Throughout the preseason, we heard how the Baltimore Ravens were going to be unveiling a different kind of offense for the 2012 season.
"Different" was an understatement.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens put the NFL on notice on Monday Night Football: The Ravens offense is no longer the plodding, predictable machine that was so often prone to breakdowns and mind-numbing stretches of a criminal lack of creativity.
In its place is an explosive unit lead by a long-maligned trigger man who has emerged from failed contract negotiations with an apparent laser-sharp focus and determination to obliterate NFL defenses in his quest to be P-A-I-D paid.
Too much? Perhaps.
But for one night anyway, Flacco looked every bit the elite quarterback he (and his agent) contend that he is. Even after paying big money to running back Ray Rice, the Ravens offense was quite clearly Flacco's to control.
From the opening snap until he gave way to Tyrod Taylor when the game was completely out of hand, Flacco directed a Ravens offense that seemed capable of scoring nearly every time it touched the ball.
Whether it was finding Torrey Smith for a 52-yard gain on his first pass of the night, placing the ball perfectly for tight end Dennis Pitta in the end zone or just hitting 21 of his 29 passes overall for 299 yards and two touchdowns, Flacco was masterful nearly all night long.
I say "nearly" because there were a handful of instances in which the veteran signal-caller should have been picked off by the Bengals. At times, Flacco seemed to revert to the tentative decision-making that had plagued much of his career up to this point.
But for the majority of the night, Flacco was in control and firing bullets with command and precision that hasn't been seen in Baltimore in a long, long time.
What's frightening—for the rest of the league, anyway—is that the Ravens still have areas where they could improve on offense, even after demolishing the Bengals 44-13. The Ravens' running game looked out of sync early on.
"We had little miscommunications here and there that we need to work on,” Flacco said on ESPN in a postgame interview. “But we kept the tempo up for the most part. That was huge for the offensive line and their matchups. Later in the game, we started getting some big chunks."
The offense not only picked up big chunks; it also completely demoralized the Bengals in the process. Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer tried everything. When he sent pressure, Flacco got the ball out of his hands on bubble screens and slant plays. When the Bengals played coverage, Flacco patiently let his receivers find space downfield.
It was a masterful performance, one that could help lead to a monster contract. Again, it's only one game, but a string of games like tonight and you can bet the Ravens won't be able to get their franchise quarterback signed to an extension fast enough.
As Flacco's agent Joe Linta told The Baltimore Sun this past February:
If the game is about wins and losses, he has to be in the top five. He is a player who has been extremely durable, never missed a game. And he’s done something that no one has ever done. In his four years in the league, he has never missed a game and has more wins than any other quarterback.
A few more performances like he turned in on Monday night, and his agent won't be the only one saying he's a top-five quarterback. His salary and statistics will say it as well.