Boller rescues Ravens
BALTIMORE -- Kyle Boller finished what Steve McNair started.
With McNair watching from the sideline with an injured right hand, Boller carried the Ravens into the playoffs, throwing two touchdown passes in a 27-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Because of his fine play in the Ravens' first 13 games, McNair put Baltimore in position to clinch a postseason berth by defeating the Browns. The veteran quarterback could not complete the task, however, after having his right hand cut open during the second series of the game.
Enter Boller, whose inconsistency over the previous three years caused the Ravens to trade for McNair during the offseason.
"Everybody knows life in the NFL is very tenuous when it comes to your backup," Baltimore coach Brian Billick said. "He has to be ready to play. I thought Kyle played very well today."
The Ravens (11-3) had blown a 14-point lead when Boller threw a 77-yard touchdown pass to Demetrius Williams with 5:24 left in the third quarter, and the lead stood up.
"We know we're the best defense in the NFL," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We had to go play like that."
Jamal Lewis ran 22 times for 109 yards and a touchdown for the Ravens, who are assured a spot in the playoffs for the first time since 2003. Baltimore will win the AFC North if Cincinnati loses to Indianapolis tonight.
"Making the playoffs, that's step one," Billick said. "Every team, when they show up at training camp you have the same goal. It first begins with making the playoffs, and we're there."
Cleveland (4-10) did not go down easily. Former Ravens draft choice Derek Anderson went 23 for 32 for 233 yards, and his touchdown throws to Joe Jurevicius and Braylon Edwards brought the Browns out of a 17-3 hole.
"I saw the field real well, and I had a good idea of what they were doing," Anderson said. "I made pretty good decisions for the most part. They just got me a couple of times."
Anderson completed 13 straight passes at one point. But he was intercepted twice, sacked five times and went 0 for 11 on third-down opportunities.
"We gave them too much," Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said. "And when you give good football teams yards and plays, they usually take advantage of it."
It was 17-17 when Boller dropped back and heaved the ball to Williams, who had slipped behind two defenders. The rookie caught the ball in stride at the 20, cut left and completed his journey with a dive into the end zone.
"I just wanted to put it up there nice and high for him, let him run underneath it," Boller said.
Boller, who started 34 games for the Ravens from 2003-2005, went 13 for 21 for 238 yards. He threw an interception and lost a fumble, but played well enough to prevent Billick from thrusting McNair back into action.
"You can't let the little things bother you," Boller said. "You've got to keep grinding."
With the Ravens nursing a 24-17 lead, Boller completed a 42-yard pass to Mark Clayton to set up the clinching score, a 22-yard field goal by Matt Stover with 2:53 left.
McNair left after Cleveland's Andra Davis accidentally stepped on his hand after he threw an incomplete pass. He was 0 for 4.
Baltimore took a 7-3 lead while McNair was receiving X-rays for his injury. Dawan Landry intercepted an overthrown pass by Anderson and returned it 37 yards to the Cleveland 16, setting up a 7-yard touchdown run by Lewis.
After a Cleveland punt, Boller converted three third-down plays during an 85-yard drive that put Baltimore up, 14-3. Boller went 5 for 6 for 50 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown pass to Ovie Mughelli, and ran twice for 14 yards.
Baltimore's next drive, however, ended with an interception by Leigh Bodden -- the first against the Ravens in five games. Boller fumbled a snap on the next possession, and Cleveland recovered on the Baltimore 26, but Phil Dawson missed a 47-yard field goal.
The Ravens then moved 42 yards before Stover kicked a 38-yard field goal to make it 17-3.
Anderson responded by going 6 for 6 during a 70-yard drive culminated with his 3-yard touchdown pass to Jurevicius.
The Browns held the ball for more than 11 minutes in the third quarter, but Boller found enough time to deliver the pivotal pass to Williams.