The Baltimore Ravens' rookie quarterback displayed uncommon versatility and athleticism during a resounding 29-10 victory over the hapless Raiders on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
It was a strong overall performance by the first-round draft pick defined by three pivotal plays: adeptly hauling in a 43-yard reception from backup quarterback Troy Smith, showing initiative on a scrambling touchdown run in the fourth quarter and big-time arm strength on a 70-yard bomb to wide receiver Demetrius Williams for his third touchdown pass of the season.
In the wake of outspoken Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs twice endorsing Smith over Flacco during a radio interview that he attempted to distance himself from all week by saying he merely wanted to see both quarterbacks play, Flacco's game even met with Suggs' approval.
"I loved it," Suggs said of Flacco's impressive showing. "It was really great to see that he's multi-talented. He has some run-and-catch in him. He ran for a touchdown. He caught a bomb. Shane Falco is [playing] like Randy Moss."
Between some offensive gadgetry to produce a season-high 375 yards of total offense and a smothering defense that harassed Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell into four sacks as Oakland (2-5) had just 35 yards by halftime in falling behind 19-0, Baltimore (4-3) won handily.
Flacco gathered in Smith's deep pass when Baltimore ran its version of the single-wing offense by inserting the former Heisman Trophy winner into the backfield at quarterback and playing Flacco at wide receiver. On the reception, Flacco took the snap, gave it to Smith and rolled downfield for his first catch since high school.
At 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, Flacco demonstrated that he has decent speed to go with his imposing stature. He nearly scored on the play, getting tackled at the Raiders' six-yard line to set up a Matt Stover field goal for a 22-3 lead.
"I trusted myself that if they threw it, I would catch it," Flacco said. "I was hoping I would catch it. I didn't want to make a fool of myself. I saw him put it up and I was like, 'All right, Joe, you've got to go get it now.'
"By the time I caught the ball, I was leaning over. I stumbled as long as I could. My feet were just getting drilled by the rest of my body. They were trying to keep up, but they couldn't."
During the second quarter, Flacco had plenty of time and opportunity to locate wide receiver Demetrius Williams standing all by himself downfield for a 70-yard touchdown pass.
Flacco could have thrown it to either Williams or tight end Todd Heap as the Raiders clearly busted their coverage on the Ravens' longest offensive play of the season. Williams had to be patient as it seemed like an eternity before the football landed in his arms.
"Sometimes when you're that wide open, the quarterback can miss you," Williams said. "In the NFL, it's very difficult to get that open like that. It felt like a good hour-and-a-half. I thought it was a movie or something. It finally did get there."
In the fourth quarter, Flacco scrambled 12 yards for a touchdown. When he saw a defensive back run with wide receiver Derrick Mason in motion, he was committed to run with it for his second rushing touchdown of the season.
"I could have either handed it off or took it," Flacco said. "When the guy went with Derrick, they left really nobody out there. Me and the coaches were the only ones that knew. I still could have handed it off, but they gave me the option and I said, 'All right, I'm going to take you up on that one.'"
Added middle linebacker Ray Lewis: "A lot of people don't know this, but Joe Flacco can run. Joe is really taking control of this offense."
In addition to the Ravens inserting Smith at quarterback and using Flacco outside in a formation that Ravens coach John Harbaugh jokingly referred to as the "Suggs Package," Baltimore clearly won the bragging rights contained within "The Ryan Bowl."
In the duel of Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan against his twin brother, Rob Ryan, the Raiders' defensive coordinator, it was a clear-cut victory as undrafted Baltimore rookie linebacker Jameel McClain sacked Russell in the end zone for a safety and a 2-0 lead in the first quarter.
Oakland finished with just 234 yards of total offense, going 2 for 13 on third downs (15 percent) as Russell was intercepted once. An aggressive Ravens scheme paid dividends.
"Just another victory over my brother," Rex Ryan said. "I'll let him get on the plane, go home and then I'll call him and rub it in a little bit."
