Ravens Finish During 48-17 Blowout Of Jaguars
RECORD PRESEASON POINT-FEST MOVES RECORD TO 2-1
By Joe Platania
(Look for Ravens Report's extensive "Leftovers", our usual postgame notebook, Friday morning.)
M&T BANK STADIUM, BALTIMORE -- The ominous voice of NFL Films, John Facenda, always used to say: "Great teams aren't always great. They're just great when they have to be."
Even during the so-called key third preseason game, the Ravens didn't have to be firing on all eight cylinders against the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.
But with cutdown dates looming next Monday and Friday, they had to show a lot more firepower than they had the past two weeks, and they did during a resounding 48-17 win before an announced crowd of 70,502 Thursday night.
Coupled with their 31-point output in Atlanta two weeks ago, the Ravens -- authors of their 40th lifetime preseason win -- now have two games of 30 or more points during the same preseason for the second straight year and just the third time in team history (1996, 2011).
The 48 points were also a club single-game preseason record -- breaking the mark of 38 points scored during a Friday noon-kickoff game against the New York Giants in 2001 -- and it was also just the eighth time during 66 preseason games that Baltimore had scored 30 or more.
Had this been a regular-season game, the point total would have tied a team single-game record, set during a 2005 Monday-night blowout of the Green Bay Packers and a 2009 wipeout of the Detroit Lions, both games at home and both decided by 48-3 scores.
The Ravens (2-1) played most of their starters into the third quarter, and it paid off against the perfect kind of opponent; the Jaguars (2-1) finished third in the AFC South Division last year, with a 5-11 record, and were transitioning to a new coaching staff and loads of young players.
But that shouldn't take away from the fact that the Ravens had to finish off their chances on offense -- they responded with five touchdown drives of 80 or more yards, six scoring drives of seven or more plays, and four touchdowns in five red-zone chances -- and make consistent stops on defense in order to look like the same kind of dominating team they have been for the better part of the past four years.
All told, the Ravens dominated a Jacksonville defense that had risen from fifth-worst in the league to sixth-best in 2011. The Ravens outgained their guests in total offensive yardage by a 571-258 margin, with 31 minutes' worth of possession time, despite running a preseason-low 76 plays.
"We executed well in the first half and played sharply at times," head coach John Harbaugh said. "The Jaguars had the one drive in the second quarter when our defense gave up some yards, but we came back with good red-zone defense and held them to a field goal."
Center Matt Birk agreed.
"Coming into this game, that's what we talked about," he said, "trying to finish everything. We finished some drives. ... Three points is good, but seven is much better. We were able to finish a couple of drives, and that's great, but we'll still probably focus more on the drives that we didn't finish and see how we can get better in those situations."
BLOW GAME OPEN
For his part, first-year Jags head coach Mike Mularkey was happy to have to deal with the Ravens' approach.
"They up-tempoed us and that's good for us," he said. "We need that. We need to find out about ourselves. ... They did a great job with their passing game, getting guys to the voids where we were not there."
It was the right time for the offense to move the ball with great alacrity, and even though Harbaugh seemed content at halftime, the unit seemed to get better the longer the first-string players stayed in the game.
During the fourth quarter, Joe Flacco (27-for-36, 266 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, two sacks, 102.3 rating during 2.5 quarters) drove the Ravens 80 yards in 11 plays, using the same variety of targets he had during the first half.
Early during the drive, passes to Tandon Doss and Jacoby Jones got first downs before a 32-yard bullet down the middle to Torrey Smith (11 targets, 103 yards, eight catches) put the ball on the Jacksonville 20-yard line. Smith then ran another dig route from right to left to set up a first-and-goal on the Jags' 8.
Two plays later, Flacco rolled right and found fullback Vonta Leach at the 2, who plowed into the end zone from there to run the score to 20-3 and effectively end the competitive phase of the game.
"We felt good and we had a good rhythm going," Flacco said. "... Overall, it was a pretty good night."
