Art Modell must have smiled wide upon M&T Stadium Monday.
A beautiful sight before the game: Ravens fans paid tribute to Modell—the man responsible for bringing the Ravens to an NFL-starved town in 1996.
A moment of somber silence preceded a soul-stirring rendition of America's national anthem. This anthem inspired fans to unleash that Baltimore vintage “OH!” This, as a tip of the cap to the Baltimore Orioles, who are in a dogfight for their first postseason berth since 1997.
Exciting times in Baltimore indeed; the television cameras turned to an emotional Ray Lewis standing on the sideline.
Perhaps No. 52 was absorbing the moment in what may be his last season. Perhaps he was recalling the last words he spoke to a dying Modell. Perhaps he was overwhelmed with patriotism when a tight formation of U.S. Air Force A-10s roared overhead as the national anthem came to an end.
Whatever the reason, it was fitting that QB Joe Flacco—training wheels now off—threw a 52-yard strike on the opening drive to electrifying wide receiver Torrey Smith.
With this completion, Flacco debut a terrifying movie for all NFL teams to watch.
This movie, which also starred tight end Dennis Pitta, was called “J-A-R-S,” as in Jacoby (Jones)-Anquan (Boldin)-Ray (Rice)-(Torrey) Smith.
Showcasing a brand-new "no-huddle" offense, this dynamic receiving corps rendered the Bengals defense defenseless. Collectively, J-A-R-S earned 21 catches, 299 yards and two touchdowns (14.2 yard average) on the other end of Flacco’s arm.
Pitta led the way for the Ravens with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. Boldin had four snags for 63 yards and a TD as well. Smith added two catches for 57 yards (28.5 AVG). Jones had three grabs for 46 yards. And Rice had three catches for 25 yards to go with 68 yards and two TDs on the ground.
Even tight end Ed Dickson (two catches for 22 yards) and Vonta Leach (three catches for 18 yards) got into the action.
If this were not enough, Deonte Thompson got his first NFL catch for the Ravens. This on a 25-yard strike from backup QB Tyrod Taylor.
While this was just one game in an NFL marathon, coaches around the league must take notice of this balanced and explosive Ravens offense—an offense that had 430 yards of total offense (308 through the air and122 yards on the ground).
They must also take into account a high-powered defense that intercepted a pass for a touchdown, recovered a fumble and tossed Bengals' quarterback Andy Dalton around like hurricane winds to a lawn chair.
Finally, they must realize rookie kicker Justin Tucker is a bigger threat to hit long-range bombs than Billy Cundiff ever was.
For a Ravens nation still licking wounds from Cundiff’s miss in the AFC Championship earlier this year, this is great news in its own right.