Modell Honored Off Field And On; Ravens Rip Bengals, 44-13
OFFENSE PUTS HAMMER DOWN ON HARBS' 50TH WIN
By Joe Platania
(Look for Ravens Report's extensive "Leftovers", our usual postgame notebook, sometime Tuesday morning.)
M&T BANK STADIUM, BALTIMORE -- It was hard not to feel Art Modell's grandiose presence here Monday night.
After all, his drive and initiative brought "Monday Night Football" to the airwaves in 1970, his desire to stay in the league brought the NFL back to Baltimore in 1996 and his name has been a part of the Ravens' Ring of Honor since 2003.
Many Ravens players and coaches also wore T-shirts bearing his likeness under their jerseys and work shirts.
But even throughout the high-profile hoopla that spanned the better part of five decades, Modell was a man of simple tastes and interests. For him, it was simply all about the game.
Fittingly, it was a simple tribute, a black circle with "Art" inside it, that was visible on the sidelines -- at the same spot where John Unitas' high-topped cleats were placed after his death 10 years ago -- as yet another season kicked off, the 17th in Ravens history, but the first one without Modell's presence in the NFL since 1960.
Modell, who died of natural causes Sept. 6 at the age of 87 and will be buried Sept. 11, often said he felt the most nervous in the moments right before kickoff.
But even though the visiting Cincinnati Bengals provided enough nervous moments during the first 2.5 quarters, the Ravens' 44-13 win in front of 71,064 happy fans made it a night that would have caused Modell to smile and laugh -- and evenly distribute the credit -- when it was over.
"Where do you start?" head coach John Harbaugh said. "We were resilient. We kept the pressure on, and it was a tight ball game there. The credit just doesn't go to the players, because players win games, but the entire offensive staff did a great job."
Baltimore's new-look offense managed to camouflage the team's occasional defensive lapses and lead to the team's highest single-game point total since a 48-3 home pounding of the Detroit Lions on a rainy day in December 2009. It also helped the Ravens (1-0) take sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
The game also marked the 14th win by a home team during the last 18 Monday-night games and the Ravens' fourth home win during six Monday contests, even though this was the first such game on Charm City soil in five years.
The Ravens' first-ever home prime-time game in 1999 was against Cincinnati -- a 31-24 Sunday-night win -- so the scheduling, and the result, seemed rather fitting.
The game also marked Harbaugh's 50th career win (including postseason) as the Ravens' head coach. It came during his 74th game, nine games quicker than it took Brian Billick to win 50 games. Harbaugh's predecessor got his milestone win against -- you guessed it -- Cincinnati at home in December 2003.
Pacing the Ravens was an offense that scored a team-franchise-record 108 preseason points this year. While that may not strike some as relevant, it did lead into the Ravens' highest September single-game point total in team history. Baltimore -- a team not usually thought of as an offensive juggernaut -- was also the sixth NFL team to score 40 or more in Week One.
Quarterback Joe Flacco (21-for-29, 299 yards, two TDs, three sacks, 128.4 rating) was removed from the game midway through the fourth quarter, despite being 1 yard short of his ninth-career 300-yard game. That would have broken a team record he shares with Vinny Testaverde.
"I've always stood up here saying that we know what we have in [Flacco]," Harbaugh said. "He is a great player, and he's always been a great player. He's a winner, one of the toughest I've ever been around.
"He's our quarterback. ... Pay him whatever he wants."
And when the Bengals made the Ravens' wallets feel tight during the second half, Flacco stepped up at money time.
WRAP IT UP
Attempting to rally from an early 17-3 deficit, the Bengals carried over the offensive momentum they had late during the first half by putting together a 12-play, 79-yard drive to cut the Ravens' lead to four points.
Quarterback Andy Dalton (22-for-37, 221 yards, INT, four sacks, 65.3 rating) found A.J. Green (70 yards, five catches) along the right sideline for 17 yards to the Ravens' 38 before hooking up with slot man Andrew Hawkins (86 yards, team-high six catches) on a screen pass for 11 more.
Dalton ran a quarterback draw on third-and-goal, but was stopped by Lardarius Webb to force Mike Nugent's 19-yard field goal. Cincinnati had already established a pattern whereby it was forcing the Ravens' defense to be passive and cautious.
