Kyle Boller has shown vast improvement during his second NFL season.
However, Baltimore’s blossoming quarterback will face his biggest challenge of the season, and perhaps his young career, when the Ravens visit the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium.
Boller endured a rough rookie campaign after the Ravens drafted him in the first round in 2003. He completed just over half of his passes, threw seven touchdowns and nine interceptions and finished with a passer rating of 62.4 in 11 games, eventually losing his starting spot to journeyman Anthony Wright.
But Boller has bounced back in a big way this year, and has been especially consistent of late, leading the Ravens to a 5-1 mark since Oct. 10 while throwing just one interception over the last five weeks.
On Sunday, Boller stepped up to assume more of a leadership role after the Ravens failed to score in the first half against Dallas. After delivering a pep talk to his offense, Boller threw two third-quarter touchdown passes as Baltimore rolled to a 30-10 win over the Cowboys, their third straight victory.
“We kind of got stalled in the first half, but that’s the beauty of a four-quarter game,” said Boller, who fashioned the comeback without injured running back Jamal Lewis.
“I just rallied the guys and told them we still got two quarters, so let’s go out and score 21 points.”
Criticized for his erratic play earlier in the season, Boller went 23-for-34 for 232 yards in his third straight game without an interception.
Things should get significantly tougher for Boller this weekend.
Not only will he be going against New England’s complex defensive schemes, he’ll have to do so without Lewis, the NFL’s reigning rushing champion.
Lewis left in the first quarter with an ankle injury Sunday after gaining just five yards on two carries. He roamed the sideline in uniform during the second half, but the Ravens evidently didn’t want to risk further injury to his tender left ankle.
On Wednesday, the Ravens ruled him out completely.
“He’s definitely out this week,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said. “Bottom line, doctors are optimistic that he’ll be able to go next week.”
Lewis’ absence will put even more pressure on Boller to produce against a team that has lost just once in its last 25 games. But the 23-year-old insists he’s ready.
“We’ve dealt with adversity all year. It’s tough not having Jamal in there, but Chester (Taylor) is going to have to step up and make plays,” said Boller.
“This is a huge game for me. I want to play smart, not turn the ball over and make good decisions.”
The Patriots have responded well to having their NFL-record 21-game winning streak snapped in Pittsburgh last month, rolling to three straight wins, including Monday night’s 27-19 triumph at Kansas City.
Pursuing his third Super Bowl title in four years, Brady feels the Patriots are still in search of their best performance.
“We’re still trying to improve,” Brady said. “We left some points out on the field tonight. I think everyone’s just glad we won this game.”
Brady will have to contend with a Baltimore defense that has surrendered a league-low 140 points, including 17 or fewer in each of the last five weeks.
The Patriots are averaging 32 points since their loss to the Steelers, beating opponents by just over 16 points per game.