Ravens win Harbaugh Bowl, defense dominates Niners
BALTIMORE - Surrounded by a phalanx of cameras capturing a historic moment, the Harbaugh family huddled at midfield.
It was all handshakes, hugs and smiles before kickoff as John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh visited with their parents
It wasn't a friendly tone from the Baltimore Ravens' intimidating defense, though, as soon the Harbaugh Bowl was launched as two brothers coached against each other for the first time in NFL history.
It was akin to one of the ultra-competitive brothers' legendary scraps growing up.
The Ravens manufactured an impressive 16-6 victory Thursday night before 71,345 at M&T Bank Stadium through some violent hitting punctuated by the defense repeatedly bashing into San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, tying a franchise record by sacking him nine times.
Drenched in Gatorade after a pair of celebratory sideline baths, John Harbaugh hugged his younger brother tightly afterward. And he saluted Jim Harbaugh after vanquishing his 49ers team that had only lost one game previously this season.
"Just running across the field, I felt really humble," John Harbaugh said. "Really humble, just thankful. Running across the field to my brother, he's my best friend along with Mom and Dad and my wife. You don't put yourself in many other coaches' shoes, but you can put yourself in your brother's shoes. I'm really proud of him.
"The job that he's done building that football team, that's a good football team. When you try to figure out a way to play those guys and beat those guys the way they're built is pretty hard. To be able to beat a team like that in a situation like this, it says a lot about our guys."
Relentlessly attacking on defense despite All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis being sidelined for the second consecutive game with a toe injury, the Ravens (8-3) stonewalled 49ers star running back Frank Gore as they limited him to a season-low 39 rushing yards on 14 carries.
A repeated shout from the Ravens' locker room could be overheard across the hall in the press conference area: "That's how you play defense!"
With the threat of Gore rendered essentially harmless, the Ravens turned their attention toward punishing Smith.
Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs tied a career-high by sacking Smith three times, and defensive end Cory Redding chased Smith down for 2 ½ sacks with All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata decking him twice more.
They embarrassed the 49ers' offensive line, especially right tackle Anthony Davis and rotating guards Adam Snyder and Chilo Rachal.
"We had to dominate their line in order for us to win this game, and that's what we did," Redding said after the defense limited the 49ers to 170 yards of total offense. "We made a statement. It's Thanksgiving man, there's a lot of turkey. We had to go out there and eat. That's the beauty of stopping the run. When you do that, you can pin your ears back and rush the passer."
Although Harbaugh emphasized all week that the game was about his mantra of the team, the team and the team, his players wanted to win a game for him against his brother, a former NFL quarterback and the leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year honors.
"I think the No. 1 game plan was to win the Harbaugh bowl," Suggs said. "Coach tried to downplay it, he tried to play like you know this is not me versus my brother. It was really important, and we really wanted to win it for him. We were going to win the game for him and then we were going to drown him."
The 49ers' eight-game winning streak was broken.
After his 49ers (9-2) lost for the first time this season in five trips to the Eastern time zone, Jim Harbaugh acknowledged how difficult it is to beat his brother.
"There's a saying that, as iron sharpens iron, so does one man sharpen another," Jim Harbaugh said. "Let's say my brother, John, is the sharpest iron I've ever encountered. It was highly competitive, and it didn't go out way. We're disappointed about it."
Offensively, the Ravens played a smart, efficient game and scored the last 10 points of the game to put the 49ers away.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was masterful on the Ravens' lone touchdown drive, engineering a 16-play, 76-yard drive that lasted 7 minutes and 34 seconds.
Flacco completed 7 of 11 passes on the drive, capping it with an eight-yard touchdown pass fired into the hands of tight end Dennis Pitta on a short inside pattern.
"Dennis did a great job of really taking a great angle when he came across," Flacco said.
Flacco completed all four of his throws on third down during the decisive drive, generating 34 yards and a touchdown.
It was the first NFL touchdown for Pitta.
"It was an inside post and I was trying to cut across the safety's face and leverage him and give Joe a chance to throw me the ball," Pitta said. "He put it on my chest perfectly. I shielded the safety and made the catch. What a pivotal play for us in that game, and it helped us gain the momentum and start to pull away in the fourth quarter."
It wound up being the game-winning score.
Flacco completed 15 of 23 passes for 161 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 100.1 quarterback rating.
He was 10 of 14 after halftime for 92 yards.
And the Ravens converted 6 of 9 third downs in the second half and 7 of 15 for the game.
