The spotlight has been fixed squarely on the Ravens’ defense for years. Just maybe, Monday night’s season-opening performance is an indication that things are changing for the purple and black.
The defense did fine, and contributed plenty toward the 44-13 win over Cincinnati, but this night was about Joe Flacco and a balanced attack that shredded a Bengals defense that ranked among the NFL’s best a year ago.
Flacco went 21-for-29 for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions, spreading the ball around to seven different receivers and giving plenty of reasons to hope that this is the year the Ravens’ offense catches up to the team’s defense.
That’s not to say that Baltimore’s D won’t be crucial to the team’s success. But the kind of offensive leap the Ravens indicated might be ahead could make the prognosticators who see this team in the Super Bowl look awfully good.
Baltimore scored its most points in a regular season game since a 48-3 win over the Lions on Dec. 13, 2009. And there were plenty of people who helped the Ravens gain 430 yards in an impressive Game 1.
Ray Rice ran 10 times for 68 yards and two touchdowns. After missing most of training camp with a broken hand, tight end Dennis Pitta made five receptions for a career-high 73 yards and a touchdown. Anquan Boldin added four catches for 63 yards and a score.
But the attention was definitely on Flacco, who coach John Harbaugh acknowledged is an elite quarterback in his eyes. How good does Harbaugh believe Flacco can be?
“Scary good,” Harbaugh said. “We know what we’ve got in this guy. He’s won a lot of football games. ... Joe Flacco’s going to be a great player. Joe Flacco is a great player. Joe Flacco has been a great player. Sure, he’s elite. Of course he is.
“He’s a winner. He’s one of the toughest quarterbacks I’ve ever been around. He’s the best quarterback I’ve ever been around. What does that say? Probably not much. I haven’t been around a lot of quarterbacks. I’m a special teams coach. But I will say what we’ve always said: He is our quarterback and that’s good enough for us.”
Could 15 more performances like Monday night’s have Flacco in for a big payday? Harbaugh threw his two cents in about whether the fifth-year passer is worth it.
“Pay him whatever he asks for. Pay the man,” Harbaugh said, drawing laughs from all in attendance, including Flacco.
Flacco was his humble self, mostly, saying that he thinks he’s been “pretty damn good every week,” not just a select few contests like Monday’s.
He did admit that playing at a higher tempo, one Harbaugh indicated has been partially the quarterback’s call, was as much fun as it was effective.
“I think going at that tempo really helped us out because those guys can get to the passer and really create a lot of pressure,” Flacco said. “It was a lot of fun. I can’t lie about that. We didn’t get that many drives, really, but we were efficient enough that we put points on the board.”
The Ravens scored on seven of their 10 drives, punting just twice. And when they put up points, they were efficient, as Flacco said, with five scoring drives lasting fewer than four minutes.
One area which looked a bit different was the offensive line, where Ramon Harewood and Kelechi Osemele were surprise starters over veterans Bryant McKinnie and Bobbie Williams.
Harbaugh was pleased with the result, especially considering Flacco was sacked just three times by a defense which is capable of getting to the quarterback.
“It looks like they performed well,” Harbaugh said. “I think we didn’t have too much pressure. I thought we ran the ball well. I look forward to seeing the tape. But we probably have eight really good offensive linemen, and Jah Reid is the ninth when he gets healthy. So we have to find a way to play all of our linemen. We want to find a way to get those guys in there, so that’s a good problem to have.”
The line was relied upon much more for protecting Flacco than opening holes for Rice compared to the past.
And Rice was OK with that, considering the way the team played overall, producing with balance.
“It’s great to see this offense evolving with the changes that are happening in the NFL. This is a pass-friendly league now, but we still do have some running backs in the league, including myself,” he said. “Everybody got involved. Coming into this year, it was Joe Flacco’s offense. He did a great job today. It starts with him and we just follow his lead. We try to go out there and execute, and that’s what we did against a great defense.”