the pocket knowing they are bringing the world and to make that big throw, that's what the quarterbacks who become great do," receiver Derrick Mason said. "I think Kyle is on that road."

In the Ravens' eyes, it didn't matter that the Texans have the worst record in the NFL at 1-11 or that Houston allowed a rookie quarterback out of Harvard to lead a similar comeback just a week ago.

Their focus was on the final drive, when Boller hit double-covered tight end Todd Heap for 24 yards to convert a third down and connected with rookie receiver Clayton for 11 yards to move across midfield.

Then, with 20 seconds left at the Houston 45-yard line, Boller realized eight Texans defenders would again be rushing against seven Ravens blockers. Instead of going to his hot read (the short route against a blitz), Boller shot a glance at Clayton before the snap.

Just as the unblocked defender would reach him, Boller zipped a 9-yard pass over the middle to Clayton, who made safety C.C. Brown miss and then raced to the 10-yard line before getting tackled out of bounds.

The 35-yard play - which matched the longest pass for Boller this season - put the Ravens in field-goal position, even after a penalty pushed them 10 yards back. After Stover's 11th career game-winner sailed through the uprights, Boller was the most emphatic player on the sideline, pumping his fist to what remained of the crowd.

"It's a great win for us," Boller said. "We still have a lot of work to do. But the way it ended was kind of sweet."

The Ravens have said that these final five games were pivotal for Boller and likely would determine how they address the quarterback position next season. Assessing yesterday's performance, coach Brian Billick indicated that the ending provided a more lasting effect.

In the first 59 minutes, Boller was 13-for-26 for 121 yards. In the final minute, he was 4-for-5 (not including two spikes to stop the clock) for 77 yards.

"Every time you live through something like that, it adds to the resume," Billick said. "That's one that he can now put a notch on his belt and hopefully we can build on it."

For the most part, the game followed the script of a matchup between two of the worst teams in the NFL.

The teams combined for nine fumbles, 14 punts and 19 penalties.

Ravens running backs Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor each fumbled in Ravens territory. They combined for 57 rushing yards against the league's most futile run defense. The Ravens even saw a punt return for a touchdown get nullified after they were called for two penalties on the play.

In the end, the Ravens gave up the lead in the fourth quarter twice to the Texans (who ranked 31st in offense and 30th on defense) only to take it back in dramatic fashion.

"Emotionally, it upsets you to see somebody come into your house and almost win the game," tight end Daniel Wilcox said. "They shouldn't have been close to winning this game, but we allowed that to happen."

It was the Ravens who received help on their only touchdown drive. Three penalties on Houston linebacker Antwan Peek gave first downs to the Ravens' 12-play series, which was capped by Boller's 6-yard plunge into the end zone.

After the Ravens went ahead 7-3 nearly two minutes into the second quarter, their offense wouldn't cross midfield again until the final drive. That meant it was up to their defense, which held their third opponent of the season out of the end zone.

The Texans did take a 9-7 lead early in the fourth quarter after a drop in the end zone by Andre Johnson forced them to settle for a 22-yard field goal.

Later that quarter, the Ravens' defense responded when linebacker Adalius Thomas caught a deflected pass and ran 20 yards untouched for a touchdown. The first score by the defense this season gave the Ravens a 13-9 advantage with 7:16 left in the game.

"It took a couple of days for the ball to come down," Thomas said about scoring his second career touchdown. "I felt like I was just like Prime Time [teammate Deion Sanders]."

Houston surprisingly battled back with a couple of field goals, the last being sparked by an inexplicable fair catch by kickoff returner B.J. Sams at his 10-yard line and a three-and-out by the Ravens' offense.

The Ravens rebounded, as well, but nothing came easy yesterday. On the final catch by Clayton, Mason was called for an illegal block, turning a 28-yard field goal into a 38-yard one.

"Yeah, effort-wise I think we can pick it up a little bit, as well as execution," Stover said. "But with regard to making the plays when we had to at the end of the game, that excites me."

The Ravens, who moved into a tie with the Cleveland Browns for last place in the AFC North, played without six starters. Their offensive line was hit the hardest after left tackle Jonathan Ogden (hamstring) joined right tackle Orlando Brown (back) and right guard Keydrick Vincent (thigh) on the sideline after two series.

That's why the Ravens felt there was no reason to justify them slipping past the NFL's only one-win team.

"I'd rather win ugly than lose great," linebacker Bart Scott said. "You take a win in this league when you can get it. I don't care if it's Dunbar High School in a scrimmage. Whenever you get one, you celebrate it and move on."