Ravens' offense catching up to its D, helps team reach Super Bowl

NEW ORLEANS - After years of being defined by their defense, the primary reason the Ravens have reached their second Super Bowl is arguably their play on the other side of the ball.

The Ravens set a franchise scoring record this season with 398 points and were one of the NFL's best at making big plays, finishing third in the league with 72 plays of at least 20 yards.

Baltimore didn't burn itself with giveaways, as its franchise-record 16 turnovers tied for second-fewest in the league.

And during the playoffs, the Ravens' offense has been exceptional, averaging 424.7 yards and 30 points.

The Ravens' offense closed the gap on its defense this year, and that improved balance is why they're here.

Part of the reason is that Baltimore's defense is increasing in age and thus slipping in production.

But quarterback Joe Flacco is growing up, and he showed it by throwing for a career-high 3,817 yards, 22 touchdowns (second-most of his career) and just 10 interceptions, tying a career low.

Tailback Ray Rice continued to be one of the keys, earning his third Pro Bowl invitation after ranking ninth in the NFL with 1,621 yards from scrimmage.

Rice spoke this week about the team's increased balance and the Ravens' defense being its long-term identity.

He said he has never perceived it as a slight that the defense was always more highly regarded than the team's offense.

"You know what they say - offense wins games, but defense wins championships - and I still firmly believe that because look at us defensively last week," Rice said. "If they don't do what we did against Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, we're not even in a position to score points. It didn't bother me at all because quite frankly, I'm playing with a few Hall of Famers over there. At the end of the day, we all just try to create our own legacy."

As for the fact that the offense is catching up to the defense, Rice agreed that's why the team has reached this point.

"If we can compete with our defense, we'll be successful, and this year was one of those times where we started to turn up the plays," he said. "We had a very demanding training camp, but we were getting big plays. Defense was getting stops. We figure if we can move the ball against our guys, not that the league is mellow, but we've got a pretty good defense ourselves.

"We did a lot of ones versus ones. We didn't switch it up much. We did the ones versus ones and got a lot of quality reps. I'm not taking anything away from our defense, but we've been lighting it up offensively for the last couple of weeks. Joe Flacco has really put that on us. Joe's our quarterback. We plan on going out there every week and scoring points, but just the way Joe's been doing it for us and leading us, I don't think it's a surprise we're in the playoffs every year.

"We got there with a great team. That's one thing that feels good about our team now is that we're sound in all three stages. We always felt like we had things to work on, but we're good on special teams, we're good on offense, and we're good on defense. And that's what got us here."