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Ravens finish off Texans, finish strong

BALTIMORE – Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room, All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis adjusted his tie until the knot was perfect and straightened the lapel of his suit jacket. The former NFL Defensive Player looked ready for business.

So were the Ravens during a convincing 29-14 victory Sunday over the dangerous Houston Texans before 71,154 at M&T Bank Stadium. The first-place Ravens (4-1) revealed what kind of mettle they have in the fourth quarter, performing adeptly in the clutch against a formidable, albeit injury-riddled squad to retake the lead scoring the final 16 points of the game to put the Texans away.

Between a stingy defense coached by Chuck Pagano that contained star running back Arian Foster and quarterback Matt Schaub, a resourceful offense led by quarterback Joe Flacco and versatile running back Ray Rice and a franchise-record tying five field goals from kicker Billy Cundiff, the Ravens didn't need last-second heroics to vanquish the Texans. It was the Ravens' fifth win in five career games against the Texans. "Chuck came to me on the sideline and said to be considered a great defense, those moments, you've got to close out," Lewis said. "They're going to play for 60 minutes, and we understood that. For us to go out there and end it the way we did, that's kind of a staple for who we are."

It was a balanced effort as Flacco withstood nearly constant pressure to pass for 305 yards. He connected with Anquan Boldin eight times for 132 yards, including a 56-yard bomb, and a 51-yard toss to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith. And Rice rushed for 101 yards on 23 carries after gaining only 16 yards by halftime, finishing with 161 yards of total offense.

During the second half, the Ravens outgained the Texans 269 yards to 151. They scored on four of five drives before Flacco took a knee to end the game. "We are a poised team, and there were times we could have blinked," said Rice, who caught five passes for 60 yards. "The Texans play tough, but we are poised and the difference is you have guys growing up. Torrey Smith may be a rookie in the book, but he is not a rookie on the field anymore. "Our biggest asset was sticking with the run. We didn't get down on ourselves. I would like to thank the coaches for not blinking. Coach [John Harbaugh] said nerve, but I say poise. This is the kind of game that we needed. We needed to be in a fight against a good team." Just last December in Houston, the Ravens were rescued from a complete collapse when cornerback Josh Wilson intercepted Schaub for a touchdown in overtime after Baltimore surrendered a three-touchdown lead.

This time, the Ravens responded after Schaub lobbed the football behind free safety Ed Reed for a 32-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones on a well-crafted waggle play in the third quarter. "It was bad judgment," Reed said. "We knew the play was coming. I couldn't believe he threw it, but it was just bad judgment on my part." The score staked the Texans to a 14-13 lead, but it was short-lived. Cundiff knocked in field goals from 25 and 33 yards to reclaim the advantage. And backup running back Ricky Williams busted into the end zone from four yards out with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter for a 26-14 lead to put the game away. Cundiff tacked on a 40-yard field goal for good measure.

"I hope everyone realized what a good win that is, and what a good team that is," Harbaugh said. "It was really encouraging to see the way we responded in a tight game in the fourth quarter. To have to come out and really win the fourth quarter in that kind of fashion is a huge statement. You have to do it on both sides." The game-winning field goal from Cundiff was set up by a pair of completions to Smith, the Ravens' second-round draft pick from the University of Maryland.

First, he caught a 19-yard pass on third-and-12 to keep the drive alive. Then, Smith hauled in the 51-yarder to get the Ravens down to the Texans' 13-yard line. Although the drive stalled and the Ravens converted just 2 of 4 red-zone situations, the field goal from Cundiff proved to be enough to win the game.

And the Ravens are beginning to build their timing in the deep passing game. "It was a post and I was able to run over the safety, and Joe made a great throw," Smith said. "It was right there. I feel like the way we're going we're going to make more plays. I'm definitely encouraged based on how we practice. It reassures us." Flacco completed 20 of 33 passes, improving his accuracy markedly after slipping to 49.3 percent for the season when he completed only 10 of 31 throws for 163 yards in a win against the New York Jets. Against the Texans, though, his timing improved despite being sacked twice and hit seven times.

