In the past four seasons in Baltimore, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was an afterthought to the team's dominant defense. It was easy to disregard Flacco—season after season, he was nothing remarkable. He didn't do much to harm the team's chances to win, but the Ravens never truly seemed to belong to him either.
Flacco's end-of-year stats stayed the same, every year. Running back Ray Rice was the face of the offense, but the face of the team as a whole was the defense. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs—on and on went the names of defensive superstars, while the offense had scant few.
If that turns around entirely this year, we don't yet know. But what is clear is that if Flacco and the Ravens offense continues to perform as they did on Monday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, they'll finally have a first-class offense to match their all-pro defense.
The Ravens bested the Bengals, 44-13, in a game they were favored to win. But for Baltimore to put up that many points, for Flacco to look that good—that was a bit of an unexpected (and welcome) surprise.
Everything hit on all cylinders for Baltimore on Monday. Flacco, who hit seven different receivers, went 21-of-29 for 299 yards, threw two touchdowns and averaged 10.3 yards per completion before being replaced by Tyrod Taylor once Baltimore was leading 41-13 in the fourth quarter.
Tight end Dennis Pitta was the most productive recipient of Flacco's passes, with five catches for 73 yards and a touchdown (for 14.6 yards per reception). Anquan Boldin had four catches for 63 yards and a score, Torrey Smith caught two passes for 57 yards and, refreshingly enough, Jacoby Jones caught all three passes thrown his way, for 46 yards.
Not to be outdone, running back Ray Rice had 10 carries for 68 yards and two touchdowns (and three receptions for 25 more yards), and even backup Bernard Pierce had a solid outing, with 19 yards on four rushes—a 4.8 average per carry.
It's not as though we haven't seen this before—a number of times last year Flacco threw for over or around 300 yards and followed up with 150 or fewer passing yards, but this game, something seemed different. It was an extension of what we saw in the third week of the preseason, with Flacco given a longer leash.
He can adjust plays, call audibles and work out of the no-huddle (which was, in this instance, particularly brutal to a defensive line like the Bengals' which requires substitutions to be its most effective) with more freedom than in years past, and it appears as though the Ravens are about to be fully Flacco's team with a contract extension looming. He's been asked to take the reins, and if Monday night was any indication, Flacco seems prepared for the task.
Though the Ravens defense did control Cincinnati's offense, and though safety Ed Reed did pick off Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton for a touchdown, this game was mostly about the offense—an uncommon occurrence for Flacco's Ravens.
If this offense can keep up this pace, the Ravens instantly become the most dangerous team in the NFL. A dominant defense is troublesome enough for opponents; much the same can be said for a high-powered offense. But if a team can field both, at the same time, week after week, they're an unstoppable powerhouse. If this is just the first, anything is possible.