In the Ravens' 44-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night, most of the attention centered around quarterback Joe Flacco's stellar 299-yard performance and safety Ed Reed's record-breaking interception that was returned for a touchdown.
But what was lost in the grand scheme of things was the overwhelming contributions from the rookies on the team. While the play of the rookies as a whole didn't decide the outcome of the game, their performances deserve to be recognized.
Top pick Courtney Upshaw looked better on Monday than in the preseason, as he recorded four total tackles and contributed on a sack of Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. He played for a considerable amount of the game, and looks like he will be a key contributor to the Ravens' pass rush this season.
Offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele surprisingly started the game at right tackle for the Ravens. With Michael Oher playing left tackle, Osemele was presented with the tough task of facing a solid Bengals defensive line in his NFL debut. Osemele wasn't spectacular, as he still struggles with his balance, but he looks as if he could start several games for the Ravens this season.
With the offense centered around the passing game, rookie running back Bernard Pierce didn't have to contribute much on Monday night. But when he did get his chances, he excelled. Backing up Ray Rice, Pierce ran for 19 yards on four carries, which is almost five yards per run. If Pierce can keep that average up for the whole season, he may take more touches away from Rice.
Undrafted wide receiver Deonte Thompson saw more playing time than expected in the season opener, as he was the team's kick returner. While he only averaged 22 yards per return on four chances, Thompson has the speed to develop into a solid return man.
He needs to improve his field vision as he tended to run right up the middle instead of bouncing to the outside. Thompson also caught a pass for 25 yards late in the fourth quarter when the second team offense was in.
Kicker Justin Tucker was undoubtedly the most impactful rookie for the Ravens Monday night. In his NFL debut, Tucker converted all three of his field goal attempts. He also had touchbacks on six of his nine kickoffs, which is a promising sign moving forward.
As a whole, the rookies for the Ravens deserve some of the credit for the win Monday night. With more rookies playing than in previous years for Baltimore, their play will be key in determining whether or not the Ravens are legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
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