He passed for 178 yards after halftime after the Ravens built a10-7 lead. "I have so much confidence in Joe," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "That's never going to waver. I think it showed why we have so much confidence in him making critical throws, and it's a big part of why we won the game.

"You can't back off. If you don't stay aggressive, it's hard to win these types of games. I don't worry about Joe. Joe's going to do his job. We're lucky to have Joe. I think everybody in this locker room knows that." In the first half, Flacco completed 11 of 19 passes for 127 yards.

"My speech at halftime was simple: 'I don't care whether we run or pass it, we need to execute,'" said Rice. "Today was the day that it didn't look pretty at first, but in the second half, we got it all together. Joe Flacco, making the throws that he made, even under pressure, proved that he's an elite quarterback."

The Ravens made a statement early in the game on a 97-yard drive to build a 7-0 lead. They marched steadily with Flacco hitting Boldin for 14, 13 and 10 yards, Smith for 14 more and locating Rice out of the backfield for 9 and 15 yards. After consecutive personal fouls by feisty defensive end Antonio Smith, Flacco bulled in from one yard out on the quarterback sneak.

"I think we did a good job of moving the ball, especially early on," Flacco said. "We made some really big plays and got the run game going a little bit, and we were hitting some big plays in passing game and were able to go over the top." That marks the lone first-quarter touchdown surrendered by an improved Texans defense this season. The Ravens have outscored opponents in the first quarter, 59-7.

"The 97-yard drive where we marched down the field, that started the game for us," Harbaugh said. "It took them out of the first quarter basically with our offense." They also contained Foster, limiting the reigning NFL rushing champion to 49 yards on the ground. "That's the top running team in the league last year, so I think that's a big thing," Harbaugh said.

Although the Ravens' offense would eventually stall in the first half and the Texans scored when running back Ben Tate's fumble forced by cornerback Lardarius Webb was pounced on in the end zone by offensive guard Wade Smith, Baltimore was resilient.

Despite an interception thrown by Flacco that deflected off Ed Dickson when he overthrew the tight end in the second quarter, the Ravens made plenty of halftime adjustments. And Flacco made some plays in the second half when they were needed.

"I saw nerves," Harbaugh said. "I think that's an old-fashioned word for poised. I saw nerves of steel. When you have a team that knows how to win, and I think our team knows how to win, they find a way to win a really tough game against a good team."

Surrendering 489 yards of total offense in last year's game against the Texans, the Ravens gave up only 293 yards to Houston on Sunday. The Texans were missing star wide receiver Andre Johnson due to a pulled hamstring.

Now, the Ravens are off to a strong start as they prepare to travel to play the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-5) Monday night on the road. Baltimore has won three games in a row since stumbling against the Tennessee Titans.

"I'm just happy we got things together," said fullback Vonta Leach, who played for the Texans for the past five seasons before signing with Baltimore in August. "It wasn't always pretty, but we came out on the winning side."

Ravens notebook: Defense bottles up Texans' Foster

BALTIMORE -- Despite his gliding, seemingly effortless running style, Houston Texans star running back Arian Foster had no answers for the Baltimore Ravens' defense. The reigning NFL rushing champion was stonewalled, held to 49 rushing yards and no touchdowns on 15 carries.

Containing Foster allowed the Ravens to concentrate on keeping quarterback Matt Schaub from beating them through the air as they defeated the Texans, 29-14, Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Foster was the last running back to eclipse the century mark against the Ravens' stingy defense, rushing for 100 yards on 20 carries against them last December at Reliant Stadium.

"We knew what we had to do," said All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who recorded a game-high 12 tackles. "We took it personal coming out this week. We knew the challenge was going to be huge. That's one of the best backs in football right now, the leading rusher in the NFL last year.

