For the past six weeks, the Ravens had seen this from Joe Flacco on a daily basis.
They watched him fit throws into the tightest of spaces and hit receivers in stride 50 yards down the field. They marveled at his calmness and command of the huddle.
So while a “Monday Night Football” national television audience was introduced to a new-look offense and a confident quarterback at the top of his game, , the Ravens simply got confirmation on something that they had been witnessing for weeks.
From his first pass, a 52-yard bomb to Torrey Smith (Maryland) on the game's first play from scrimmage, until he gave way to backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor midway through the fourth quarter of a Ravens' 44-13 rout of the Cincinnati Bengals, Flacco was in complete command.
Flacco completed 21-of-29 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions Monday, and the Ravens scored the game's final 27 points to begin the season 1-0 for the fifth time under coach John Harbaugh. The 44 points tied for the third-most that the Ravens have ever scored in the regular season.
“It was a lot of fun, you can't lie about that," Flacco said. "We didn't get that many drives, really, but we were efficient enough that we put points on the board, and sometimes that's what you need to do."
In blowing out the Bengals in front of an announced 71,064 at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens won their 12th straight home game. The Ravens, who swept the division en route to the AFC North title last season, have won nine straight games against divisional foes, an NFL high.
For a little while, the streak looked to be in jeopardy. The Ravens' lead was down from 14 points to 4, and the defense was struggling to contain Andy Dalton and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
But that's when Flacco got his hands back on the ball, and put the Bengals away. Thriving in the no-huddle offense, Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta for a 10-yard touchdown pass that made it an 11-point game.
The next drive ended with a 40-yard field goal from Justin Tucker, the rookie who converted all three of his field-goal attempts and all five of his extra-points.
Safety Ed Reed intercepted an errant pass by Dalton on the Bengals' next possession and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown. If the Reed score didn't officially put Bengals' away, then Ray Rice's second touchdown, this one from one yard after Ray Lewis caused a Dalton fumble, most certainly did.
“You always want to come out fast in the first one,” said Rice who rushed for 68 yards and the two touchdowns on 10 carries and caught three balls for 25 yards. “Our offense is real explosive. I think this is the fastest group we've had since I've been here."
The Ravens accumulated 430 total yards of offense as Flacco worked in a little of everything. Eight different players caught passes, and seven different players carried the ball. Flacco orchestrated it all, showing great arm strength on deep passes to Smith to start to the game and to Anquan Boldin on a 34-yard touchdown strike between two defenders early in the second quarter.
Then, he exhibited great touch and poise, holding his ground in the face of a blitz and throwing a jump ball to Pitta, who soared over Leon Hall for the touchdown that made it a 24-13 game at the 5:18 mark of the third quarter.
“We've always stood up here, and we've always, all our coaches, the organization, we know what we've got in this guy,” said Harbaugh who agreed with a reporter's question that his quarterback could be “scary good” this season.
“Of course he is [elite]. He is a winner. He is one of the toughest quarterbacks I have ever been around. He's the best quarterback I've ever been around.”
Harbaugh then took it a step further when asked if Flacco, who is in the final season of his contract and whose agent has been negotiating a contract extension with the Ravens since February, just raised his price tag.
“Pay him whatever he wants,” Harbaugh said as he broke out into laughter. “Pay the man.”
Flacco, who was standing about 5 yards away from the podium, said, “Hey, you all heard that. ... I don't concern myself with that stuff. I feel like I always go out there, and we go out on the field, and we play pretty [darn] good every week. The stats might not always say 299 yards or 300 yards or 450 yards. But the bottom line is I go out there, and I play hard, I play tough, and we win a lot of football games around here."
It was that kind of night for the Ravens who appeared to be in control of the game after Boldin's touchdown gave them a 17-3 lead
However, relying on quick Dalton strikes to A.J. Green and Andrew Hawkins and the hard running of Green-Ellis, Cincinnati marched 81 yards on 18 plays just before halftime, converting twice on fourth down. On 4th-and-1 from the 6-yard line, Green-Ellis powered his way in for the score to cut the Ravens' lead to 17-10.
Cincinnati got the ball back to start the second half and they again marched right down the field, earning a 1st-and-goal situation.
However, Green-Ellis was stopped for one yard on first down, Dalton threw incomplete on second down and then Dalton tried to run it in on third down, but he was stopped on the 1-yard line by a combination of Lewis, Reed and Albert McClellan.
They were forced to settle for Nugent's 19-yard field goal that cut the Ravens' advantage to 17-13. That was about the last time the Bengals' offense even threatened.
Dalton was sacked four times, two of them by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Lewis had 14 tackles and a forced fumble and cornerback Lardarius Webb had seven tackles and a fumble recovery. But on this night, they were plenty content to play a supporting role to Flacco.
“Joe has gotten better every year,” said Reed. “This is what we've seen all camp with Joe, just throwing the ball to those guys, putting it right in their chest, putting it right on their hands. You see that. Those guys trust him and want to make plays for him.”
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