TAMPA, Fla. — By the time the downpour came and lightning flashed near Raymond James Stadium on Thursday night, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs had long found a spot on the Ravens’ sideline where they remained the rest of the night.
Mostly fulfilling their No.1 goal, the Ravens appeared to get out of their 44-16 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in their preseason opener without any significant injuries to their starting players though both Bernard Pierce and Deonte Thompson were banged up after the game.
Beyond that, it was an uneven performance by the Ravens’ starting offense while the first-team defense relied on the play of several newcomers, mainly middle linebacker Daryl Smith and defensive end Chris Canty, to keep the Buccaneers out of the end zone.
“We are pleased that we were able to keep pressure on them in all three phases of the game,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh who played most of his top starters for about a quarter. “You keep going after an opponent, and when you do that, sometimes you can overcome mistakes and penalties.”
Flacco played two series but couldn’t lead the Ravens to points. He finished the night completing 7-of-9 passes for 57 yards and an interception by former teammate Danny Gorrer. Flacco did not throw an interception in the Ravens’ final six games last season.
“I think for the most part, it felt pretty good, and not just in terms of finally being back out here,” Flacco said. “I felt like we operated OK for being this early and that the offensive line played pretty well. There are a couple things we need to clean up – like on the interception – because those are little things that we need to detail and get better at so we stay on the field and score points.”
Running back Ray Rice exited the game after rushing three times for seven yards while Pierce, his top backup took three carries for 21 yards but limped off the field for good on the night after he was hit in the right left while finishing a 20-yard touchdown run. It did not appear to be serious but he left the stadium with his knee wrapped.
The Ravens’ offensive line mostly held up, giving Flacco and backup Tyrod Taylor enough time to survey the field and find wide receivers. Taylor was particularly impressive, completing 13-of-23 passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns and running five times for 27 yards.
If there was a primary disappointment on the offensive side, it was that none of the candidates for the second and third receiving roles made a positive impact.
While No.1 wideout Torrey Smith caught two passes for 16 yards in limited work, Jacoby Jones didn’t have a catch, failing to prevent Gorrer’s interception on one of his targets and dropping a third-down pass on the other. Tandon Doss also finished without a catch, while Thompson had one catch for five yards but had a drop and then left the game with what appeared to be an ankle injury. He left the stadium with a soft boot on his foot.
Harbaugh wouldn’t comment on specific injury to players but said, “We looked pretty good right now. We’ll have some things we have to see about tomorrow, X-rays, MRIS. So we’ll have to see.”
On the defensive side, the Ravens got some pressure on quarterback Josh Freeman with Canty taking him down for a loss, and held the Buccaneers starter to a 4-of-7 performance for 34 yards.
“It felt good just to get the dust off,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “That’s what preseason Game One is for. You don’t want to play too much, but you have to get that dust off and get your eyes right. It was good being back out here with the boys.”
Daryl Smith was particularly effective, finishing the first half with five tackles, including one for a loss, and a pass break-up.
Trailing 13-7 late in the second quarter, the Ravens finished the first half with 17 unanswered points. Justin Tucker kicked a 43-yard field goal, Anthony Allen scored on a two-yard touchdown run and then LaQuan Williams (Poly, Maryland) pounced on Brynden Trawick’s block punt in the end zone for the touchdown.
An 11-point halftime lead then ballooned to 31-13 when Williams, who had another fumble recovery in the second quarter to set up Pierce’s 20-yard touchdown run, got behind the Buccaneers’ defense and caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Taylor.
Williams caught two balls for 32 yards and a touchdown and was the clear winner in the wide receiver competition through the first game.
“I just want to keep stacking days,” Williams said. “Hopefully, I can solidify a spot on the team. That’s my focus right now.”
The Ravens had three interceptions, including one by linebacker Brandon Copeland (Gilman). Overall, the Buccaneers turned the ball over five times as the Ravens ran off 37 of the game’s final 40 points. But Harbaugh, whose team plays the Atlanta Falcons in its second preseason game next Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium, found plenty that needs improvement.“Obviously, [some] good and bad,” he said. “We had a little bit of everything in that game it seemed like. I thought special teams played exceptionally well. That bodes well for our young guys. [On offense], we didn’t get much going with the ones. There are plenty of things we need to work on.”