Based on first impressions in Friday night's 31-13 preseason win over the Kansas City Chiefs, wide receiver Lee Evans will be a major factor in the Ravens' offense.
Showcasing his speed and hands at a half-empty M&T Bank Stadium, Evans made an impressive debut by catching three passes for 68 yards — which was eight more yards than the rest of the Ravens in the first half. It looked like the former Buffalo Bills wide out had been with quarterback Joe Flacco for six years instead of six days.
"Lee Evans has been a great addition to our offense since the day he got here," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We're glad the fans had a chance to see that tonight."
Evans' three receptions all featured different routes and different ways he can hurt a defense on third down. His first catch was a 12-yard slant where Evans had to stretch out his arms to extend the Ravens' opening drive. His second was a 13-yard out route where he extended his arms and got both feet down before going out of bounds.
And his final catch came on a perfectly thrown over-the-shoulder pass down the left sideline for 43 yards. Three plays later, Rice ran 26 yards for the Ravens' first touchdown of the preseason.
The Ravens might miss Derrick Mason's consistency, but they'll trade that for Evans' electricity.
"For the most part, I felt I played effectively," Evans said. "I think the communication was good, our assignments were good and it was a decent start. I look forward to building off of it."
The last time Evans was at M&T Bank Stadium was last October, when he scored three touchdowns against the Ravens. Last night, a week after getting traded for a fourth-round pick, Evans didn't reach the end zone but he gave a glimpse of his clutch play, converting third downs of four, eight and seven yards.
The best part is Flacco thinks Evans will play better once his legs get fresher after a tiring training camp.
"It was exciting to see what he could do already with his ability to separate," Flacco said. "He definitely can run by guys and play that kind of game. Seeing him get in there was a good sign for us."
Outside of Evans, the Ravens' first-team offense continued to be highly erratic this preseason.
Flacco (12-for-24 for 124 yards) was wild for most of the game, overthrowing several receivers including twice deep to Anquan Boldin (who strangely didn't dive for one in the first quarter). The offensive line made major strides in pass protection, but left tackle Michael Oher and right guard Oniel Cousins were called for false starts on third downs in the second quarter. And before Rice's 26-yard run, the Ravens gained only 25 yards on their first 10 carries.
"I think we're just a little bit off on some things," Flacco said. "We almost hit a couple big plays; we're not quite there yet. But we still have a couple of weeks to tighten that up. I'm pretty comfortable with where we are."
The Ravens began in a 3-0 hole on a special teams gaffe. Lardarius Webb, the Ravens' primary punt returner last season, fumbled when his arm got hit by Chiefs rookie linebackerJustin Houston.
The turnover gave the ball to Kansas City at the Ravens' 15-yard line, but the Ravens' defense didn't budge. In a memorable first drive with the starting defense, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith was targeted three times and had tight coverage each time. The only reception allowed by the first-round pick was a one-handed catch to Kansas City's No. 1 receiverDwayne Bowe.
A third-down incompletion to Bowe forced the Chiefs to settle for a 31-yard field goal.
The Ravens answered by relying on quick-hit passes, but a sack and two incompletions by Flacco led to a 49-yard Billy Cundiff field goal to tie the game at 3 in the first quarter.
It appeared like the Ravens' defense got its biggest turnover of the preseason when rookie fifth-round pick Pernell McPhee crushed Tyler Palko and forced the Kansas City backup quarterback to fumble deep in Chiefs territory.
But just like in the preseason opener, McPhee had a fumble reversed by replay. The officials changed the call because of the tuck rule.
In the Ravens' final drive of the first half, their newcomers stepped up for the six-play, 81-yard drive.
After Flacco hit Evans deep, he made a short toss to fullback Vonta Leach, whose helmet popped off when he planted his head into the chest of linebacker Brandon Siler to punctuate the 5-yard gain.
On the next play, Cousins created a huge hole when the first-time right guard leveled a defensive lineman to the ground. Once through the hole, Rice faked out cornerback Javier Arenas and dashed to the end zone for a 10-3 lead.
The Ravens' first touchdown came on their 14th drive of the preseason and 86 minutes, 50 seconds into the exhibition season.
That lead was short-lived because the Chiefs went 80 yards in 2:58 against the Ravens' second-team defense. Palko's 4-yard touchdown pass went over blitzing safety Tom Zbikowski and to wide receiver Terrance Copper, who briefly played for the Ravens in 2008.
"We're better than that in the two-minute drill, and we will be," Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano said. "We don't care who is in there. They have to tackle and we didn't."
After Kansas City went ahead 13-10 in the third quarter on a 30-yard field goal, the Ravens took the lead back in the fourth quarter when Jalen Parmele scored a 10-yard touchdown.
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor closed out the Ravens' first win of the preseason by faking out Houston in the backfield, racing to the right and diving into the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown.
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