"When you have that kind of game plan, your line being so efficient on third downs, you have to come through," Flacco said. "We had a lot of guys come through for us and just made some big plays in those situations."
Flacco wasn't sacked even once in the game, the first time that's happened this season. He's been sacked only twice in the past three games.
"Joe Flacco for president, and the offensive line for vice president," inside linebacker Jameel McClain said.
The Ravens scored one more time on a 39-yard Billy Cundiff field goal in the fourth quarter.
The defense was the story, though.
Flacco admired the view from the sidelines as he watched Smith corralled time and time again while Suggs and flexed his muscles and swaggered back to the huddle.
"It wasn't even because we were bringing a lot of pressure and stuff like that," Flacco said. "We had a four-man rush and guys just beating their guys. It's good to see when you're on the sideline and guys can put pressure on the opposing quarterback."
The 49ers scored the only points of the third quarter when David Akers booted a 52-yard field goal with room to spare.
The mighty boot tied the game at 6-6 heading into the fourth quarter.
The Ravens built a 6-3 lead at halftime behind a 23-yard Cundiff field goal, but should have been up a touchdown if not for a squandered red-zone opportunity.
After a Flacco interception by 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown was nullified because he put an arm bar on rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith that prevented him from making an attempt on the football, the Ravens took over at the 49ers' 15-yard line.
However, they hit a road block once they reached the 49ers' one-yard line.
First, running back Ray Rice ran outside to his right instead of cutting through an inside hole and was decked for a loss of four yards by safety C.J. Spillman.
"The only one that got me a little on edge was when we couldn't get it in from the one," Rice said. "It was just a bum play. We didn't get it done, and that's one thing they can hang their hats on. They are a great defense, but I thought we had it.
"That's going to itch us for next week. I'm not saying that we were going to blow them out, but if we score seven on that drive right down there, the game is totally different."
On third down, Flacco tried to salvage the drive by running a quarterback draw. He was tackled for no gain and Cundiff entered the game to kick the field goal.
The Ravens avoided a potential momentum-changing drive when cornerback Lardarius Webb intercepted Smith's underthrown bomb intended for imposing wide receiver Braylon Edwards at the end of the first half.
Webb picked off his team-high fourth pass of the year by undercutting Edwards and adeptly positioning himself for the interception.
"It was simple," Webb said. "He tried to go deep. They tried to big boy me. And I played it well, but he had to get the ball our right then, so it made it easy on me."
The Eagles answered the Ravens' first score with a 45-yard David Akers field goal to tie the score at 3-3 in the first quarter.
The key play was Smith locating athletic former University of Maryland tight end Vernon Davis for a 20-yard reception up the right sideline.
The Ravens struck first in the first quarter on a balanced drive that stalled at the 49ers' 20-yard line after a 10-yard Ray Rice run and receptions of 22 and 16 yards for wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Cundiff staked the Ravens to a 3-0 lead with his 39-yard field goal.
49ers All-Pro middle linebacker Patrick Willis crushed Ravens backup running back Ricky Williams in the first quarter, but that didn't set the tone for the entire game.
The Ravens won almost every physical encounter.
The Ravens are undefeated in six home games this season, winning nine consecutive games at M&T Bank Stadium, including 16 of their past 17 games in Baltimore.
And the Ravens improved to 25-5 under Harbaugh and are now tied with the New England Patriots for the most home wins in the NFL since 2008.
Now, the Ravens are in first place in the AFC North prior to the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) playing the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. The Ravens own the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh if they finish with identical records by already sweeping their AFC North rivals.
The Ravens have the next three days off before returning to work to prepare for a divisional road game against the Cleveland Browns.
"Obviously, we think we could be a little better, but for how the season's gone, we feel great about it, and we've just got to continue to do it," Flacco said. "When we come back, we're playing Cleveland on the road. They're a good football team."
Having lost three previous road games this season after emotional victories, the Ravens are mindful of the importance of following this win in strong fashion.
"It's just a big win for us, it's an opportunity going forward," Harbaugh said. "Now, we have to conquer a game in Cleveland, one that's been plaguing us all year. It's a big challenge we have, but we have an opportunity now to get healthy. And that's what we have to take advantage of in the next couple of days."
Ravens notebook: Ray Lewis sidelined for second game
BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis was scratched for the second consecutive game due to a painful toe injury.
It marks the second game in a row that Lewis was deactivated after snapping his 57-game consecutive streak Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Lewis attempted to play after being extremely limited in practice all week, but ultimately the toe didn't respond well enough to risk playing him this early in his recovery from an injury suffered against the Seattle Seahawks.
