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Boller, Baltimore stifled in opener

9/8/2003

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- On a day filled with mismatches, the biggest
of all might have been Tommy Maddox against a Ravens defense
supposedly among the NFL's best.

Maddox threw three touchdowns passes, two to Hines Ward, and
Pittsburgh's defense roughed up Baltimore rookie quarterback Kyle
Boller in his NFL debut, a 34-15 Steelers victory Sunday that
wasn't that close.

Maddox, making his first season-opening start 11 years after
being Denver's first-round draft pick, was everything Boller
wasn't: decisive, accurate and effective in picking on the
defense's mistakes. Maddox went 21-of-29 for 260 yards and didn't
throw an interception, something he did only once in 11 starts last
season.

How long does Billick stick with Boller?
Boller was placed in a difficult situation against the Steelers. He had to face one of the best defenses in a tough rivalry division game. It would've been better to let the veteran QB Chris Redman play this game and let the rookie play a few series. That said, Boller is Billick's kind of QB. He's smart, tough and cocky and should hold up well in Baltimore.

Is the passing game enough to overcome for the issues at running back?
Yes, there are maybe three or four teams in the league with the firepower that the Steelers have. This is one of the most potent offenses in the NFL and they should be able to overcome the running game's issues.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

"Tommy was as confident as can be and was winging it the way he
can," offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said.

The Steelers won their opener for the first time since 1999 and
only the fifth time since coach Bill Cowher was hired in 1992. They
also won their fifth straight against Baltimore.

Pittsburgh was without Joey Porter, the All-Pro linebacker shot
last weekend in Denver, but Baltimore was mostly without an
offense. Boller had a predictable performance in his first game --
predictably bad.

He was intercepted by Kendrell Bell on Baltimore's first
possession, setting up the second of Jeff Reed's field goals, and
it didn't get much better from there. The former Cal star went
22-of-42 for 152 yards, with almost all the yardage coming after
the outcome was decided.

"It was definitely a lot faster than the preseason. I could
tell that right away," Boller said. "There were definitely some
times I could have moved the chains if I hadn't made some
mistakes."

That wasn't Maddox's problem. On Ward's second touchdown catch,
a 28-yarder that made it 27-0, Maddox noticed right away that Ward
shed his coverage. Maddox hit him in stride with no defender in
sight.

"He made a great move at the line, but I thought I was missing
something," Maddox said. "I didn't think he could get that wide
open."

Before that, Maddox repeatedly found Plaxico Burress for big
yardage, setting up each of Pittsburgh's first three scores. A
47-yarder gave the Steelers a first down at the 8 late and Ward
made a 4-yard touchdown catch two plays later for a 13-0 halftime
lead.

Burress had six catches for 116 yards and Ward had nine for 91
yards.

Maddox also hit new starting tight end Jay Riemersma on a
20-yard touchdown pass play over Ed Reed early in the third
quarter.

"When you make little mistakes against a team like Pittsburgh,
they can turn it into something big," Baltimore's Peter Boulware
said. "And we made a lot of small mistakes."

Ravens defensive star Ray Lewis, returning after missing most of
last season with a shoulder injury, said, "If Pittsburgh beat us,
I can take it, but to play like this ..."

The Ravens didn't move the ball inside the Pittsburgh 37 until
late in the third quarter. Two lengthy pass interference penalties
on Dewayne Washington led to Jamal Lewis' 14-yard scoring run.

Boller didn't complete a pass on the 65-yard drive.

"Any time you're going against a young guy, you want to keep
him confused and off-balance," the Steelers' Jason Gildon said.

Boller did throw his first NFL touchdown pass, a 5-yarder to
Travis Taylor late in the fourth quarter, after the Steelers'
Verron Haynes fumbled at his 2.
"We gave them both of their touchdowns," Burress said.

Boller's struggles weren't a surprise: Rookie quarterbacks are 3-6 since 1990 in their first games. Only two, Chris Weinke and
Peyton Manning, threw for even 200 yards.

Still, Boller didn't get much help. Star tight end Todd Heap was
limited to 55 yards on six catches; he had 146 yards receiving in
Pittsburgh's come-from-behind 34-31 victory on Dec. 29. Jamal Lewis
was held to 69 yards after running for 1,327 yards last season.

  • Notes: Just as in the preseason, the Steelers did not paint any
    logos on their new, plastic-fortified grass field. ... The
    Steelers' Amos Zereoue had 56 yards and a touchdown in his first
    season-opening start. Jerome Bettis, now the backup, had 14 yards
    on four carries before leaving with a groin injury not believed
    serious. ... Corey Fuller, signed away from the Browns, left late
    with a strained quadriceps. ... Ward moved into third place on the
    Steelers' career receiving list with 339 catches, one more than
    Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. ... In a surprise move, the Steelers
    deactivated former starting TE Mark Bruener.