"Dealing with that offensive line, we knew running that zone scheme, it was going to be a very hard scheme to deal with. They made a couple plays here and there, but I just think the adjustments we made at halftime all really went in our favor."

Foster averaged only 3.3 yards per carry, catching six passes for 52 yards while being targeted 11 times.

He was frustrated by the Ravens' defense, met at almost every turn by a tackler to prevent him from breaking free. His longest run was 16 yards.

"I played terrible," Foster said. "I didn't play a good game. It was obvious. That will never happen again. I played a bad game. It doesn't matter what the variables are. As a football player, I didn't bring my A game." Heading into this game, the Ravens ranked second in the NFL against the run by allowing only 72.5 yards per contest. They limited Foster and backup running back Ben Tate (nine carries, 41 yards) to 93 rushing yards.

"We said we needed to stop the run," said All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who had eight tackles. "I think we did well throughout the game. We were careful not to let them get the big runs and be able to stop them, and I think that's what helped us a lot."

BIG DAY FOR BOLDIN: Veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught eight passes for 132 yards, marking his first 100-yard receiving game of the season. The former Pro Bowl runner leads the Ravens with 23 receptions for 154 yards. "I think for me, I'm past stats," Boldin said. "My whole career has been built around that. I'm just to the point now where I just want to win a championship. Whatever that takes, I'm going to do it."

Boldin has had an even larger role with Lee Evans sidelined with a left ankle injury. "For me, I don't feel pressure at all," Boldin said. "I play football, I've been doing it all my life. So, I don't feel any pressure at all."

NO BIG DEAL?: For fullback Vonta Leach and strong safety Bernard Pollard, it was a win against their old football team. Leach played for the Texans for five seasons, and Pollard for the past two. Pollard started with Tom Zbikowski out with a concussion, posting five tackles and two pass deflections. And Leach blocked for Ray Rice, who gained 101 yards on the ground. "No matter who were playing, I wanted to win," Leach said. "They were just another team that we had to play against. A lot of my friends are over there. They're a good football team, but we're just a little better." Pollard took a similar stance.

"We all need to be playing every week for a reason," he said. "A guy didn't get drafted as high as he thought he would, or a guy was just on that team, or whatever. It doesn't matter. With this team, we all take it personally every week. The one thing Ray always says is beat the guy across from you. If you beat the guy across from you, nothing but good things can happen."

ADJUSTMENTS: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was under some duress, getting sacked twice and hit seven times. However, the offensive line eventually settled down against a fast Texans front seven. "We worked on it," guard Andre Gurode said. "They've got a good defensive front and we had to make some adjustments to keep the pressure off of Joe." Flacco wasn't sacked in the second half.

"We didn't really make any changes," Harbaugh said. "We just cleaned up a couple of things. The one pressure we had backed up down there was because we misidentified the front. It was a simple mistake, but we made it. Joe expected it to be picked up when he wasn't. That's what happened there." Flacco had no complaints. "Yeah, they did a good job," Flacco said. "The offensive line fought and fought all day."

TEMPERS FLARE: Texans defensive end Antonio Smith got into a brief fight with Ravens offensive guard Andre Gurode.

Smith went after Gurode on the ground, throwing punches before the players were separated. Smith was flagged for consecutive personal fouls. "He pushed me," Gurode said. "I was blocking on the play and he threw a couple of punches at me. I was about to retaliate, but the referee broke us up. I was going to get him, but it's good."

Smith acknowledged that he needs to control his temper. "I just have to find the player that I am and harness it and control it," Smith said. "I feel like he tried to finish me off with a foul. The play was over, the running back was down. He tried to finish it off a little bit, and I just flipped him off. Then, it got out of hand after that. The second play, he knocked me off the ball. He started walking up to me, bouncing his head.

"By the time he got close to me bouncing it, I kind of head-butted him like, 'Get away from me, back up off me.' It wasn't a punch or anything. I have to keep my composure at all times. It's hard to do that because the same thing that makes me go is the same thing that, in a right, is a wrong. The only thing that I can do is just work and be a better man."

