EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - On the day when the Ravens' vaunted defense and special teams both flinched, Kyle Boller exuded the unflappable poise yesterday.
On the day when injuries rained chaos on the depth chart, their second-year quarterback assumed control of the team and perhaps its playoff fate.
Throwing a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter and directing the winning drive in overtime, Boller resoundingly delivered a 20-17 Ravens victory over the New York Jets, as well as hope for a promising future.
Matt Stover's 42-yard field goal 7:25 into the extra period punctuated the Ravens' first road win over a winning team since 2001, kept the Ravens (6-3) within two games of the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers and stamped them as a team to watch in the second half of the season.
More importantly to the Ravens' offensive identity, the comeback at the Meadowlands - the Ravens trailed 14-0 with less than a minute left in the second quarter - transformed Boller from a beleaguered quarterback into a game-winning one for the first time in his 18-game career.
"You grow up watching John Elway and the other guys do it," said Boller, who had failed in three previous games to lead the decisive scoring drive. "It was an opportunity to do your thing. That's my job. That's why I am the quarterback on this team."
Trailing 14-10 midway through the fourth quarter, Boller shook off countless hits from the Jets' pass rush and began wreaking some damage himself.
The former first-round pick connected with rookie receiver Clarence Moore for their second touchdown of the game to give the Ravens their first lead with 4:13 left in the fourth quarter.
After the Ravens' defense surprisingly allowed New York to tie the game at 17 in the closing seconds of regulation, Boller continued his previously unforeseen clutch play in overtime. He converted a third-and-five at the Ravens' 49 with a 21-yard pass down the seam to Kevin Johnson, and then moved the Ravens into favorable field-goal position with a perfectly timed 10-yard throw to Travis Taylor on a hitch route.
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.
"No. 7 [Boller] has definitely grown up," Taylor said. "And we're going to lean on him."
Historically, the Ravens lean on defense and special teams, but both phases had uncharacteristically off days.
Punt returner B.J. Sams' fumble (his second of the first quarter) at the Ravens' 12-yard line all but handed New York a 7-0 lead.
The Ravens' defense then surrendered an 82-yard drive in the second quarter that was helped by an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on Ray Lewis and capped by Curtis Martin's 9-yard touchdown run.
That 14-0 margin could have ballooned further if not for a questionable play call by the Jets. At the Ravens' 17, New York decided to run a halfback Option, and LaMont Jordan's pass - which he intended to throw out of the end zone when no one was open - fell into the hands of Ed Reed.
The fifth interception for the Ravens' strong safety set up Boller's first touchdown pass to the leaping Moore, a 6-yard throw that cut the deficit to 14-7 with 40 seconds left before halftime.
"We had the momentum in the first half," coach Herman Edwards said of his 6-3 Jets, "and we let it get away."
The Ravens regained the momentum at a time when they were losing starters by the series.
They had to play the entire second half without Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister (shoulder stinger), left guard Edwin Mulitalo (broken toe) and punter Dave Zastudil (separated shoulder).
That meant little-used cornerback Corey Fuller had to run with the starters, right guard Bennie Anderson had to move to the left side, Boller had to hold on kick attempts and backup quarterback Kordell Stewart had to punt.
"Kordell Stewart is here for a reason; that's not quite the reason I thought he was in here for," coach Brian Billick said. "But that's what this team is about. The next guy had to step up. That's the thing that is so exciting about what we did today."
No one stepped up more than Boller, whose statistics are steadily improving along with his confidence.
In fact, before the second touchdown pass to Moore, Boller persuaded the Ravens' coaching staff to run a different play on third-and-11 at the New York 16. Boller had noticed in watching film during the week that Jets middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma was responsible for the deep zone coverage over the middle and knew he needed only to loft it over him to hit Moore for the touchdown.
"He asked for a play," offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh said, "and we gave it to him."
But Boller's confidence actually came from Moore, a 6-foot-6 sixth-round pick who hadn't caught a touchdown pass in his previous seven games.
"He told me from Day One, 'Throw the ball up and I'll make sure I'm coming down with it,'" Boller said. "He did that today."
If not for Boller, the Ravens would have stalled offensively.
Running back Jamal Lewis was held under 100 yards for the fifth time in seven games this year, managing 71 yards on 30 carries (a season-low 2.4 yards per attempt). The reigning NFL rushing champion even failed to score from the 1-yard line on the first drive of the game.
"We always knew Kyle had the potential," Johnson said. "He has the opportunity to lean on Jamal all the time, and those guys [the Jets] did an excellent job at stopping the run. So, now he was forced into duty and he came through."
And he came through at a time when the Ravens' playoff chances could have suffered a severe blow.
By capturing this long-awaited road victory over a winning team, the Ravens have positioned themselves for a 10-win season, which regularly gets teams into the postseason, as long as they win their four remaining home games. That begins Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, where they face the Dallas Cowboys.
"This was a huge win," Billick said. "You can't overstate the way this team did it to win on the road."
Ravens' overtime games
The Ravens have won their past three games that have gone to overtime and are 5-3-1 in their history in OT:
Date, Opponent, Result, Winning score, Time left
10/27/96, Rams, W, 37-31, Jackson 22 TD catch, 0:10
11/24/96, Jaguars, L, 28-25, Hollis 34 FG, 5:54
11/2/97, at Jets, L, 19-16, Hall 37 FG 10:02
11/16/97, Eagles, T, 10-10
10/3/99, at Atlanta, W, 19-13, Armour 54 TD catch, 12:31
11/16/03, at Dolphins, L, 9-6 Mare 43 FG, 8:48
11/23/03, Seahawks, W, 44-41, Stover 42 FG, 6:32
12/28/03, Steelers, W, 13-10, Stover 47 FG, 11:32
11/14/04, at Jets, W, 20-17, Stover 42 FG, 7:35
Taking to the air
With running back
held to 71 yards on the ground, the Ravens had a season-high 12 first downs via the pass. It was the third consecutive game the Ravens have recorded more first downs with the pass than with the run.
Opponent, 1st downs rushing, 1st downs passing at Cleveland, 5, 9
vs. Pittsburgh, 8, 6
at Cincinnati, 10, 4
vs. Kansas City, 5, 6
at Washington, 9, 4
vs. Buffalo, 7, 4
at Philadelphia, 5, 10
vs. Cleveland, 5, 8