For as long as they have existed, the Ravens have wanted their wide receivers to make big plays.
But when they have come -- very inconsistently -- they have been mostly authored by players acquired from other organizations. Veteran free-agent pickups such as Qadry Ismail, Derrick Mason, Marcus Robinson, Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith Sr. have been the ones for whom the Ravens stretched their salary-cap dollars.
And to stretch the field, Baltimore has had to go that route due to a stunning lack of success drafting at that position. But in a league where the line between winning and losing is rather thin, finding help in the free-agent market is the only sound strategy.
This year, the sound grew louder with the signing of former Pittsburgh Steeler standout Mike Wallace, who, through the season's first quarter, has given the Ravens glimpses of what their offense can be.
At the same time, Wallace's ultra-confident demeanor is a bit of a throwback to the way the team, populated by trash-talking characters throughout its history, used to be.
Even though the 30-year-old Wallace could only observe from afar during his days with the Steelers, Miami Dolphins and Minnesota Vikings, he knew about the Ravens' reputation and wanted badly to be a part of it. His wish came true when he signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract in March.
"I just felt like this was the best fit for me," Wallace said. "I had a couple options that I thought were pretty good as well, but I think this was the best one. I think this was the best choice, and I think it just fit me -- just the grinding part of it, the way the team is, guys that are going to go out and fight together and just don't care.
"You just want to win by any means necessary."
Through five games, the 6-foot, 205-pound Wallace has done just that, averaging a team-high 13 yards per catch and finding himself on the other end of three of quarterback Joe Flacco's five touchdown passes.
The fact the tall, strong-armed Flacco has been Wallace's quarterback is something that has never been lost on the veteran receiver.
As a Steeler, Wallace began his career catching passes from two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger, someone with a deep game and large frame similar to Flacco. In four years with Pittsburgh, Wallace averaged between 13-21 yards per catch and made what, to date, is his only Pro Bowl.
But after his rookie contract expired, Wallace floundered the next three seasons by barely averaging more than 12 yards per catch while working with Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill and Vikings signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater.
Wallace needed a change, and so did Flacco and the Ravens. Not only was the quarterback coming off a season-ending knee injury, but he wanted to put his pass-attempt yardage figure back to more than 7 yards per toss, where it had been for most of his career. For Wallace's part, he wanted to re-establish his downfield dominance.
In the second quarter of the season opener against the Buffalo Bills Sept. 11, both players saw their opportunity and seized it.
Running a no-huddle, shotgun series, Flacco was faced with a third-and-1 at the Ravens' 34-yard line with Baltimore trailing, 3-0. The Bills, anticipating a short pass to possession receiver Steve Smith Sr., double-teamed him, leaving Wallace single-covered by a safety.
The original call was a run play, but Flacco checked out of it. Wallace ran a perfect post pattern from the right side of the set across the field and gathered in the ball for a 66-yard touchdown that proved to be the game's biggest play in a 13-7 win, the Ravens' first opening-weekend win in four years.
"Overall, it was pretty simple," Flacco said. "[Wallace's] speed got the job done. It was a really easy throw; nobody was back there. He did a great job beating the guy with his speed.
"I think you can see his athleticism, because after he ran so well, he was able to stiff-arm the guy and make sure he got in the end zone. Getting in the end zone there is huge because when you get down there, it's not always easy to put it in."
When the Ravens needed someone to get into the end zone, Wallace has been their man.
The following week, Wallace gathered in a sharply thrown, 7-yard slant pass from Flacco in Cleveland to help jumpstart the Ravens' biggest road comeback in team history. One quarter later, he got behind an outmanned cornerback to haul in a 17-yard pass to draw the Ravens within one point in a game they would eventually win.
It is big plays like those, made at the most opportune times, that give Wallace and the Ravens hope that a so-far inconsistent offense can soon find its stride and reach its ultra-explosive potential.
Despite an encouraging start, the Ravens have scored a mere 84 points, their lowest total through Week Four since 2010, a year that also saw them win three of their first four games, but notch only 61 tallies.
"I just think we need to score," Wallace said. "I don't care what we do or how we get it done. It is not really my job to think about what we should do or what we shouldn't do. It is just my job to go execute. I don't care what we do, as long as we score some more points on offense."
And Wallace's acquisition is proof of one basic truth:
The Ravens haven't really cared where they go to get players to make big plays and score those points.
has been covering professional football since 1994
Issue 226: October 2016