Not that any further nails in the coffin were needed, but Pernell McPhee deflected Josh Scobee's 30-yard field-goal try, which would have brought the Jaguars a little closer, and it bounced off the left upright of the goalposts in the stadium's west end zone.
Things went the Ravens' way even when Tyrod Taylor (7-for-9, 139 yards, two touchdowns, one interception, 118.8 rating) took over for Flacco. A short toss to LaQuan Williams (Maryland, Poly) turned into a 35-yard gain to the Jaguars' 27 after the speedster broke a tackle near midfield.
After a Jaguar penalty, Taylor -- who completed all three pass attempts during the drive for 50 yards -- went to Williams again, and the second-year receiver leaped over cornerback Antonio Dennard to cap off a 80-yard, seven-play drive and give the Ravens a 24-point bulge.
As part of a subsequent 10-play, 83-yard gem, Taylor then stylishly backed away from pressure and threw off his back foot to find Logan Payne for 20 yards to the Jaguars' 12. The sixth-round pick from Virginia Tech ended the drive himself with a fake and 5-yard run around right end for a touchdown.
But Dennard got his revenge, picking off a pass intended for Deonte Thompson and weaving 55 yards through would-be tacklers for a touchdown, which got the visitors out of single digits.
Bobby Rainey, an undrafted free agent back, then took a short Taylor pass and scooted 48 yards untouched for yet another score before the Jags' Richard Murphy circled right end and outraced safety Christian Thompson to the pylon to complete the 13-yard play.
Sixth-round pick Tommy Streeter got into the act, taking a 33-yard touchdown pass from Curtis Painter and breaking away from his tackler to score standing up.
JAGS CAN'T START,
RAVENS CAN'T FINISH
The Ravens went into the preseason's most important game with a patchwork offensive line, thanks to right guard Marshal Yanda's not-too-serious leg injury. He was rested as a precaution.
But as a result of his absence, veteran left guard Bobbie Williams had to go to the right side -- a position he has hardly played -- while rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele was inserted at left guard. That put Michael Oher back at right tackle, with veteran Bryant McKinnie reassuming his left-side slot.
"I think we've got a pretty good group here," Birk said. "Some guys get moved around, but we understand that's part of the deal. We've got a mostly-veteran group, a group that's willing to work."
Flacco -- author of a brilliant 20-for-27 first half, which featured nine different receivers -- made sure the line dilemma was a moot point, expertly getting rid of the ball quickly via tightly executed three- and five-step drops. Two passes to tight end Billy Bajema and one to Anquan Boldin moved the Ravens from their own 20 to the Jaguars' 40.
But a Boldin false-start call and an incomplete deep ball to Smith killed the drive and denied the Ravens yet another opportunity to finish a drive.
Reserve cornerback Corey Graham -- who left the game during the third quarter with a concussion -- downed Sam Koch's punt on the Jags' 5, setting up the Ravens' defense to apply pressure on second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert (11-for-21, 117 yards, one sack, 68.9 rating during three quarters), who had performed to a 126 passer rating during the first two preseason games thanks to a re-stocked receiving corps.
The Jags' run offense had also done well this month, even without holdout running back Maurice Jones-Drew. But when Rashad Jennings (57 yards, 13 carries) was stuffed on second down, Gabbert's third-and-8 pass to rookie Justin Blackmon barely eluded cornerback Jimmy Smith and gave the Jags a first down.
But Smith played good defense as a third-and-6 sideline pass went to free-agent pickup Laurent Robinson, stalling the drive of a team that had converted 46.9 percent of its third-down chances and averaged more than 33 minutes possession time this month, even without Jones-Drew, who contributed 47 percent of the team's offense last year.
"The first two preseason games, [the defense] don't game-plan anything," safety Bernard Pollard said. "For the little game-planning we did tonight, we stepped in and played well. We're still trying to keep everything simple with our defense."
