It was only one drive, lasting 10 plays and just under five minutes. But it was just what quarterback Joe Flacco and the first-team offense needed to kick off the preseason and the Gary Kubiak era.
Flacco drove the offense down the field for a touchdown in his only series and spent the rest of the night on the sideline watching the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, 23-3, in front of an announced 70,529 at M&T Bank Stadium.
“It was nice,” Flacco said. “It felt good to get out here in a game-type situation and feel the nerves of a real game. I enjoyed being out there and doing it for real, and I thought we did pretty well. We moved the ball methodically, with precision, and got it in the end zone.”
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The Ravens rushed for 237 yards on 48 carries, an average of 4.9 per rush. Rookie back Lorenzo Taliaferro had 71 of those yards on 13 carries.
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor led four scoring drives and hit rookie Jeremy Butler for a 7-yard touchdown. Justin Tucker went three-for-three on field goals, one a 55-yarder. The defense gave up three points on the 49ers' first drive and then nothing the rest of the way. The Ravens also appeared to avoid any significant injuries, the No.1 goal in a preseason game.
But the biggest take-away from these two teams' first meeting since Super Bowl XLVII 18 months ago was the appearance of a confident and comfortable Flacco. With so much attention being paid to how he is picking up Kubiak's new offense, Flacco went 4-for-5 for 52 yards and emphatically pumped his fist when running back Bernard Pierce barreled in for a 2-yard touchdown run.
“The execution by the offense on our first drive was what we like to see,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “Our technique and assignments were sharp. It was good, fundamentally sound football.”
On the 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive, Flacco looked in control and decisive, words rarely used to describe him last season when he set a franchise-record with 22 interceptions and was sacked 48 times.
Facing a 49ers defense that was without several starters, Flacco hit four receivers for his completions, finding tight end Dennis Pitta for 14 yards and wide receiver Jacoby Jones for 12 on a third-and-5. He then found fullback Kyle Juszczyk for 17 yards and Steve Smith for 9to set up first-and-goal.
“Your opening drive is definitely key,” Smith said. “Your percentage of winning or losing is affected by whether you're able to produce on your first three drives. We were able to convert two or three times, run the ball well and pass the ball well. That's always good for the offense.”
The Ravens were certainly not going to show everything in their first preseason game, but there were enough elements of a Kubiak-led offense on display. There were play-action passes, receivers working in the middle of the field and the 14-yard completion to Pitta was on a wide receiver screen.
There was also an effort to establish the run game and achieve a balanced offense. The first drive was split evenly with five passes and five runs, and those carries went for a respectable 26 yards. Ray Rice, who was cheered loudly when he was introduced at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since an offseason altercation with his then-fiancee resulted in an arrest and a felony aggravated-assault charge, had three of those rushes for 17 yards.
Pierce also carried twice for 9 yards, including the 2-yard touchdown. Other than one incompletion to Torrey Smith (Maryland) and the short touchdown run by Pierce, the Ravens got at least 5 yards on every play on the drive.
“It's always great seeing another opponent; it brings the best out of your competitive side,” Rice said. “For me, personally, it felt good to get out there and show that I still have a burst. I was able to move and get into my correct reads with this new offense. It was definitely great to gel with my teammates.”
It was a solid all-around performance for the Ravens but hardly a flawless one. Taylor threw an interception and was sacked twice. Pierce and Forsett both fumbled, with Forsett losing his.
“You can't put the ball on the ground,” Harbaugh said. “We are not going to be a team that gives the ball away.”
Harbaugh also felt the first-team defense, which allowed the 49ers to drive 66 yards on their first drive, 34 of those on the ground, was a little tentative. But it settled down and forced a punt on the 49ers' second drive.
By then, Flacco was already on the sideline for good, a brief but productive night's work behind him.
Harbaugh improved to 3-0 against his brother, Jim, the coach of the 49ers. The two talked at length before the game and they'll have plenty of more opportunities to catch up over the next couple of days.
The 49ers stayed in town and will practice with the Ravens at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills from Saturday through Monday.