A week after a disheartening overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Baltimore Ravens righted themselves with a complete and thoroughly dominant effort in a 21-0 rout of the host Tennessee Titans that included a record-setting performance from the Ravens' defense and a bit of redemption for receiver Michael Crabtree.
The win also gives the Ravens (4-2) two victories during a tough stretch of three consecutive road games, and now they will play four of the next five at home.
Here are five quick impressions of the win, which leaves the Ravens tied for first place in the AFC North.
1. The Ravens' pass rush was ferocious, relentless and record-setting.
They came at Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota from everywhere. Off the edge. Up the middle. On a stunt. On a delay. The Ravens set a franchise record with 11 sacks -- one shy of the NFL record -- and never let Mariota and the Titans' offense get going.
This was not a case of the Ravens picking on an inexperienced tackle or a rookie center. This was a complete effort, from scheme, to coverage, to execution. How overwhelming was the Ravens' pass rush? The 11 sacks came from eight different players, led by linebackers Za'Darius Smith (three) and Patrick Onwuasor (two).
For the most part, the Ravens were able to contain the mobile Mariota and give him no escape route to the outside, and their schemes seemed to bewilder the quarterback and his offensive line. On one sack, Tony Jefferson appeared to line up as the free safety, switching up with Eric Weddle at the last minute and shooting through a gap to get to Mariota. On another, linebacker Matt Judon acted as if he would drop in coverage, then came on a delayed blitz.
On the rare occasion when Mariota had time, the Ravens' coverage downfield generally held up well.
Since Don "Wink" Martindale took over as the defensive coordinator this spring, several Ravens defensive players have heralded how the scheme allows them to play "fast and free." This was exactly what they meant.
2. This is the Michael Crabtree the Ravens thought they were getting.
After Crabtree dropped three passes in the loss to Cleveland last week, including a potential go-ahead touchdown during the final minute of regulation, the Ravens spent this past week expressing continued confidence in the 10-year veteran.
Quarterback Joe Flacco said Crabtree has "one of the surest pair of hands I've ever seen," and receiver John Brown and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg were among others who professed their faith in Crabtree.
Sure enough, Mornhinweg called Crabtree's number right away: Flacco connected with him on a 21-yard pass down the left sideline on the first play of the game. Crabtree then capped the opening drive with a 4-yard touchdown catch. Crabtree finished the game with six catches for a team-high 93 yards.
When the Ravens signed Crabtree to a three-year deal this offseason as the centerpiece of their revamped passing game, they envisioned him as an impact player and big red-zone target. It's been a fairly uneven start for Crabtree with the drops, but in that opening series, he showed everything the Ravens thought they would be getting from him.
As he hurtled the ball skyward after his touchdown catch, it was easy to sense that he felt a bit of vindication, too.
3. Score one for Mornhinweg against Dean Pees.
The Ravens began the game with a 17-play, 94-yard touchdown drive that used more than nine minutes of the first quarter, and they later had a 12-play touchdown drive that lasted more than seven minutes. The Ravens were 8-for-9 converting third downs in the first half, and 12-for-17 overall.
The Ravens mixed the run and the pass, exploiting the soft middle of the Titans' defense, and they turned to a variety of players to move the chains -- Crabtree, receiver Willie Snead, tight end Mark Andrews and running back Buck Allen among them.
One play emblematic of the game -- other than Mariota getting flattened -- was when Flacco dropped back on third-and-17 and found Snead over the middle for a gain of 24.
Facing his former colleague, Mornhinweg seemed to be one step ahead of Titans defensive coordinator Pees all afternoon.
4. Despite the loss at Cleveland, going 2-1 during this three-game stretch is a net win.
With the Pittsburgh Steelers knocking off the Cincinnati Bengals in the final minute, the Ravens are back in a tie atop the AFC North at 4-2. A loss would have dropped the Ravens behind both the Bengals (4-2) and Steelers (3-2-1), whose demise might have been exaggerated after a 1-2-1 start.
The season is less than half complete, but this is already shaping up to be a bruising battle for playoffs spot(s) out of the AFC North. The loss at Cleveland stings, but going 2-1 during a three-game stretch of road games at Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Tennessee has to be viewed as a net win. And the Ravens have already finished their AFC North road games.
The Ravens now play just one road game until December (at Carolina Oct. 28).
5. The Alex Lewis injury was scary and a sobering fact of NFL life.
The Ravens' dominant win was marred by the sight of offensive guard Alex Lewis being carted off the field immobilized by a back board in the second half. Lewis appeared to jam his neck as he made a block, then took two steps, knelt and went to the ground.
According to the Ravens, Lewis had a CT scan at a local hospital and was being released to return to Baltimore with the team. He will be further evaluated in Baltimore Oct. 16. That's good news, but the play was a harsh reality that traumatic, potentially career-altering injuries can happen on every single play in the NFL.
As Lewis was carted off, players from both teams went over to greet him. They all know the risks, and everyone around the league will be pulling for him to make a quick and full recovery.
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