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What A Kickoff!


The Ravens still have multiple questions up and down the roster, but Thursday's preseason opener against the New England Patriots at least provided a few answers.

While a 16-15 victory was a nice way to kick off head coach John Harbaugh's career in Baltimore, the chance to evaluate many less-heralded Ravens was the real reward.

Harbaugh got a good look at all three quarterbacks vying for the Ravens' starting job, saw some success from a potentially potent offense under coordinator Cam Cameron and got solid contributions from role players and new additions.

Quarterback Kyle Boller got the starting nod over Troy Smith and Joe Flacco, and the six-year veteran immediately showed he is comfortable leading the revamped unit. On the first play of the game, Boller hit wideout Derrick Mason with a 21-yard dart, followed by 12- and 16-yard completions.

Four minutes later, Matt Stover converted a 42-yard field goal, and the Ravens' never relinquished the lead.

"We drove down the field right away and put some points on the board that first drive," Boller noted. "The main thing we wanted to do early was not turn it over and put points on the board."

In fact, after the first quarter, Baltimore's 117 yards of total offense was 99 more than their rivals. Although the Ravens had starting tackles Adam Terry and Jared Gaither out due to ankle injuries, play-action passing gave backups Mike Kracalik and Chad Slaughter some help holding the edges.

"That was in the game plan," Boller explained. "We'd been working on that a lot. The guys did a great job giving me time to sit back there and make my reads. I give those guys a lot of credit."

When Boller left the game after throwing an interception to linebacker Shawn Crable with 6:38 left in the first half, he was 11-of-15 for 102 yards. Boller also lost a fumble when he was sacked by former Raven Adalius Thomas.

"It was good to see Kyle make plays," said Harbaugh. "Our receivers got open, and we looked like we were in a rhythm. You take those two plays out there, and he had a great game. Those are the two plays that we go back and work on this week."

The other two Ravens' signal-callers did not fare quite as well, but that didn't stop Harbaugh from naming Smith the starter for next week's preseason matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.

Smith led two drives that resulted in field goals. He completed 5 of 12 passes for 74 yards, including a 30-yard attempt Harbaugh called "an NFL throw," but also benefited from a fumble recovery in Patriots territory.

Flacco had the toughest outing, entering midway through the final period. The first-round draft pick badly missed his first receiver, and then fumbled away his second snap. His next series was marked by another incomplete pass and a sack.

The rookie out of Delaware had a chance to score when the Ravens went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Patriots' goal line, but a pass to Justin Harper also fell to the turf.

Flacco took his professional debut in stride.

"I thought I had one there," he said with a chuckle. "I had a guy and I put it up there, but then it seemed like the defender was 13 feet tall.

"This was just the first game, but it's good to get that out of the way. I think I feel more comfortable. Obviously, it's different than what I'm used to, but you go through that the first time you play in high school and the first time you play in college."

The Ravens' defense was stifling despite missing several key starters. Cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, safety Ed Reed, defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg, and linebacker Terrell Suggs were all out of the lineup. Linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive lineman Trevor Pryce only saw a handful of plays.

In addition, defensive tackle Kelly Talavou (shoulder), linebacker Prescott Burgess (wrist) both left to injuries.

Still, the unit harassed New England's trio of quarterbacks into six sacks, three interceptions and a lost fumble.

"I want to credit the defense," Harbaugh said. "We had [5-foot-8, 186-pound safety] Jimmy Leonhard playing on the line. We ran out of linebackers, so we had to bring safeties up to play linebacker. Coaches were yelling out assignments out from the sideline. That was for about a quarter and a half, really.

"That was pretty impressive by the whole group."

Fabian Washington, acquired this offseason in a trade with the Oakland Raiders, was one of the brightest stars in the secondary. He posted two interceptions and two passes defensed. Ronnie Prude came up with the final pick with 1:50 left in the contest to seal the win.  

Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo also was a surprise performer. Known more for his special teams prowess, the two-time Pro Bowl special teamer led the Ravens with eight tackles and a sack. Ayanbadejo's biggest play, however, came when he deflected a pass on a two-point conversion that would have put the Patriots up 17-16.

The Ravens got a big spark out of special teams, as Yamon Figurs set up two scores with a 52-yard punt return and a 48-yard kickoff return.

Harbaugh was delighted with the overall play of the team.  As is often repeated in the Baltimore locker room, the head coach feels his new team "played like Ravens," which may have been more gratifying than the final outcome.

"They came up here to compete, and be physical, and be disciplined, and play hard, and run, and do all the things we want to do as a football team," Harbaugh said.   "That's probably more gratifying than the victory."

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