GRUBBS UPDATE: Left offensive guard Ben Grubbs missed his fourth consecutive game due to a painful right turf toe that he aggravated during practice last week. Grubbs' toe got stepped on. Afterward, he was in no mood to provide an update on his status. "I'm not talking about my toe," Grubbs said. "No, I'm done. I don't even want to talk about it. I'm tired of talking about it. When I get back, I'll give you all the time in the world. I'm tired of it."

LEWIS HITS MILESTONE: Lewis sacked quarterback Matt Schaub in the third quarter, making him the first player in NFL history to record 40 sacks and 30 interceptions. Now, Lewis has 40 ½ career sacks and 31 interceptions.

"We're talking about Ray Lewis," free safety Ed Reed said. "Ray is an awesome player. One of the best football players of all time because he loves this game. Me and him were talking before the game, and it's something we were born to do. You do other things off the field business-wise, but football is what we were born to do."

BIG PLAY ROOKIE: Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee decked Schaub in the fourth quarter for a sack, forcing a fumble recovered by Texans offensive lineman Wade Smith. The fifth-round draft pick from Mississippi State had a strong preseason, but is looking to build off that foundation. "I just keep hustling, keep pushing, stay on my feet and keep my eyes on the ball," McPhee said. "It was real emotional. I felt like I was fading out. The plays in the preseason, that was yesterday. I had to keep pushing and show the coaches I still belong on the field."

FIRST TOUCHDOWN: Backup running back Ricky Williams scored from four yards out for his first touchdown since joining the Ravens. "It's nice with a new team to get into the end zone," Williams said. "It's special, especially to do it in front of the home crowd. "It was just kind of an off-tackle play, a play that we were running all day long. The guys in front of me did a nice job"

INJURY UPDATE: The Ravens reported no new injuries.

LINEUP LOOP: Besides deactivating Grubbs, the Ravens also scratched offensive guard Mark LeVoir, outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, cornerbacks Chris Carr (left hamstring), cornerback Jimmy Smith (left high ankle sprain), safety Tom Zbikowski (concussion) and wide receiver Lee Evans (left ankle).

In addition to scratching star wide receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring) and starting fullback James Casey (strained pectoral), the Texans also deactivated rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, wide receiver Trindon Holliday, cornerback Brandon Harris, offensive guard Thomas Austin and offensive tackle Andrew Gardner.

BY A FOOT: Reserve cornerback Danny Gorrer made an unusual, pivotal play in the fourth quarter. Covering Texans wide receiver Jacoby Jones, he seemingly allowed a four-yard pass that would have converted a fourth down. However, an instant-replay challenge by Harbaugh overturned the play when officials discovered that Jones only got one foot down in bounds.

His other foot came down on Gorrer's cleat, never touching the ground. "Whatever it takes," Gorrer said. "It worked out. I tried to play technique. I thought they might be coming my way. I tried to make a play for this team. I can't relax, period. I got to take advantage of every opportunity. That's what I'm trying to do. I don't want to let these guys down. That's what I think about when I'm out there."

QUICK HITS: The Ravens' game captains were outside linebacker Jarret Johnson and Leach and Pollard.

The Ravens observed a moment of silence before kickoff for Pat Modell, the late wife of former Ravens and Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell. The philanthropist and actress died Wednesday at the age of 80. The Ravens wore decals on the back of their helmets with the initials, PBM, short for Patricia Breslin Modell.

The Ravens are now 4-0 under Harbaugh following a bye, 11-5 all-time coming off a bye and have won 9 of their past 10 following a bye. ... The Ravens are 68-23 at M&T Bank Stadium since the 2000 season, 22-5 at home under Harbaugh. ... The Ravens have 15 sacks in five games and are on pace to record 48 this season. They set a franchise low with 27 sacks last season. ... Kicker Billy Cundiff set a franchise single-game record with seven touchbacks, breaking his previous record of five touchbacks. He's now the Ravens' all-time franchise leader with 64 touchbacks, topping Matt Stover's record of 60 touchbacks. Cundiff's five field goals ties Stover's four five field goal games for the most in franchise history.