Luckily for the Ravens, their offense -- a unit many observers expect to all but carry the team this year -- regained control of the game at just the right time with a nine-play, 89-yard scoring drive.
Flacco passed the 14,000 career-passing-yards mark during a drive that began with a roll to his right and a 23-yard strike to Dennis Pitta (73 yards, team-high five catches, TD), the tight end with whom he seemed to have develop the best rapport during his first four seasons under center.
Leon Hall then interfered with his true top target, Anquan Boldin, on a slant before he then found Ray Rice (68 yards, 10 rushes, two TDs; 25 yards, three catches) along the left sideline for 18 yards thanks to a Torrey Smith block.
Rice then went up the gut for 13 more yards on a draw play before Ed Dickson (22 yards, two catches) got into the act on a right-to-left dig route to the Bengals' 12. On third-and-8 from the 10, Pitta outleaped Hall in the end zone for a touchdown that gave the Ravens some breathing room, 24-13.
And the Ravens simply wouldn't let up.
After a three-and-out by a suddenly resurgent defense, Flacco waggled to his left and found Pitta for a first down at the Bengals' 49 before Boldin made a diving catch at the 39 for another new set of plays.
Rice bulled through the middle for 10 yards to the 26 and Smith caught a quick toss toward the left sideline for 5 more. But two end-zone shots were incomplete, leading to Justin Tucker's 40-yard field goal, which restored the Ravens' original two-touchdown lead.
Tucker had a steady night during his first regulation game in place of Billy Cundiff, with his 3-for-3 field-goal performance and six touchbacks, all of which contributed to the Bengals' 19-yard-line average drive start.
But it was the Ravens' defense that salted the game away. Dalton, trying to find Brandon Tate on the right side, overshot him and Ed Reed intercepted it and ran it back 34 yards for a touchdown that not only gave the Ravens a 34-13 lead, but gave the Ravens' safety 1,497 career pickoff yards, an all-time league record previously held by ex-Ravens defensive back Rod Woodson.
It was also Reed's 58th career interception, tying him with Kansas City Chiefs Hall of Fame safety Emmitt Thomas for 10th on the all-time list. The score was Reed's 14th of his career, seven of them on interception returns, and it made all the offseason controversy -- his supposed lack of 100 percent commitment and retirement threat -- a distant memory.
"Hands down, you have to give credit to the defensive line for getting pressure on Dalton," said Reed, who strained his hamstring while diving for the pylon on the return. "He's a very good quarterback. ... I knew the call and I know how aggressive we are.
"We wanted to do something to honor [Modell] as players. We always have something to remind us why we're here."
NEW LINE, BUT
ANOTHER FAST START
The Ravens came out with another reconfigured offensive line, with Michael Oher playing left tackle in place of the demoted Bryant McKinnie, tackle Ramon Harewood at left guard and rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele at right tackle.
Although that new lineup wasn't asked to block for long on the first play -- Flacco's 52-yard deep-post strike to Smith -- it did allow a third-down Geno Atkins sack that forced the Ravens to settle for Tucker's 46-yard field goal.
Atkins, the first Cincinnati defensive lineman to make the Pro Bowl since Tim Krumrie in 1988, led the Bengals last year with 7.5 sacks and saved his team four points with his opening salvo.
But the Ravens scored 95 first-quarter points last year -- second in the AFC -- and are 33-5 under Harbaugh when scoring first, including a sparkling 11-0 last year, so those opening three points proved vital and gave the Ravens momentum they didn't relinquish.
Dalton, who threw for 373 yards during his last game in Baltimore, quickly faced a third-and-7 on his first possession. The aggressive Ravens, eager to show their defense would not take a step backward without Terrell Suggs' pass-rush presence, put nine men on the line of scrimmage; safety Bernard Pollard forced a drive-ending incompletion.
The Ravens then went to their hurry-up "sugar huddle" look, hoping that their early deep completion would have loosened up the Bengals' defense. For a while, it appeared to have been the case.
Smith (57 yards, two catches) took an end-around for 13 yards, and fullback Vonta Leach took a flat pass 10 yards into Bengals territory. After Boldin (63 yards, four catches, TD) fumbled an attempted reverse -- a play on which the Ravens scored against Cincinnati during the 2008 opener -- Jacoby Jones (46 yards, three catches) came back for a sideline pass that got 16 yards to the 29.
