By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
8:10 PM EDT, October 7, 2011
The Ravens are in an enviable position as they head into their bye weekend. They are 3-1 and in first place of the AFC North. They have already beaten the two teams — Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets — that played for the conference championship last season, and they've done it by a combined 69-24 score. Up next are the Houston Texans in another potential playoff preview game.
Here is a look back at the first four games and how the Ravens got to this point:
Week 1: Ravens 35, Pittsburgh Steelers 7
What happened: The much-anticipated showdown turned into a Ravens' beatdown as they forced a franchise-record seven turnovers and achieved their largest margin of victory in the 34-game series. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw for 224 yards and three touchdowns, and running back Ray Rice set the tone for a huge day with a 36-yard gain on his first carry. Rice finished with 149 total yards (107 on the ground) and two touchdowns. The Ravens defense made life difficult for nemesis Ben Roethlisberger, who threw three interceptions, fumbled twice and was sacked four times.
Star of the game: This distinction could easily go to Rice, but it would be impossible to overlook linebacker Terrell Suggs, who was a one-man wrecking crew. Suggs had three sacks, two forced fumbles and five total tackles on a day where he became the franchise's all-time sack leader.
Turning point: The Ravens controlled the game from the outset but any thought of another Steelers' comeback in the series was pretty much extinguished when defensive tackle Haloti Ngata leveled running back Rashard Mendenhall and forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Flacco hit tight end Ed Dickson for an 18-yard touchdown on the next play, and the rout was on.
Key stats: The Steelers committed seven turnovers to the Ravens' none. Flacco had a 117.6 quarterback rating with Roethlisberger registering a 52.9. Rice had 127 yards in the first half while the Steelers entire team had just 113.
Quote: "It's a great victory," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The whole thing about ghosts, demons [and] monkeys on your back — that's not real to us. This is the 2011 Baltimore Ravens. This is who we are, and now we're going to find what this football team is going to be about going forward."
Week 2: Tennessee Titans 26, Ravens 13
What happened: Flacco followed up one of his best games as a pro with one of his worst, and the Ravens defense was picked apart by veteran quarterback Matt Hasselbeck in a disappointing follow-up. The Ravens achieved their goal of shutting down stud running back Chris Johnson, but Hasselbeck took the game over and threw for 358 yards and a touchdown. His performance renewed concerns about the Ravens secondary and pass rush. Flacco went 15-for-32 with a touchdown and two interceptions. One of the Ravens' lone highlights was his second-quarter screen pass to Rice that turned into a 31-yard touchdown.
Star of the game: The Ravens secondary could do nothing with Titans receiver Kenny Britt, who caught nine balls for 137 yards and a touchdown. Britt sustained a season-ending knee injury the following week.
Turning point: With the score tied early in the third quarter, Titans first-year coach Mike Munchak decided to go for it on 4th-and-1 at the Ravens' 10-yard-line. Backup running back Javon Ringer took a pitch to the left and not only got the first down, but scored a touchdown to give the Titans a 17-10 lead that they'd never relinquish.
Key stats: Ravens had no quarterback sacks and just two quarterback hits. The Titans went 9-for-19 on third and fourth-down conversions. The Ravens rushed for just 45 yards on 17 carries.
Quote: "The other team came ready to play, and we didn't," said Rice. "I'm not going to make any excuse. Our team is not going to make any excuse. They were the better team today."
Week 3: Ravens 37, St. Louis Rams 7
What happened: The most prolific offensive day in Ravens' history featured 553 yards of total offense, a career-high 389 passing yards for Flacco and three first-quarter touchdowns for rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith. Flacco hit Smith for touchdowns of 74, 41 and 18 yards as the Ravens built a 27-0 halftime lead. The Ravens amassed a franchise-record 406 first-half yards, and a dominant defensive performance was capped with Ngata's 28-yard fumble return for a touchdown late in the game.
Star of the game: With Lee Evans out with an ankle injury, there was much concern heading into the game about the state of the Ravens' passing game. That was silenced early by Smith, who became just the 12th player in NFL history — and the first rookie — to catch three touchdown passes in a quarter. The former University of Maryland standout and the Ravens' second-round pick finished with five catches for 152 yards and the three touchdowns.
Turning point: On the Ravens' second offensive play, Smith sprinted by Rams cornerback Justin King along the sideline and Flacco hit him in stride for a 74-yard touchdown, the longest of the quarterback's career. The Rams were a step or two behind the Ravens all afternoon.
Key stats: The Ravens out-gained the Rams 553 to 244. The Rams had eight penalties for 117 yards. The Ravens sacked Sam Bradford five times and hit him 11 times. Bradford averaged just 5.2 yards per completion.
Quote: "I never doubted myself for a minute," said Smith. "I've been playing football forever. I've been making plays forever.
Week 4: Ravens 34, New York Jets 17
What happened: With their former coordinator — and current Jets head coach Rex Ryan — watching from the sidelines, the Ravens defense set another franchise first, scoring three touchdowns in a primetime dismantling of New York. Linebacker Jameel McClain scored on a 6-yard fumble return after Ed Reed sacked and stripped Mark Sanchez on the Jets' first offensive play. Linebacker Jarret Johnson scored on a 26-yard fumble return after Ngata hit Sanchez. Cornerback Lardarius Webb also returned a Sanchez interception 73 yards for a touchdown. Sanchez threw one interception and fumbled three teams. Rice also scored for the Ravens, who got a subpar performance from Flacco in the win.
Star of the game: It would be impossible to single out one member of the Ravens defense after this performance, so the vote here goes to defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, whose aggressive, blitz-happy schemes gave Sanchez and the Jets fits.
Turning point: The Jets trailed by only 10 points when Flacco fumbled in Ravens' territory early in the third quarter. The defense not only kept New York out of the end zone, but they scored a touchdown as Webb caught a pass that sailed over Santonio Holmes' head and ran down the sidelines to put the game away.
Key stats: Flacco and Sanchez combined to go just 21-of-66 for 289 yards. The five return touchdowns in the game, which include Joe McKnight's 107-yard kickoff return and David Harris' 35 yard interception return, set an NFL record. The Jets rushed for 38 yards and had only 150 yards of total offense, both lows under Ryan. The Ravens won the time of possession battle, 37:28 to 22:32.
Quote: "He created us. Now he had to deal with us," Johnson said of Ryan.
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