Ravens improve to 4-1 with win over Texans

BALTIMORE -- After claiming a cliffhanger overtime victory over the Houston Texans last December, the Baltimore Ravens manufactured a far more convincing win Sunday that contained much less drama. Here are the keys to their 29-14 win at M&T Bank Stadium.

Quarterback Joe Flacco overcame some early pressure and miscues to complete 20 of 33 throws for 305 yards against one of the NFL's top defenses. He struck deep twice after struggling with his accuracy on longer throws against the New York Jets two weeks ago, connecting with veteran Anquan Boldin for a 56-yard bomb and a 51-yard lob to rookie Torrey Smith.

Running back Ray Rice took over in the second half, doing most of his damage after halftime as he rushed for 101 yards on 23 carries and caught five passes for 60 yards. The offensive line cranked up the blocking intensity and opened some holes.

The Ravens' second-ranked rushing defense contained All-Pro Texans running back Arian Foster, the reigning NFL rushing champion. He gained just 49 yards on 15 carries, slipping out of the backfield for six catches and 52 yards. And quarterback Matt Schaub completed 21 of 37 passes for 220 yards and a touchdown, but was sacked four times.


Quarterback: B

A composed, accurate Joe Flacco withstood some early shots from the Texans' defense and improved his completion percentage markedly, hitting 20 of 33 throws for 305 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. It was a sharp game for Flacco against a challenging defense.

Running back: A-minus

Ray Rice's all-purpose game was on full display. After a quiet first half where he was limited to 16 yards on eight carries, he broke out in the second half to finish with a game-high 101 rushing yards on 23 carries. Rice also caught five passes for 60 yards. Playing against his old team, fullback Vonta Leach opened up some big holes for Rice to roam through. Backup running back Ricky Williams rushed for a touchdown to put the game out of range.

Receiver: B

Anquan Boldin led the way with eight receptions for 132 yards, breaking away for a 56-yard bomb. And rookie Torrey Smith contributed three catches for 83 yards, including a 51-yarder. This wasn't a particularly good game for tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, who combined for four catches for 29 yards.

Offensive line: C

They tightened up their blocking schemes after allowing Joe Flacco to be sacked twice and hit seven times. Their red-zone blocking was generally poor, especially offensive tackle Michael Oher and center Matt Birk. The Ravens need a more consistent, physical push upfront in those situations. Overall, the line played all right after a rough start as they adjusted to the Texans' quickness and athleticism.

Defensive line: B

All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was virtually unblockable, recording eight tackles, one sack and a tackle for a loss. Nose guard Terrence Cody continues to improve, disrupting blocking schemes with his size and surprising movement. He had three tackles. Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee notched a sack and a forced fumble. Cory Redding gave great effort in chasing after Matt Schaub.

Linebacker: B

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis posted a game-high dozen tackles, including a sack for a loss of seven yards. Jarret Johnson was a big factor in containing Arian Foster with seven tackles, one for a loss. Foster finished with only 49 yards on 15 carries. Johnson also had two quarterback hits on Matt Schaub. Terrell Suggs had one of his quieter games of the season.

Secondary: B

Except for a lapse where free safety Ed Reed allowed a touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones, the secondary was solid. Lardarius Webb had seven tackles and one forced fumble. Starting in place of Tom Zbikowski, strong safety Bernard Pollard had five tackles and two pass deflections.

Special teams: A

Kicker Billy Cundiff knocked in five field goals, hitting from 43, 48, 25, 33 and 40 yards. The Texans had one kickoff return and seven touchbacks as Cundiff boomed his kickoffs into the stands at least once. Punter Sam Koch averaged 45 yards on two punts. New kickoff returner Bryan McCann averaged 26.5 yards per return

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