Facing fourth-and-1 at the 20, the Ravens decided to go for it, mindful that the Bengals -- one of 10 teams that have made the playoffs during two of the last three years -- also scored plenty during the first quarter last year (83 points, fourth in AFC). Flacco rolled right and found a wide-open Rice for a first down that kept the drive alive.
Osemele then held off Robert Geathers' rush to Flacco's right as the quarterback looked to his left and found Pitta at the Bengals' 7. Rice then sprinted up the middle behind Leach for a touchdown and a 10-point Ravens lead to cap a 12-play, 63-yard drive.
Rice's 30th career touchdown moved him out of a tie with wideout Derrick Mason into sole possession of fourth place on the team's all-time touchdown list. Willis McGahee is third with 35.
Even with a foolish kick return out of the end zone by Brandon Tate -- running the ball out from 7 yards deep and getting tackled inside his own 20 -- the Bengals did manage to get into an offensive rhythm with a 13-play, six-minute drive that got going with a 19-yard pass to Green, who managed just two catches against the Ravens in two games last year.
On third-and-2 near midfield, BenJarvus Green-Ellis (91 yards, 18 carries, TD) -- who had not fumbled in 537 career touches during four years-- ripped off a 13-yard gain up the middle for a first down at the Ravens' 37.
Another between-the-tackles burst set up a third-and-3 at the 16 as the first quarter ended, but an end-zone pass for tight end Jermaine Gresham was double-covered and a Nugent 34-yard field goal cut the Ravens' lead to 10-3.
The Ravens' offense began the second quarter with the same alacrity and front-foot tempo with which it started the first.
An 82-yard, five-play drive started with right guard Marshal Yanda pulling to his left and springing Rice -- who gained 295 yards during two games against Cincinnati last year -- for a 16-yard gain.
Soon after that, Flacco -- who completed 12 of 15 first-half passes, playing to a gaudy 139.7 passer rating -- lofted a tight-window throw over cornerback Terence Newman and into Jones' hands for 25 yards to the Bengals' 40.
Rice looked fresh after a preseason during which he got just 10 carries. He gained six more before Flacco audibled to a pass, as Anquan Boldin beat safety Taylor Mays to the post and hauled in a 34-yard touchdown pass. The catch survived the usual scoring-play video review and extended the Ravens' lead to 14 points.
Despite the sturdy presence of Green-Ellis --who gained 12 yards through a surprisingly porous Ravens run defense (129 yards allowed) -- Dalton didn't hand him the ball on third-and-2 near midfield before Haloti Ngata sacked him to end what could have been a promising Bengals drive.
Dalton had to deal with a receiving corps behind Green that had combined for 27 NFL catches, but he began to use his supplemental targets to force the Ravens' defense back on its heels.
Dalton found Hawkins for a 27-yard screen pass and run to the Bengals' 46, but he had to dump down to Green-Ellis on the next play for a mere 4-yard gain.
Green-Ellis then found a right-side hole for a first down in Ravens territory and Tate hauled in a 3-yard catch to set up a second-and-7 at the 40. Dalton's subsequent pass to Green and a quarterback sneak left the visitors a foot short on fourth down at the Ravens' 33, but Green-Ellis slammed through the middle for a 3-yard gain.
Using four wideouts with an empty backfield, Green got free over the middle for 15 yards to the Ravens' 15-yard line, putting them in a red-zone situation in which the Ravens' defense was the NFL's best last year, allowing touchdowns 38 percent of the time.
Dalton then rolled to his right -- with no pressure on him -- and found Gresham at the 6. The Bengals, facing third-and-1, called timeout with 35 seconds left before halftime.
The Ravens followed with a timeout of their own, after which Albert McClellan forced Dalton to the sideline. Ed Reed knocked away his ensuing end-zone pass for Gresham.
Another Ravens timeout preceded the Bengals' fourth-down play -- the field-goal team never moved from the sidelines -- but Green-Ellis plowed through Dannell Ellerbe and Ed Reed for a 6-yard score, which capped off a 13-play, 81-yard possession that got the Bengals back in the game by halftime, 17-10.
That happened to be the final score of Harbaugh's first home game against the Bengals during the 2008 home opener.
But Monday was a new night and a new year, and it took place in the absence of someone that made the old ways somehow much simpler and happier.
Posted Sept. 1, 2012