While the Jaguars were having trouble getting started without Jones-Drew, the Ravens were still encountering difficulty finishing.
Directing a sugar-huddle attack for most of the evening, Flacco again showed the poise he did during the first drive, sending Ray Rice (30 yards, two carries) around right end behind Leach for a 28-yard gain into Jags territory. Smith sat down in the Jags' zone for a catch that gained 17 more and a designed pass to Rice in the right flat put the ball on the 5-yard line.
But an end-zone pass to Boldin was tipped and he landed out of bounds; Terrance Knighton then sacked Flacco, when he found no one open. Justin Tucker, who handled all the kicking duties with veteran Billy Cundiff rested, had to boot a 33-yard field goal for the game's first points.
The Ravens then turned up the heat in quintessential Baltimore fashion: getting physical on defense. Haloti Ngata sacked Gabbert for a 9-yard loss -- the third sack for the Ravens this preseason -- and safety Bernard Pollard pounded a receiver on a third-down play to quickly force a punt.
Jacksonville had the NFL's lowest-rated offense last year, but Blackmon (72 yards, four catches) found himself isolated on safety Ed Reed, broke a Lardarius Webb tackle and converted a 20-yard catch-and-run play to put the ball in Ravens territory for the first time and flip field position enough to the point that the Ravens had to take over on their own 15 after a punt.
But the Ravens could claim territorial domination of the first quarter, outgaining Jacksonville, 130 yards to 63; getting seven first downs to the Jags' three; and outpassing them, 96-39. That kind of one-sided play had to net some finishes ... and some results.
A DRIVE FINISHED,
A LEAD EXTENDED
Smith had appeared to injure his leg on a 16-yard sideline catch in front of the Jaguars' bench, which would have put yet another monkey wrench in the plans of a Ravens offense that is being counted on to be more dynamic and explosive this year.
But a 16-yard slant to Boldin and a 6-yard pass to Bajema helped get the ball into Jags territory before Smith reappeared to convert a third-and-4 situation at the Jags' 37.
Even though the starters were expected to play extended minutes, the Ravens worked in their reserve running backs relatively early. Rainey got a first-quarter carry and third-round draft pick Bernard Pierce caught a 12-yard pass to set the Ravens up for a third-and-short play at the 29.
Rainey came back into the picture, running under a deftly thrown sideline pass for a 17-yard gain to the 12. Two plays later, Smith hauled in a 7-yard pass at the 5 before a spectacular coup de gras capped off the drive.
Flacco executed a perfect play-action fake before he looped a pass to a wide-open Boldin in the back of the end zone for his eighth completion in nine passes on the drive and a 5-yard touchdown, only the second six-pointer scored by the first string all month.
The 85-yard, 12-play drive took nearly five minutes off the clock and staked the Ravens to a 10-0 lead.
Even though a subsequent eight-play drive didn't have the same maximum result, Doss got into the act; last year's fourth-round pick leaped high for a short Flacco pass in the right flat to convert a third-and-3 and put the ball at the Jacksonville 43.
An Osemele holding penalty wiped out a Rainey run to the 30, but the Rainey caught an 8-yard pass to set up Tucker's 53-yard field goal, extending the Ravens' lead to 13 points.
But despite his relatively green status, Gabbert knew where to direct his attack next time the Jaguars got the ball.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb had a sparkling first half with six tackles (four solo), and it was up to Cary Williams to hold up his end. But on a play-action fake, Williams let Blackmon get behind him, and the fourth overall draft pick gained 27 yards to the Ravens' 27.
Jennings ran 9 yards off the left side to the 18, and a Paul Kruger holding penalty eventually helped the Jaguars get down to the Baltimore 7. That set up Scobee's 25-yard field goal, which put Jacksonville on the board for the first time.
But even though the Jags were on the board, the Ravens were on their way to the kind of comprehensive victory they had been seeking ... and at the the preseason's most critical juncture.
Posted Aug. 23, 2012