The Baltimore Ravens slogan, or team motto, if you will, for 2011 is “Relentless.”
Which is exactly how San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith would likely describe the Baltimore defense were you to ask him about it this morning. The Ravens tied a franchise record with nine sacks, harassing Smith as well as bottling up running back Frank Gore all night long while allowing the NFC West leaders only 170 total yards of offense. That they did all this without Ray Lewis in the lineup for the second consecutive game only makes the performance that much more impressive.
Terrell Suggs came alive after a couple quiet games to lead the Ravens with three sacks. Cory Redding and Haloti Ngata were also in the 49ers backfield all night, registering 2.5 and 2.0 sacks, respectively. While rookie Pernell McPhee didn’t manage any sacks of his own, his presence alone helped create opportunities for others, as he again played a superb game.
It was an old fashioned slobberknocker, as the Ravens offense managed only 253 total yards of their own. The difference, though, was that our quarterback is Joe Flacco, while theirs is Alex Smith. Flacco was a calm and efficient 15/23 for 161 yards and one touchdown, but most importantly, he (nor any other Raven) turned the ball over against the NFL’s leading takeaway unit.
Joe, sporting an awesome/hideous Fu manchu mustache, shone brightest on the Ravens’ first drive of the second half. After San Francisco had managed to tie the game at 6 on a 52-yard David Akers field goal, Flacco led the Ravens on a 16 play, 7:34 touchdown drive. On the series, Joe hit seven different receivers, and was 4/4 on third down passing, each time converting to move the chains, or, in the case of the fourth completion, to get his team into the end zone. His eight-yard strike to tight end Dennis Pitta to cap off the drive was one of his best throws of the season. Flacco has now put up consecutive games with a 100+ passer rating for the first time in 2011, and it’s no coincidence that these last two games have featured Ray Rice as the focal point of the offense.
Rice only managed 59 yards on 21 carries, but that was enough to keep the San Francisco defense, who entered the game allowing only 78 yards per game on the ground, honest. Ricky Williams added 29 yards on seven strong carries to give the Ravens 92 total rushing yards. Rice was disappointed that he was unable to break the 49ers streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown this season, but that was as much Cam Cameron’s fault as it was Ray’s.
While Cam is to be commended for his overall game plan, two plays again stick out in all Ravens fans’ minds as asinine examples of Cam trying to outsmart everybody, to the detriment of his team.
With the game tied at 3 in the second quarter, the offense had moved the ball from their own 35 (50 yards of it coming on the strength of a pass interference penalty, which is becoming one of the team’s best weapons; a welcome change from the Frank Walker years when it seemed like we were the victims, rather than the beneficiaries, of all those calls) all the way down to the 49ers’ 1-yard line. Facing second down and 1, we were all hoping to see #27 go straight ahead at least two, if not three, more times. Especially with the way the right side of the line was able to blow the Cincinnati Bengals (an extremely stout defense in their own right) off the ball down there last week, it was the obvious course of action.
Cam, though, got cute. He called for Rice to instead run outside to the right, and the speedy San Francisco defense made the Ravens pay, stopping Rice for a loss of four. On the next play, 3rd-and-goal from the 5, Cam went into his shell and called a ridiculous quarterback draw. Fu manFlacco was stopped for no gain, and the Ravens had to settle for a field goal.
Later on, with the team clinging to a 13-6 lead in the fourth quarter, they had moved the ball from their own 28 into San Fran territory. Facing 3rd-and-1 from the 46, they used up a timeout.
Ok, no big deal. As long as you convert the try, that’s not a bad use of the clock stoppage.
Bang it right ahead, right?
Of course not. Not Cam. Cam ran Ricky Williams outside to the right, the 49ers stopped for no gain, and the Ravens were forced to punt.
For the night, the Ravens were a very efficient 7/15 (46%) on third downs. That’s no small feat against such a strong defense. However, after going just 2/6 on 3rd-and-2 or less against the Bengals, they were 0-for-2 this week, and failed to score with a 2nd-and-goal from the one. These might seem like nit-picky gripes, but while it’s great that Flacco is so efficient throwing on 3rd-and-long, this team needs to find ways to start converting on 3rd-and-shorts down the stretch.
Alright, enough Cam. Back to the D. You really can’t say enough about the Ravens defense in this game. From Lardarius Webb’s gorgeous interception of Smith on a deep ball down the right sideline that prevented the 49ers from scoring before the half, to the relentless pass rush, to Albert McClellan filling in more than adequately for Ray Lewis at a position he had never played before, to Ed Reed making a good break on a pass intended for Michael Crabtree (though Ed should have caught the ball) to set up Suggs’ third sack on the very next play, Chuck Pagano’s unit was incredible. While they likely benefited from San Francisco’s cross country trip and short week, the fact remains that they still had to step up and take advantage of the team in front of them. They did exactly that.
A quick note on the officiating: Horrible as always in the NFL. Yes, the chop block on Gore that erased Ted Ginn Jr.’s long touchdown was technically the right call, as noted by NFL Network’s Mike Mayock, but was ticky-tack nonetheless. The Ravens certainly benefited from the call, but some erroneous flags flew in San Fran’s favor as well (such as the block in the back on Webb’s long punt return – if you block a guy in the back, won’t he land on his stomach, and not, you know, his back? Come on, man). They also missed a facemask on Flacco that would have given the Ravens a first down in SF territory. Again, as always, the refs suck at their jobs.
The Ravens, by virtue of winning the first ever “HarBowl” become the AFC’s first 8-win team. Pittsburgh is obviously more than likely to join them on Sunday night, facing a terrible Kansas City team with no quarterback while the Steelers are well rested coming off their bye. New England will have their hands full with Philadelphia, but the Eagles are going to be without Dog Murderer Vick and Nnamdi, so Brady and Co. will also probably be at 8 wins come next week.
Regardless, the Ravens now have 10 days to rest and prepare to travel to Cleveland, where they desperately need to reverse their 2011 road woes.