Heading into Sunday's contest against the New York Giants, the Baltimore Ravens had lost three games in a row, and though they had clinched themselves a playoff berth, they were in danger of losing control of the AFC North division they had dominated throughout much of the season.
As if on cue, however, the Ravens turned themselves and their fortunes around, thoroughly thrashing the slumping Giants, 33-14. Without question, it was the most impressive performance of the season for both their offense and defense, and the win helped reestablish the Ravens as a legitimate Super Bowl contender at exactly the right time.
On offense, the Ravens started hot—with two first-quarter touchdowns—and never relented. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 25 of his 36 pass attempts, for 309 yards, with two passing and one rushing touchdown and no turnovers, while the run game was the best it has looked all year.
The Ravens ran the ball 45 times, helping them dominate time of possession, 39:21 to New York's 20:39. Ray Rice had 24 carries for 107 yards and Bernard Pierce rushed 14 times for 123—clearly, the switch from Cam Cameron to Jim Caldwell at offensive coordinator appears to have resulted in significant improvements and a better run-to-pass ratio in the second week of the experiment.
Yet again, Flacco relied heavily on wide receiver Anquan Boldin; though he had no scores, he caught all seven passes thrown his way, for 93 yards.
Torrey Smith also emerged from the ether, taking on and beating Giants cornerback Corey Webster play after play and pulling down five passes for 88 yards and a score.
Dennis Pitta added 56 yards on four catches and Rice had six receptions for 51 yards and his first receiving touchdown of the year.
All told, the Ravens offense had 25 first downs on the day and converted an impressive 11 of their 18 third downs. The same could not be said for their Giants counterparts, who had just 11 first downs and two third-down conversions.
New York quarterback Eli Manning was off his game throughout the contest, thanks to Ravens defensive pressure and excellent coverage—two things they had been sorely lacking for much of the season.
Of the Giants' total 186 yards, Manning had 150 of them, completing just half of his 28 passes and throwing a late, meaningless touchdown to Domenik Hixon. He was sacked three times and hit nine more, and his most productive receiver was rookie Reuben Randle, who had 43 yards on a single reception.
Victor Cruz was held to only 21 yards on three catches while Hakeem Nicks had no catches on three targets.
Running the ball was an even bigger disaster for New York, with the Ravens defense allowing just 67 rushing yards on the Giants' 14 attempts. David Wilson had a 14-yard rushing touchdown in the first quarter, but it only temporarily helped to close the gap.
Amazingly enough, the Ravens' total domination of the Giants didn't include forcing a single turnover. This was simply an exercise in outplaying the opponent—the Ravens were nearly flawless, while the Giants (the defending Super Bowl champions, nonetheless) seemed powerless to stop them.
While the win doesn't erase the struggles the Ravens have had on both offense and defense earlier in the season, it certainly helps fade their memories. The fact they could host a team like the Giants and absolutely throttle them, even though little has changed, roster-wise, from the previous three weeks, proves just how dangerous the Ravens can be when offense, defense and special teams are all in sync.
With the win, the Ravens avoid a divisional title game in Week 17 against the Cincinnati Bengals and strike fear into every playoff-bound AFC team that could be in their path come January. It's been a while since the Ravens have made a statement this loud, and now it just may reverberate all the way to February and into the Superdome.