Now, that’s more like it.
Despite beginning the season with two solid victories and showing more offensive prowess than Baltimore had seen in years, there were still voices of concern.
The defense, which had been the linchpin of one of the more successful NFL franchises of the 21st century, was ranked a mediocre 17th, the secondary was giving up too many big plays, and they were missing Rex Ryan more than they thought they would.
One 34-3 demolition of the Cleveland Browns later, and that No.1 position on ESPN’s power rankings makes that much more sense.
“The old coaching adage is, 'It’s never as good as it looks. It’s never as bad as it looks.’ And last week, as bad as some things looked, they weren’t that bad,” said head coach John Harbaugh, referring to the criticism his team received after last year’s close win against the San Diego Chargers. “That’s what we try to convey. Yet, we still had to get better.”
“This week, as good as some of those numbers are going to look, it’s not as good as it looks. There [are] a lot of little things in there that we have to improve on.”
Cleveland never had a chance in this one, one of the biggest mismatches of Week Three.
Quarterback Joe Flacco continued his non-sophomore slump, compiling 342 yards of offense and a touchdown.Running back Willis McGahee went into the end zone untouched—twice. Ray Rice registered the first NFL touchdown of his career while wide receiver Derrick Mason made the 800th reception of his.
But after giving too many big plays to the likes of Brodie Croyle and Philip Rivers, the defense embarrassed not one, but two of Cleveland’s quarterbacks.
Brady Quinn couldn’t complete a pass—unless it was less than five yards. After Quinn was benched, Derek Anderson successfully completed a few passes—to the initially maligned Ravens’ defensive backs. Domonique Foxworth, Dawan Landry, and Ed Reed each picked off a Cleveland pass in the rout.
This was the type of win a Super Bowl contender should and expects to have against a lowly opponent. It's even better when it’s a divisional opponent. Harbaugh instilled the idea in his players’ heads that the Browns could upset them on Sunday, and the Ravens made every effort to make sure that was never a possibility.
Now, it’s on to New England. Despite taking down the Atlanta Falcons, their defense is still attempting to forge an identity, and quarterback Tom Brady still doesn’t look like himself after missing last season. But the running game is sound, their top receiver is still Randy Moss, and their head coach is still one of the smartest men in the NFL.
It will be the next big test for a team with championship aspirations. And if the Ravens can beat Tom Brady and Bill Belichick on their home turf, it just might put those laments about the defense to rest for good.