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Game Recap: Ravens at Rams


In his first professional start, rookie Joe Flacco received a crash course in quarterbacking.

Thrown into the fire when Troy Smith succumbed to a viral illness hours before the Ravens were to take on the St. Louis Rams and Kyle Boller was uncomfortable throwing in pregame warm-ups, Flacco finished 18-of-37 for 152 yards while playing the entire game.

Meanwhile, his counterpart put on a clinic against a banged-up Ravens defense that was missing four starters.

Slicing through an Ed Reed- and Chris McAlister-less secondary, two-time Pro Bowler Marc Bulger completed 18 of 25 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a 24-10 Rams victory.

Flacco's inexperience - and energy - showed on his first attempt of the game, when he sailed a softball over Derrick Mason's outstretched hands in the opening quarter.

"I was a little amped up," Flacco said with a chuckle. "I had to calm myself down a little bit, and as the game went on, I felt like I did.

"I felt like the whole game experience and getting out there and playing four quarters in a row was good for me."

For the wide-eyed rookie, it was a tale of two halves that reflected his quick maturation.

Baltimore managed only three first downs the entire first half, failing to take advantage of positive field position spurred by a 37-yard kickoff return by Yamon Figurs and a blocked punt from Tom Zbikowski.

"We have to score touchdowns when we get the chance, and we had one after the blocked punt," said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "That was a great opportunity, but we didn't get in. We didn't get many opportunities in the first half, and that's our fault. We have to keep the ball, convert third downs."

It wasn't until Flacco began the second half with a seven-play, 75-yard scoring drive that the first-round draft pick seemed to find a rhythm. But by that time, it was too late.

Matt Stover's 22-yard field goal at 4:17 in the first quarter answered a 37-yard boot from kicker Josh Brown that opened the night.

Then Bulger caught fire.

The eight-year veteran worked on backup cornerbacks Frank Washington and Corey Ivy, with the added insurance of having the Ravens' top two defensive tackles out, to engineer 14 second-quarter points.

On one scoring drive, Bulger was 5-of-5 for 46 yards, capping it with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Burton. He followed that with a 12-play, 91-yard two-minute drill that ended on a 1-yard strike to Travis Minor.

"We don't care who is out there; we have to play like Ravens," said defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. "We need to play faster and more physical. We let them stay on the field forever in the first half. That's not acceptable in the preseason, not acceptable ever."

Flacco's second-half march may have come behind a first-string offensive line against many Rams subs, but it did offer a glimpse into what the Delaware All-American can do.

Flacco came out of the locker room on the same page with Mason, who had catches of 8, 8 and 30 yards before hauling in a pinpoint fade pass in the end zone from 15 yards.

Rams signal-caller Brock Berlin countered with a seven-play touchdown march that was blown open with a 40-yard connection with Burton, who was open behind Ivy. Former Maryland running back Lance Ball punched the ball across the goal line for the score.

"We have a lot of people out, but that's still no excuse," said cornerback Samari Rolle, who saw his first preseason action. "We didn't get off the field on third downs as much as we should have. We missed some tackles. We have to fine-tune our game and get better."

The Ravens were hoping to answer some questions regarding their Week 1 starter, but the situation under center remains muddy as ever.

Smith was originally inked as the starter in St. Louis, but he battled a virus for the past few days and was unable to even make the trip to the Edward Jones Dome with the team. A forlorn Smith was seen walking in the locker room after the game, where he was equal parts ill and disappointed he lost a chance to seize the starting role.

"He is still sick or he would have played," Harbaugh said. "I think he would have played with any type of sickness, but he could not do anything. He could not move; he couldn't speak.

"He tried like crazy, but he just couldn't do it. It pushes us back with the process. We had a hope or a thought that might have been answered tonight with Troy, but he did not have an opportunity to show that and we will make that decision as we go."

Boller would have taken over for the former Heisman Trophy winner, but he experienced pain in his throwing shoulder during pregame warm-ups after taking one particularly nasty hit in last week's preseason game.

That left Flacco, who as of Wednesday was all but ruled out of starting any preseason contest with the Ravens still determining who will helm the offense Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Ravens will now most likely use next week's matchup with the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium as the final proving ground for Smith.

"I think it is a possibility [that Smith starts versus the Falcons], but we have to talk about it," Harbaugh stated in his post-game press conference. "We have to see how Kyle is doing and we have to see how Troy is doing and that is something we don't have to do at midnight tonight."

With Boller hurting and Smith infirmed, Flacco knows Saturday's start was simply as a plug-in player.

To Flacco, it was more of a learning experience than a professional debut as *the *guy.

"It was a really good chance for me to get in there and get my feet wet," he said. "There were things I would like to do better, but it will be great to get back with the film and learn from this."

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