I would make the claim that the Ravens' offense looked as good in the first half of Sunday's win over the Panthers as it's looked at any point in the Joe Flacco era.
The Ravens were up 7-0 after their second offensive play of the game, had a 10-point lead following their second possession, and added another touchdown late in the second quarter.
Baltimore didn't punt the ball away once in the first half, and if not for two fumbles, things could have gotten ugly in Carolina.
Flacco and the offense moved the chains 16 times in the first two quarters, and put up a ridiculous 258 yards of total offense. Minus the turnovers, it was exactly the offensive performance that people have been waiting to see from this group.
Then, just like that, all the momentum was gone.
The Ravens had only three total first downs on their first five possessions of the second half, and only six in the half overall. They only got six offensive points in the half, three of which were a direct result of a David Reed 84-yard kickoff return that the Ravens were unable to turn into a touchdown.
They punted on five of their seven possessions after halftime, went 1-of-8 on third downs, and had just 120 total yards of offense.
Was this really the same group that had torched the weak Panthers defense in the first half; the same Flacco who was on his way to possibly the best showing of his pro career? What happened in the third quarter that got the Ravens out of their comfort zone and made the end result against Carolina much closer than it should have been?
"I think it started with the red zone after the kickoff return when we weren't able to score a touchdown down there," head coach John Harbaugh said. "That was a little bit disappointing, and I think we had a receiver fall down one time, and [there were] just execution issues - basic execution issues that we could have done a better job with.
"After that we got in third-and-long, and we couldn't really make anything happen. We'd get six yards on a play, and then we try to take a shot into the end zone and end up throwing a ball out into the flat and get tackled for a 6-yard loss, and all of a sudden you're back at third-and-10. I think that kind of characterizes what happened, and third-and-10s are tough to convert. So, we really didn't stay on schedule, and therefore we didn't convert on third down."
To Harbaugh's point, here are the third down distances that the Ravens faced on their seven second half possessions:
3rd and 7
3rd and 8
3rd and 10
3rd and 6
3rd and 24
3rd and 16
3rd and 5
3rd and 2
Six of those eight third down situations were of the third-and-long variety (needing six or more yards).
Conversely, the Ravens only let themselves get to third down three times in the first half, and only one of those was a third-and-long.
You're not going to be successful offensively when you put yourself in situations where you need to pick up big yardage on clear passing downs. It simplifies the defense for your opponent and allows them to tee off on your quarterback, which the Panthers did in the second half.
The Ravens did a nice job staying out of third downs, and especially third-and-longs, in the first half, and it led to positive results. If they can carry that to a full 60 minutes, we might see the type of offensive display that we've been looking for out of this group this season.