- The Washington Times - Monday, September 8, 2003

PITTSBURGH — Conventional NFL wisdom says you don’t start a rookie quarterback in the season opener, especially on the road against the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yesterday, conventional wisdom was proven right.

Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller was simply overwhelmed — one might even say “Bolled” over — by the Steelers’ blitz-happy defense in his first NFL start.

Boller’s fourth pass as a professional was intercepted, he fumbled twice, he underthrew receivers and had his passes sail over their heads. He was sacked just twice but spent a good portion of the game on his back because the Steelers knocked him down countless other times.

Call it a learning experience for the 21-year-old Boller, who beat out incumbent starter Chris Redman during training camp.

Meanwhile, Steelers veteran quarterback Tommy Maddox taught the Ravens defense a few things at he passed for three touchdowns to lead the defending AFC North champions to a convincing 34-15 victory before 63,157 at Heinz Field.

It wasn’t all bad for Boller. He did pass for a touchdown when the game was out of reach and threw for a two-point conversion.

Behind Boller, the Ravens generated just 231 yards of total offense. Boller, the 19th overall pick in April’s draft, completed 22 of 43 passes for 152 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Boller finished with a 57.5 passer rating.

“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t miss some throws that I had to make,” Boller said. “I’ve got Travis [Taylor] on a post route, I couldn’t see him. I know where the ball needs to be and I need to put it out there. There’s definitely times when we could have moved the chains if I wouldn’t have made a mistake. Like I said, I’m going to make mistakes, I’m not perfect, and as long as I don’t make the same mistake twice, like I’ve been saying since day one, I think I’ll continue to get better.”

Boller’s interception came at a critical time of the game. With the Steelers leading on a 29-yard field goal by Jeff Reed in the first quarter, the Ravens got great field position after the kickoff when Chester Taylor brought the ball out to the Ravens 44.

Boller drove the Ravens to the Steelers 37, but on third-and-2 Boller forced a pass into double-covered Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap. Inside linebacker Kendrell Bell stepped in front of Heap for his first career interception.

After the interception, the Ravens offense never was the same. It converted only five of 16 third downs.

“This game was a measuring stick to see how far we came from last year, and based on the game we have a long way to go and we’ll try to close that gap beginning tomorrow morning,” said Ravens coach Brian Billick.

The Ravens ran the ball fairly well with workhorse back Jamal Lewis. Lewis had 15 carries for 69 yard and one touchdown. With the Steelers leading 27-0 in the third quarter, Lewis scored the Ravens first touchdown of the season when he went up the middle on a 14-yard run.

However, when it came to passing situations, the Ravens offensive line seemed to disintegrate. Boller was sacked twice and hurried on almost every throw. The Ravens offensive line struggled to contain the Steelers three-man defensive front of Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Kimo von Oelhoffen.

“I think that might have led to some happy feet or something,” Steelers linebacker Clark Haggans said of Boller.

After sleepwalking to a 6-0 first quarter lead, the Steelers broke open the game in the second and third quarters behind Maddox. The quarterback threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Hines Ward in the left corner of the end zone. Ward beat Ravens safety Gary Baxter on the play and gave the Steelers a 13-0 lead at the half.

In the third quarter, Maddox delivered the knockout blow. With 9:45 left in the period, he found tight end Jay Riemersma on a 20-yard post pattern for another touchdown and a 20-0 lead.

The Steelers added another touchdown after a Lewis fumble at the Ravens 27. Maddox hit Ward on a 28-yard slant for the score. The touchdown catch was Ward’s 337th of his career, moving him ahead of Hall of Fame receiver Lynn Swann for third place on the Steelers’ all-time receiving list.

“They are the team to beat, I said that before the season, I can’t imagine anyone having a different perspective now,” Billick said of the Steelers. “They’re 1-0 and the rest of us are 0-1. They’re on top and we’re all chasing them.”

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