"Can I play with it? Absolutely," Lewis said during an NFL Network interview before the Ravens' 16-6 win Thursday night. "There's a large amount of pain there, but I think it's more importantly about the injury. Do I go and reinjure it on a very short week and fight it the entire rest of the season instead of just going ahead and get through this stretch right now."
Lewis denied rumors that the injury could sideline him for the remainder of the season or cause the end of his career, saying: "I think all of those reports are terrible."
The Times first reported that Lewis would definitely miss one game and possibly additional games with a worst-case scenario of him being sidelined for four games.
"Coach [John Harbaugh] walked up to me and we looked at each other and he said, 'The best thing to probably do is just sit this one out," Lewis said. "We made the decision based on we have a long rest period coming up after this. So, it gives me a real opportunity to come back totally 100 percent."
With inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe out with lingering hamstring and groin injuries aggravated against the Bengals, the Ravens started a pair of former undrafted free agent at inside linebacker in Jameel McClain and Albert McClellan.
McClain finished with eight tackles, tying safety Bernard Pollard for the team lead.
And McClellan had four tackles in his first NFL start.
"I felt good, I just didn't want to be too fast to the ball," McClellan said. "That was my main problem all week and I felt like I played really good. Ray told me what he saw on film. He's more experienced at watching film and picking up tendencies. He let me know what he saw and to be patient. Patience is a virtue.
"It's a huge night, another milestone personally, first start as an NFL player. I wasn't that nervous. I'm kind of mad that I was close to getting a sack and missed that opportunity, I missed a tackle for a loss. I was hustling."
They used special team ace Brendon Ayanbadejo on third downs.
Lewis has extra time to recover since the Ravens don't play again until their Dec. 4 game at the Cleveland Browns.
If the Ravens opt to sit Lewis against Cleveland, they could try to get him back on the field Dec. 11 against the Indianapolis Colts or Dec. 18 at the San Diego Chargers.
"The team is well-prepared," Lewis said. "We have three big conference games coming up."
The Ravens also deactivated cornerback Chris Carr (back), defensive tackle Arthur Jones (concussion) linebacker Sergio Kindle, running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) and wide receiver Tandon Doss.
Wide receiver Lee Evans (left ankle) was active along with kick returner David Reed, who was scratched last week after fumbling twice against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Ravens used Tom Zbikowski on kickoff returns, but Reed did see action in kick coverage.
Rookie linebacker Josh Bynes was active after being promoted from the practice squad.
The 49ers deactivated quarterback Scott Tolzie, wide receiver Brett Swain, cornerback Shawntae Spencer, fullback Bruce Miller (concussion), offensive guards Daniel Kilgore and Mike Person and nose guard Ian Williams.
Moran Norris started in place of Miller.
NO SACKS ALLOWED: The Ravens' offensive line gave up no sacks for the first time this season.
They've surrendered only two sacks in the past three games, giving quarterback Joe Flacco plenty of time to operate.
"I didn't even know that," six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk said. "They're a great defense, first of all. We just battled out there. Giving up no sacks speaks as much as guys getting open and Joe getting rid of the ball quickly as much as it does to the protection. We had a chance to stay balanced and ran the ball the whole game and didn't turn the ball over."
FAMILY TIME: Jack and Jackie Harbaugh, the parents of Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Jim Harbaugh, visited with their sons before kickoff. Then, they left the field to watch the game in a private area of the stadium to avoid being on camera.
"He just really doesn't want any cameras on him during the game," John Harbaugh said of Jack Harbaugh before kickoff. "He has been holding up well. He'll be nervous. This has been tough on them. It's been great, but they're torn, I think. They want to go through it. It'll be a new experience for them, too."
INJURY REPORT: The Ravens reported no new injuries.
However, running back Ray Rice had his hand and thumb taped up after the game.
TIME OFF: The Ravens' next practice is Monday, so they have some down time before beginning preparations for the Cleveland Browns.
"I'm going to be with my family, give thanks, celebrate Thanksgiving and get as much turkey in my system," Birk said. "If everything goes perfect, I'll catch a nap on the couch in the afternoon. That's about as good as it gets."
QUICK HITS: The 49ers won the coin toss and elected to have Baltimore receive. ... The Ravens' game captains were free safety Ed Reed, punter Sam Koch and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. ... The 49ers entered the game with the top-ranked run defense and hadn't allowed a rushing touchdown. "It's not a game that you necessary get yourself jacked about, but it is what it is," fullback Vonta Leach said. "They're the No.1 defensive team and we want to be able run the ball. I think it's going to be a good matchup. They have a lot of good ‘backers. Their linebackers, their whole defensive front seven is pretty good so we'll see."
