Ravens win in debuts for Flacco, Harbaugh

BALTIMORE -- There were rarely witnessed gambits of razzle-dazzle during the Baltimore Raven' victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, including a flashy double-reverse and a surprising bootleg run for touchdowns. Yet, those eye-catching highlights didn't define a 17-10 blue-collar win to open the season Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium against an AFC North rival that swept the Ravens last season.

The Ravens (1-0) launched eras for coach John Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco the old-school way by pounding the Bengals into submission behind the strength of a bruising running game and an aggressive, dominant defense.

"It's a thrill," said Harbaugh, an NFL career assistant who won his regular-season debut after replacing former coach Brian Billick in January. "I'm appreciative of Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome and the rest of the Ravens organization for giving a no-name a chance to be a head coach in this league. We have a long way to go as a football team to prove ourselves, but this is a good start."

Defensively, the Ravens harassed Bengals star quarterback Carson Palmer with two sacks and several pressures. He was limited to 10 of 25 accuracy for 99 yards, no touchdowns, an interception and a dismal 35.2 passer rating.

The Bengals' traditionally high-powered attack was held to just 154 yards of total offense and eight first downs as big-play wide receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were silenced.

At times, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan employed eight defensive backs. He also lined up outside linebacker Terrell Suggs at cornerback to jam Johnson at the line of scrimmage, and had rookie safety Tom Zbikowski blitz after positioning himself near the hash marks.

With Cincinnati driving in the first quarter, free safety Ed Reed, who started after missing the entire preseason with a nerve impingement, broke up a Palmer pass intended for Houshmandzadeh with cornerback Chris McAlister intercepting at the Ravens' 22-yard line.

"We've got to do a lot of things to Carson, you can't just play standard coverages or he's going to light you up," Ryan said. "It's funny, because in the preseason, we don't show you fire zones on every snap.

"I don't think we ran a single call today that we ran in the preseason. I kind of had to bite my tongue and watch it out there, but we've been working on those packages all along."

Ryan's schemes puzzled the Bengals, who had won six of the previous seven meetings and three of the past four games in Baltimore. This is the second-fewest yards Cincinnati has ever posted against the Ravens.

"Two thumbs up to him and what they did," Johnson said of Ryan's defense. "It was unbelievable, and I told him after the game. I don't know what they were playing. That's some playground defense."

Meanwhile, the Ravens simplified Flacco's task significantly with a bruising running game that excelled despite starter Willis McGahee being sidelined after missing the entire preseason after undergoing arthroscopic left knee surgery.

The Ravens rushed for 229 yards on 46 carries, averaging five yards per carry, as their full-house backfield of hefty fullbacks Le'Ron McClain (6-foot, 260 pounds) and Lorenzo Neal (5-11, 255 pounds) was too much for the Bengals to stop. Rookie running back Ray Rice added 64 yards on 22 carries.

"It's not pretty," center Jason Brown said. "We were out there just trying to be physical, just playing smash-mouth offense. We said, 'Come on guys, we're better than that. We worked too hard to piss it away at the end. We can't do that.'"

Added Harbaugh: "It starts in the trenches. That's where football games are won and lost."

McClain rushed for a career-high 86 yards on 19 carries. That workload included three runs for first downs on third downs during the final drive as the Ravens grinded out the final 7 minutes and 15 seconds of the game.

"We were all in our huddle getting ready for the next play, and they've got their heads down ready for it to be over ," McClain said. "I'm a fullback first, running back second."

The Ravens closed the game out following a key stop on 4th-and-1 at their 25-yard line when big defensive tackle Haloti Ngata slammed running back Chris Perry to the ground for a loss. Perry was held to 37 yards on 18 carries.

"We were able to get out goal-line defense out there," Ryan said. "When they ran the ball, it probably wasn't real smart to run it at Haloti."

Ngata is nearly impossible to budge at 6-4, 340 pounds.

"Either they drive you back, or you drive them back," Ngata said. "That time I made the play."

Flacco scrambled for a 38-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to give Baltimore a 17-3 lead, improvising on the fly as he audibled from a running play. Flacco was installed as the starter following Kyle Boller's season-ending shoulder surgery and Troy Smith being sidelined with a tonsil infection.

"It's just football," said Flacco, the 18th overall pick of the draft. "I think our offense was in control all day, and obviously we had a lot of help from our defense."

The former Delaware star managed the game deftly as he operated a scaled-down version of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's system. The first-round draft pick completed 15 of 29 passes for 129 yards and no interceptions with a potential touchdown pass dropped in the end zone by tight end Todd Heap, who also fumbled Flacco's first completion in the first quarter. Flacco had five passes dropped.

"This is just a beginning for Joe," Harbaugh said. "This is going to be a jumping-off point."

When asked if Flacco is now established as the starting quarterback, Harbaugh smiled and replied: "We'll see."

The Bengals' lone touchdown came on a 65-yard fumble return by cornerback Johnathan Joseph, who scooped up a loose ball from rookie running back Ray Rice to close the lead to 17-10 with 10:15 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The Bengals made it 10-3 with five seconds left in the first half on a 43-yard Shayne Graham field goal.

"We got outplayed," Palmer said. "It was just an ugly game offensively. It's a sick feeling, and it's going to feel even sicker when we watch the film."

Other than Flacco's surprisingly nimble run, the most exciting play happened in the first quarter.

Flacco handed off to wide receiver Derrick Mason dashing toward the right, who flipped the ball to Mark Clayton going in the other direction. Clayton juked past defenders behind Flacco's block for a 7-0 lead. Flacco hit linebacker Dhani Jones twice to knock down the 6-1, 240-pound linebacker.

"Coach tells us that if you don't have the ball, you're a blocker," Clayton said. "That goes for all 11. Everybody was able to make some good blocks, and I was able to get the ball in the end zone."

Later, McAlister recovered a Perry fumbled ripped loose by middle linebacker Ray Lewis for a 21-yard Matt Stover field goal.

"It was a team game," Harbaugh said. "Through some adversity, through some tough times and having each others' backs, we persevered.

"Defense supporting and picking up the offense, offense supporting and picking up the defense and special teams kind of under girding the whole thing. That's basically how we won this game."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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