First quarter crucial for Ravens this Sunday

This Sunday, as the Ravens and Texans square off at M&T Bank Stadium, some moments will be predictable. The national anthem will be sung, the whistle will blow and we'll all hear that familiar thump made as leather impacts pigskin on the opening kickoff.

After that, expect chaos over the first 15 minutes. Like Preakness thoroughbreds, Sunday is likely to be a sprint right out of the gates. Based on both teams' bodies of work to date, he who trails after the first quarter could very well be trailing when the clock runs down in the fourth.

"They've jumped out to big leads in the first quarter, big leads in the first half," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "We've done pretty well in the first quarter, too. So something has got to give. It's going to be really important, I think, to start the game well. Both teams are going to try to do that."

The Ravens' biggest challenge will be getting the gears going after a week off. Often, what players gain from the bye week in terms of injury recovery is counteracted by a loss of intensity in their first game back. Finding a way to turn on the switch will be crucial.

"We want to start fast each week, especially this week," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. "I think it is even more important just because Houston has been starting pretty quick themselves. We want to get out and put pressure on them right away."

This Sunday, neither the Ravens nor the Texans can afford to pace themselves. Houston has scored on each of its last four opening possessions, including touchdowns in the last three games. Matt Schaub's offense has scored 24 points on opening drives this season and is averaging 10.4 plays and 69.6 yards per opening drive.

The Ravens have outscored their opponents 52-7 in the first quarter this season. They are coming off a win over the Jets in Week 4 in which explosive plays defined the first quarter. The Ravens had a 17-7 lead going into the second quarter.

On Sunday, a 10-point first-quarter lead might not be enough. Remember, in their 2010 meeting, the Ravens watched a 21-0 second-quarter lead dwindle as Houston forced overtime. The Ravens pulled out the win thanks to a Josh Wilson.

Ravens running back Ray Rice learned from last year's contest. Getting comfortable is not an option this Sunday.

"What I remember with them last year is how we were up, and just as fast as we were up, we were down," said Rice. "What the team is doing this year is no surprise.

"It's going to be a great challenge for us coming off a bye week to go out there and play at a high level."

We'll find out early in those first drives this Sunday whether or not the Ravens are up for that challenge.