The Ravens improved to 11-5 against the NFC under John Harbaugh. They've won 11 consecutive games against NFC teams and are 17-1 dating back to 2003.
The Ravens are now 29-5 under Harbaugh when they score first, 6-0 this season. ... The Ravens are on a 19-game streak of not allowing opponents to score on their opening drive of the game. ... The Ravens are 9-2 when they wear black jerseys, 6-0 under Harbaugh. ... The Ravens are now 9-5 under Harbaugh in prime-time games. It was the Ravens' first win in a Thursday game, improving to 1-3. ... Running back Ray Rice generated 83 total yards on 59 rushing yards and 24 receiving yards. He now ranks second on the Ravens' all-time list for yards from scrimmage, passing wide receiver Derrick Mason (5,788 yards). Rice has 5,803 yards, ranking behind former running back Jamal Lewis (9,166 yards from scrimmage).
Joe Flacco has won 16 of his last 17 starts at home, completing 61.1 percent of his throws for 4,038 yards, 25 touchdowns and six interceptions for a 98.4 passer rating. ... Defensive end Cory Redding's 2 1/2 sacks are a new career-high, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tied a career-high with two sacks.
Baltimore Ravens Report Card
Joe Flacco was accurate, decisive and avoided costly mistakes. He converted several third downs and delivered a touchdown pass to tight end Dennis Pitta early in the fourth quarter for the game-winning score. He connected on six consecutive third-down completions in the second half, including the touchdown. He completed 15 of 23 throws for 161 yards and no interceptions for a 100.1 quarterback rating.
RUNNING BACK: B-minus
Ray Rice ran hard against the top-ranked run defense in the NFL. He got stonewalled on a key goal line play, but had a respectable game against linebacker Patrick Willis. Rice finished with 59 yards on 21 carries and caught three passes for 24 yards. Ricky Williams provided a late-game boost with his contribution in the second half, gaining 29 yards on seven carries with a long run of 12 yards. The Ravens grinded out some difficult yards against a stout defense.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
They did an excellent job of protecting Joe Flacco against a formidable pass rushing defense that features rookie standout outside linebacker Aldon Smith. They didn't allow a single sack, and the 49ers only had three quarterback hits the entire game. They hit some tough sledding trying to open up holes against the 49ers' front seven, but moved them off the ball enough to keep the defense honest.
The Ravens didn't produce any huge plays downfield to speak of, but the receivers were sure-handed and moved the chains. Tight end Dennis Pitta caught his first NFL touchdown in the second half for the only touchdown of the game. Anquan Boldin dominated the 49ers' safeties over the middle, finishing with four catches for 63 yards. And rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith drew a 50-yard pass interference penalty. Veteran wide receiver Lee Evans caught his first pass since the second game of the season, picking up a first down and his third reception of the year.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
They absolutely dominated the 49ers' offensive line, which features three former first-round draft picks in Joe Staley, Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis. Between defensive end Cory Redding and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, they combined for 4 1/2 sacks. They were unblockable. Redding hasn't played this well in years. They also did an excellent job of containing 49ers star running back Frank Gore by building a wall inside. Terrence Cody improved his play after a rough game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs recorded three sacks and a forced fumble. Playing without middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens' replacements stepped up. Middle linebacker Jameel McClain tied for the team lead with eight sacks. Undrafted free agent Albert McClellan had four tackles in his first NFL start. Jarret Johnson chipped in four tackles.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb intercepted his team-high fourth pass of the season, preventing a potential touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards at the end of the first half. Webb is emerging as a shutdown cornerback for this defense and one of the better young defenders in the entire AFC. He's come a long way since the Ravens' playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers where he gave up a long pass to Antonio Brown. Webb also contributed a half-sack, and Tom Zbikowski had a sack of his own on a safety blitz. Aggressive strong safety Bernard Pollard tied for the team lead with eight tackles, attacking the line of scrimmage and cutting off Frank Gore's running lanes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Billy Cundiff hit all three of his field goals, connecting from 39, 23 and 39 yards. The Ravens took care of the football on kick returns, but had no explosive plays. Lardarius Webb averaged nine yards per punt return with a long return of 18 yards. David Reed whiffed on a chance to down a Sam Koch punt inside the 49ers' five-yard line. Ted Ginn averaged 31 yards per kickoff return for the 49ers with a long return of 36 yards.
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