Maybe Anita Marks was right all along…
/excuse me while I rinse the vomit from my mouth
While I’d still maintain that the addition of just one player cannot take an offense instantly from mediocre to dynamic and dangerous, Anquan Boldin made quite an argument for himself Sunday afternoon in Charm City. Boldin hauled in 8 passes for 142 yards and 3 touchdowns from Joe Flacco, the last of which put the Ravens ahead for good. For “Q,” it was his second 100+ yard performance in three tries for the Ravens, and his best game since a spectacular 13-catch, 186 yard game in week 11 of 2008.
As far as Flacco, the 22/31 262 yard day should help erase the memories of the debacle in Cincinnati, and for a week anyway, quiet the moronic calls of some Baltimore fans for Marc Bulger. However, things could have started a whole lot worse, as Joe’s very first pass (a back foot floater while he was getting crushed, of course) should have been picked off and taken to the house by T.J. Ward for an early 7-0 deficit. After that one though, Flacco got his act together.
Boldin’s second touchdown grab, a 12-yard strike from Joe Cool, put the Ravens up at a seemingly comfortable clip of 14-3 with just under six minutes to go in the first half. With a defense that was working on their tenth consecutive quarter of not allowing a touchdown to start the 2010 season, and facing a Browns offense that was without their starting quarterback, running back, and one wide receiver, the rout appeared to be on in B’More.
That’s when things started to get interesting, though.
The Browns took possession and methodically marched 83 yards, most of them on the legs of running back Peyton Hillis. The drive culminated in a touchdown with only a few ticks left on the clock, pulling Cleveland to within 14-10, and the halftime feeling was quite an uneasy one at M&T Bank Stadium.
Things didn’t get much better in the second half, as the Ravens offense stalled in the third quarter, twice going three-and-out, and seeing a Billy Cundiff 51-yard field goal attempt clang off the left upright. The Browns took advantage early in the fourth, scoring again on a 1-yard pass from Seneca Wallace to tight end Ben Watson on the first play of the quarter.
Now trailing 17-14, the Ravens’ offense put together arguably their most impressive drive of this young season. They drove 69 yards (+20 of offensive penalties) on 10 plays, culminating in a beautiful rainbow of a 27-yard touchdown pass from, of course…Flacco to Boldin. The Ravens went up 21-17, and would never relinquish the lead again. Only an uncalled pass interference in the end zone prevented Flacco-to-Boldin from hooking up for the FOURTH time on the afternoon, and Baltimore settled for a Billy Cundiff field goal to round out the day’s scoring.
Speaking of Cundiff, he was much more than just a 1 or 3-points at a time kind of typical kicker weapon against the Browns. Cleveland boasts one of the best return men in the NFL, Joshua Cribbs, but Cundiff drilled both of his fourth quarter kickoffs so far into the end zone that Cribbs had no choice but to down them for touchbacks. After hearing that Cundiff won the kicking job over Shayne Graham mainly due to his kickoff strength, it was good to see the evidence of that on full display. With the game as close as it was, a big return by Cribbs there in the fourth could have resulted in a much different final score.
It wasn’t the blowout that many, including this blog, had predicted, but a win nonetheless. The Ravens are now 2-1, and more importantly 1-1 in the AFC North after two of their early season three-in-a-row against division foes. Since it wasn’t a blowout though, many fans are all too happy to search out the negatives, and there were a few to pick apart on Sunday.
First, the run defense was gashed by relative unknown Peyton Hillis (maybe it’s just something about guys named Peyton?), who racked up 144 yards on 22 carries, and carried Ravens defenders with him for a good chunk of that 144. Kelly Gregg and even Haloti Ngata were pushed around up front, and the linebackers didn’t do much better. Browns’ offensive linemen Alex Mack and Joe Thomas had great days, and made big lanes for Hillis. The Ravens’ defense also failed to force a turnover for the second straight game, and still has only one on the year. When it finally seemed like the offense was finding a rhythm and could move the ball at will, the D couldn’t get them the ball back, either by forcing a 3-and-out or getting a turnover. Had the D put the ball back in the hands of Joe Flacco to end the first half, rather than allowing that long touchdown drive, it probably would have been a much less stressful second half for Ravens fans. And, although Seneca Wallace appeared to have all day to survey the field on many of his dropbacks, Greg Mattison’s defense did at least record two sacks on the day.
The run defense should immediately improve once Terrence Cody finally gets on the field, but at this point who knows when that will be? Despite practicing all of last week, Cody was a game-time scratch, and has still yet to see the field in his pro career. Fellow tackle Cory Redding suffered a concussion though, and his availability for next Sunday is unknown. Brandon McKinnie played well in his stead, but no Redding in Pittsburgh could force the coaching staff’s hand a little bit on “Mount” Cody.
A much more troubling injury occurred with about 10 minutes left in the game when Ray Rice caught a short pass for a 4-yard gain. It would be Rice’s last action of the day, and the early diagnosis is a “significantly” bruised knee. While Rice and John Harbaugh seem optimistic at the moment, Ray Rice’s knee is sure to be a hot topic of conversation all around B’More (and Pittsburgh, for that matter) all week. There is no chance the Ravens will come out and say that Rice is definitely out (if that is indeed the case) until they absolutely have to, so that kind of gamesmanship in a critical division rivalry such as this could lead to us not really knowing #27’s status until right up at 1:00 PM Sunday.
Let’s hope it really is just a little bruise that will heal quickly. Against that Pittsburgh defense, the Ravens are going to need all offensive hands on deck.