Russell completed just 15 of 33 passes for 228 yards and an interception as Oakland gained just 47 rushing yards.
"It's tough out there, man," Russell said. "I promise."
The Ravens built a 221-35 yardage advantage by halftime. The Raiders didn't cross midfield until the third quarter.
"The first half, we just got our tails whipped at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball," Oakland coach Tom Cable said. "There's really no other way to put it."
With the exception of eight penalties for 52 yards, including a combined six from offensive linemen Jared Gaither and Chris Chester with each nullifying a touchdown apiece on an infraction, it was a sterling game as the Ravens won for the second time in a row.
Rookie running back Ray Rice pounded out 64 yards on eight carries, including a 19-yard option run off a Smith pitch. Baltimore piled up 192 rushing yards and converted a season-best 10 of 18 third downs. Running back Willis McGahee had the lone turnover on a fumble.
"It was a very methodical victory," Harbaugh said. "We did what we had to do against a real tough, physical football team, which is play a tough, physical football game. I am disappointed with the penalties. That is something we can get better at."
After McClain's safety, the Ravens went up 9-0 in the second quarter when safety Jim Leonhard set up McGahee's one-yard touchdown run with a 46-yard punt return down to the Raiders' 17-yard line.
Williams' score capped a 97-yard drive preceded by cornerback Frank Walker's interception
Although Flacco's passing numbers were relatively modest as he went 12 for 24 for 140 yards with 70 of his yards coming on the touchdown pass, he didn't throw an interception and he wasn't sacked.
"Joe's an athlete," Williams said. "He makes plays. It's not really surprising."
When asked if kicking field goals is in his future, Flacco replied: "I'm not a very good kicker. I told the coaches, no thanks on that."
BALTIMORE RAVENS' REPORT CARD
Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass, scrambled for another score and caught a 43-yard pass from backup Troy Smith. Although it was an impressive, athletic display, he only completed half his passes for 140 yards against a suspect defense and was nearly intercepted twice in compiling an 81.9 rating. Seventy yards came on one play, too.
Running back: B-minus
The Ravens grinded out 192 rushing yards against a soft run defense with rookie Ray Rice contributing 64 yards on eight runs, including a 19-yard option combination with Troy Smith. Willis McGahee rushed for 58 yards on 23 carries as he didn't do a sound job of finding holes except when he powered in for a one-yard touchdown run.
Wide receiver: C
Basically, they only made one play and it was a huge one on a 70-yard touchdown catch for Demetrius Williams as he was wide open on a busted coverage. Joe Flacco had the only other noteworthy reception. Leading receiver Derrick Mason was limited to three yards on one reception with a longer catch negated by a holding penalty.
Offensive line: B-minus
They did a nice job of opening up holes for the running game and Joe Flacco wasn't sacked. However, offensive guard Chris Chester and offensive tackle Jared Gaither combined for six penalties, including four from Gaither as one mistake nullified Ray Rice's touchdown catch.
Defensive line: B-plus
Haloti Ngata, Trevor Pryce and Justin Bannan collapsed the pocket and changed the line of scrimmage with Ngata recording a rare sack as well as a tackle for a loss. They dominated the Raiders, startling quarterback JaMarcus Russell, who was sacked four times.
Terrell Suggs put on a show with one sack, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis helped limit the Raiders to 47 rushing yards. Bart Scott had four tackles, a quarterback hit and a pass deflection. Undrafted rookie Jameel McClain recorded a safety, and had a tackle for a loss.
JaMarcus Russell completed just 15 of 33 passes for 228 yards and one touchdown as cornerback Frank Walker intercepted one bomb. He had a paltry 66.2 rating.
Special teams: B
Matt Stover hit field goals from 38 and 30 yards. Sam Koch averaged 40.3 yards, including a 50-yard punt. Playing in place of return specialist Yamon Figurs, safety Jim Leonhard excelled with a 46-yard punt return as he averaged 15.8 yards on four punt returns. Ray Rice averaged 27 yards on two kickoff returns.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
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