The Baltimore Ravens defeated the Cleveland Browns 28-10 and slid into first place in the AFC North, setting up a battle for the division lead next week in Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football.
The game went almost exactly as I had predicted it, although the Browns didn't score as many points as I thought they might. The Ravens defense dominated the game just as I had thought and the offense ran the ball down the defense's throats, especially at the end of the game as I had said they would in Sunday morning's posting just below this one.
Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco made his first mistakes of the young season, throwing two first half interceptions. The first was an overthrown ball but the second was on a flea-flicker trick play and the pass was intercepted in the end zone, for which I give him a pass on that one. However, he managed the offense with the same calm manner that he did in week one, leading me to believe we can expect the same from him in the future. At the same time, next week's game will not only be his first taste of a hostile enemy crowd, but on national TV as well. That performance will go a long way in determining his as well as the entire team's future success in 2008. An upset victory over the Steelers, who lost yesterday in Philadelphia to fall to 2-1, would put the Ravens firmly in first place, which would be a huge surprise based on last season's debacle.
But back to the game. It was great to see how RB Willis McGahee came back without seeming to even miss a beat, as he ran for 64 yards on 15 carries with one TD, and didn't look like a guy who missed all of the preseason and the first game of the regular season. Shows what a true professional and star can do when he knows his position is up for grabs, eh? Le'Ron McClain continued his upward path of success, adding 66 yards on 17 carrries, including two touchdowns. Rookie Ray Rice, who played great in McGahee's absence in game one, only had five carries for 21 yards but thaat was enough to keep McGahee fresh. Having the 260 pound fullback Lorenzo Neal blasting open huge holes with the young, yet effective offensive line had to help as well. Imagine taking on the Ravens' o-line, Neal and then having to try to tackle the 260 pound McClain!? I can understand why this could wear down a defense by the fourth quarter, which is what happened, as the Ravens wound down the clock behind a running attack that might not have been great for individual stats, but certainly was effective when it mattered.
Flacco did his job, hitting some short and sharply thrown passes, exhibiting the arm strength that intrigued the Ravens and luckily did not scare them away from the lesser college competition star out of the University of Delaware. He was 13 of 19 for 129 yards and the two aforementioned interceptions. The offensive line gave up only one sack and it appeared to be more of a coverage sack than a breakdown in protection. I'm extremely impressed with the o-line's effectiveness and maturity, considering the old man of the starting group (center Jason Brown) is only 25 years old (not including veran backup Willie Anderson). Flacco spread his 13 completions around the receiving corps, with the always reliable Derrick Masson leading the group with four receptions. Even Todd Heap caught a couple passes and incredibly, didn't fumble even once! Sorry, Todd. It was also nice to see Demetrius Williams (three catches) and Mark Clayton (two catches) contribute to the offensive output, after being either hurt or invisible last season. Spreading the ball around and having an overpowering running game will certainly only add to the success of the passing game, specifically Joe Flacco, and I'm sure this has been the philosophy of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron since Flacco was selected by the Ravens with the 18th pick of the 2008 NFL draft. For some reason, I wonder what effect Cameron would have had if Kyle Boller had that type of education and mentorship way back when.
Defensively, where can we start and who should we single out for playing defense the way the Ravens did in 2000 on their way to victory in SB35? Did you see the vicious lick the "aging" Ray Lewis put on Kellen Winslow that popped the ball into the air for Chris McAlister to grab and return to put the Ravens into position for what was then the game tying touchdown? I hope that shut up a lot of experts and Cleveland fans who constantly rag me about the old Ray Lewis and aging defense! Something tells me any team in the league would love to have this rag-tag group of veterans, right!? A couple of weeks ago, the Ravens and their fans were worried that All Pro safety Ed Reed would miss part or even all of the season with a nerve impingement in his neck. Well, he certainly struck a nerve in Derek Anderson and the Browns when he read the Cleveland QB's eyes and never broke stride when he intercepted him and took it to the house to put the Ravens firmly in front and deflate the Browns fans' hope in the third quarter. The pass rush did exactly as I hoped and predicted when they harrassed Anderson all day long and sacked him five times to go along with their three interceptions, all the while holding Cleveland to 125 passing yards on 14 completions in 37 attempts. So now after two games, albeit against winless teams, the Ravens have held two All Pro QB's to a grand total of 224 passing yards.
The only bright spot (there was one?) for the Browns was the 19 TD yard pass from Anderson to reserve RB Jerome Harrison early in the second quarter. Interestingly, the Browns fans said en mass that the team should utilize Harrison more in the passing game and get him to the outside with some screen or swing passes. The team does it once with great success and never repeats it again?
Now the Ravens sit at the top of the division, with the primetime showdown next Monday night. Ravens fans remember the embarrassment of last year's demoralizing defeat in Pittsburgh on MNF, but that was with an aging and inefficient QB and a depleted and lost secondary, as that game was over by the end of the ifrst quarter. Next week is shaping up to be a completely different contest and after getting battered and beaten by the Philadelphia Eagles yesterday, I'm pretty confident that Ben Roethlisberger is not looking forward to the physical play of the Ravens with any excitement.
However, all Ravens fans, including this writer, certainly can't wait!