It wasn't the most convincing win the Baltimore Ravens have ever had, but the bottom line is that after Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium the Ravens have improved to 2-1 with a much-needed win in their home opener over the Cleveland Browns behind the performance of newly acquired wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who hauled in eight passes for 140 yards and three TDs.
The atmosphere for the Ravens' home opener was positively electric, and when push comes to shove the home crowd will gladly take this win because it makes for a better tailgate party, but also because the Ravens eased concerns about their passing game following Joe Flacco's hideous four-interception performance the previous week.
At the same time, though, Cleveland Browns RB Peyton Hillis got loose for a massive total of 144 yards and one TD rushing on 22 carries, and was the biggest reason that the Browns led the Ravens 17-14 in the fourth quarter. Such a big game raises concerns about whether the Ravens' vaunted run defense is no longer as good as it once was.
There are three reasons why Flacco gets the game ball for today's game.
First and foremost, he responded in a big way from last week's horrid performance (the worst game of his career) to have one of the best games of his career. Sure, part of it was the matchup difference in the two teams: The bad game was against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have annoyingly had the Ravens' number the last several years, and it was on the road, while the good game was against the hapless Cleveland Browns, the division's perennial doormats, at home.
However, the most talented area of Cleveland's roster is probably its defensive secondary. Flacco was 22-of-31 with 262 yards, three TDs, and no turnovers.
The second reason why Flacco gets today's game ball is that he was a little bit lucky early in the game, when he threw effectively a pick-six that went off the hands of the defender and to the hands of an alert Derrick Mason. Sometimes, better lucky than good, as it turned out those seven points would have been huge in this close game.
The final reason is that Anquan Boldin already made the cover of the article. Sorry, Q, you can't get everything. Nice game though!
Ravens LT Michael Oher had the misfortune of getting his name called. When you are an offensive lineman, that is never a good thing, because it means one of two things: Someone just beat you for a sack, or you just got called for a penalty.
The Ravens turned in a solid offensive performance today. Not an elite performance, but a solid one. On the go-ahead TD drive, however, Oher was flagged for a personal foul (unnecessary roughness) when he took a swing at Browns DE Robaire Smith in retaliation for Smith's decision to go after TE Todd Heap following a false start.
That flatly cannot happen, especially when the game is on the line- against a better team that could have led to a Baltimore punt facing 2nd-and-18 after the penalty.
Other than that, though, Oher played very well. He just happened to get his name called, and on a day when the Ravens offense played well as a unit, one really bad play is enough to get you branded the week's goat.
On a day when the Ravens couldn't stop the run with their front seven defenders, it was a credit to SS Dawan Landry that Peyton Hillis never broke a long touchdown run when Landry moved down into the box, and yet the Ravens never got beat for a deep TD pass in Landry's area.
Landry was also involved in a game-leading nine tackles (two of them assists), and while he was over-matched by the size of the 250-pound Hillis (and got bulldozed at one point), he was able to stand up the Browns RB enough for help to arrive. Landry also had a sack of QB Seneca Wallace on the day.
It wasn't the flashiest performance, but a solid workmanlike outing may have saved the Ravens some real trouble, so kudos to Landry for keeping the defense somewhat in form.
Because most of the Browns' offensive success came running the football, it is difficult to single out a specific player in the defensive front seven that can be blamed for the bad day.
In fact, as the game went deeper into the fourth quarter, the Ravens started to have more success containing Hillis. However, much like I called out Michael Oher for a personal foul, FS Tom Zbikowski made an equally bad decision.
Peyton Hillis's longest run of the day (48 yards) ended when Zbikowski forced the Browns RB out of bounds. However, rather than let the play die, Zbikowski flung Hillis to the ground on the sideline, drawing the personal foul and moving the Browns 15 yards closer to an eventual touchdown.
Penalties like that will come back to bite the Ravens if they keep coming, and stupid penalties like that are basically inexplicable. Neither personal foul call can really be argued (unlike last week); the referees made the correct judgments on both occasions.
Certainly the Ravens seem to have uncannily bad luck with the zebras, but when you have penalties like these, you have to wonder whether the referees are conscious about the Ravens' tendency to play too far through the whistle and penalize them as such.
When you look at Billy Cundiff's stat line, it is pretty pedestrian. He made all three extra points he attempted, but only made one of his two field goal attempts. Upon closer inspection, however, a few things stand out.
First, the field goal he made (49 yards) was no chip shot. It was a kick of real quality and furthermore came after the miss, which Cundiff was able to put out of his head. The missed field goal was slightly longer (51 yards), again, not a gimme try.
Still, that alone would not be enough to earn him "unsung hero" status. Why, then, is he here?
The answer is simple: The effectiveness of his kickoffs. The Ravens had five kickoffs in this game—three went for touchbacks.
Translation: Dangerous Cleveland return man Joshua Cribbs only had two serious chances to return kickoffs, and only one punt return. The Ravens' special teams unit did a great job as a whole, but Cundiff gets the nod because his deep kicks allowed the Ravens to forgo kicking away from Cribbs, which would have provided the Browns with good field position.
I know, I know, it was against the Browns, and most of the Ravens' offensive production came at the hands of stud wideout Anquan Boldin. However, other players definitely got in on the act. Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, and Ray Rice each had four receptions to go with Boldin's eight, and Rice had 15 carries for 80 yards on the day.
It should be noted that Rice left the game with a minor knee injury and that backup RB Willis McGahee was the guy to polish off the game. Still, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was optimistic after the game, saying that "there was no ligament damage," which would, of course, be a more serious injury.
Losing Rice would be a blow, but the fact of the matter is, the Ravens offense was balanced in its attack and it didn't have as much time on the field as you might have expected against the Browns thanks to Peyton Hillis's big day running. The Ravens had just over 30 minutes of possession, almost equal to that of the Browns, and true if they were playing better they maybe should have scored another seven or 10 points.
Still, any offensive movement at all is a welcome sight, as the Ravens hadn't shown much life on that side of the ball in their first two games, and now head to Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for a key divisional contest against the rival Steelers, who have one of the top defenses in the league, as usual.
A bad game against Cleveland offers hope that the Ravens might be able to move the ball at least a little bit against a strong Pittsburgh defense.
I've touched on this already, early and often, but the Ravens had a generally poor showing in the defensive front seven, getting repeatedly gashed by their opponent's backup running back.
Sure, the Ravens did the minimum they had to do this week in coming up with a home win. But it's hard to say that the Ravens have looked anything like a Super Bowl contender that they were supposed to be entering the season, and Super Bowl contenders don't let bad teams like the Cleveland Browns hang around or for that matter take leads in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens have some issues that they will have to address, and fast—it's rare to get a division rival without its star quarterback, and the Ravens have the opportunity to go on the road and win in the Steel City for the first time in several years next Sunday.
A loss would set the Ravens back to 2-2, two games behind the 4-0 Steelers and likely a 3-1 Bengals team. On the other hand, a win would propel Baltimore to the top of the division standings and keep it in the thick of the division race.
Oh, and one other thing: Super Bowl contenders typically win their divisions. Just saying.
Thanks for reading, I'll be back with a preview of the much-anticipated Ravens-Steelers game later this week.