Cloaked in secrecy until the days and hours before kickoff Monday night, the Ravens unveiled a reconfigured offensive line.
By instituting a youth movement, the Ravens have transformed what was one of the oldest groups in the league.
During a 44-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, the defending AFC North champions started rookie Kelechi Osemele at right tackle, shifted Michael Oher to left tackle and had converted tackle Ramon Harewood replace
veteran Bobbie Williams, 35, at left guard.
The Ravens' younger line seems to be a fit with the Ravens' high-energy, no-huddle offense.¿
Former Pro Bowl left tackle Bryant McKinnie, 32, was benched with Oher now protecting the blind side of quarterback Joe Flacco.
And the strategy was effective for the most part as Flacco had sufficient time to complete 21 of 29 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 128.4 passer rating.
"It went really great," said Osemele, a second-round draft pick from Iowa State. "The communication was great. We were out there being physical. We set the tempo early and I felt really good about it. I know I had a few missed assignments, but I had the best game I ever had as far as my technique. We're just going to continue to get better."
Pro Bowl runner Ray Rice ran for 68 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
Afterward, Rice stated that he didn't even feel sore.
"It's really fun for me, I barely got hit," said Rice, who also caught three passes for 25 yards. "The offensive line is very athletic."
A former sixth-round draft pick from Morehouse, Harewood spent the previous two seasons on injured reserve and underwent knee surgeries.
Now, he's suddenly a starter after impressing the coaching staff with his performance against the St. Louis Rams in the final preseason game.
"There's still a lot of room for improvement," Harewood said. "I think I held my own. I was definitely hungry after being hurt the past couple years."
Although he was surprisingly replaced in the lineup after being installed as a starter, Williams said he's not upset about his change in status.
"Whatever goes on, it's about the team," Williams said. "We all play a role. The main thing happened, we won. It's just how things roll. It's a big team picture. Everybody is good with that. It's a long season, it's a long season."
The Ravens restructured offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie's contract last week, cutting his salary from $3.2 million to $2.2 million. He thought initially that he might make up the lost $1 million through playing-time incentive clauses, but that won't be the case if the Ravens make these changes permanent.
"I knew this was happening," McKinnie said. "I'm taking it fine. It's definitely a long season, I just have to do what I'm supposed to do. I'm a team player."
It was a tough assignment for the Ravens' offensive line, which allowed three sacks.
Two of those sacks were surrendered to Bengals Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins.
It only took a few minutes for Atkins to establish his territory against Ravens veteran center Matt Birk.
Atkins steamrolled Birk on a bull-rush up the middle as he lined up directly across from the six-time Pro Bowl center and pushed him into the backfield to sack Flacco.
Birk had trouble in the AFC title game with New England Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork.
"Geno's a great player," Birk said. "He's one of the best."
Birk, 36, is the elder statesman on the line now that four starters are under age 28, including Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda, 27, Oher, 26, Harewood, 25, and Osemele, 23.
"The young guys played well," Birk said. "We know what's expected. We have confidence in everybody. They know what to expect and what they have to do to get ready."
Pass rush gets job done
Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata shifted over to nose guard and overwhelmed new Bengals center Jeff Faine, beating him with a quick swim move to sack quarterback Andy Dalton.
"We've got to get pressure up that middle, especially with Terrell Suggs being gone," said Ngata, who finished with two sacks. "We've got to get to that quarterback and make it easier for our guys in the secondary. Hopefully, I can continue to make plays and make more sacks. We were able to get to Andy Dalton pretty good."
Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, the Ravens' top draft pick, split a sack with Pernell McPhee.
"It feels great as you can see from the celebration," Upshaw said. "I just want to go in every week and improve on my performance."
Leaner Lewis off to good start
With a diet comprised of healthy juices and plenty of vegetables and a strict exercise regimen, middle linebacker Ray Lewis is down to a lean 235 pounds for the lightest weight since his rookie season.
Lewis' efforts paid dividends Monday as the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year recorded a game-high 14 tackles by the third quarter.
He was extremely active in the open field and had a sack and forced fumble.
"If just naturally came off through the rigors of training and cautiously eating and things like that," Lewis said. "You kind of just feel better, you feel totally better. For me, the game is kind of changing, so why not change with the game? There's no more 45 times running the ball.
"Everyone wants to throw the ball, so now you adjust with the game and everything is sideline to sideline running. So, I just kind of adapted to it a little bit. I didn't change much because what I really do, I do it for a lifestyle. I just eat a certain way because Iwant to be healthy, but it helps because my job is this."
The Bengals went after new starting outside linebacker Paul Kruger, overwhelming him at the point of attack on running plays.
Kruger had trouble getting off blocks and was knocked flat on his back during one sequence.
He had one tackle through three quarters and wasn't nearly as physical as his predecessor, Jarret Johnson, who signed a $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers in March.
"I'm kind of banged-up a little bit," Kruger said. "I was out there running around. We'll make the adjustments on tape."
Tucker perfect in debut
If rookie kicker Justin Tucker was feeling any nerves due to the national stage of a Monday night game or this being his first NFL regular-season game, it didn't show.
Tucker calmly hit a 46-yard field goal down the middle in the first quarter to get the Ravens on the scoreboard.
And the former University of Texas standout followed that up with by routinely making kicks from 40 and 39 yards in the second half, scoring a total of 14 points.
"It was a heck of a lot of fun," said Tucker, an undrafted rookie who beat out former Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff with a superior preseason performance. "The only difference was when I headed out there and heard the Monday night theme song and I thought, 'Wow, I'm playing on Monday night.'"
Fine likely coming for Mays
Imposing Bengals strong safety Taylor Mays is likely to get a letter from the NFL fine police.
Mays' helmet-to-helmet infraction on tight end Ed Dickson in the second quarter cost the Bengals 15 yards with a personal foul penalty.
Now, it's expected to cost Mays' bank account as he'll likely be fined later this week.
"I don't think Taylor was trying to hurt me, I'm pretty sure he wasn't gunning for me." Dickson said. "Luckily, I didn't get knocked out. It was a big hit. I didn't even see him. I turned arond and, 'Bam.' Hits are going to happen. I think he'll learn from that one."
Ravens star free safety Ed Reed strained his right hamstring during his 34-yard interception return for a touchdown, but it's not regarded as serious.
Reed didn't return to the game after going to locker room for treatment during the Ravens' 44-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.
Afterward, Reed downplayed the severity of the injury.
"It strained my hamstring trying to dive," Reed said. "You know I'm 34 in two hours. Father Time does catch up with you. It's good, it's good. It's minor."
Reserve cornerback Corey Graham limped off the field with the assistance of trainers due to a leg injury, but wasn't listed on the injury report afterward. It's not considered serous.
Defensive end Pernell McPhee had an ice pack on his surgically repaired right knee, but said it was just for precautionary reasons.
McPhee had arthroscopic knee surgery during the spring.
"It's fine," McPhee. "I'm just being careful with it."
Rainey cut, Allen promoted
Undrafted rookie running back Bobby Rainey was released prior to kickoff and replaced on the active roster with Anthony Allen.
Allen was promoted from the practice squad.
If Rainey clears waivers, he could take Allen's place on the practice squad.
"Bobby Rainey is a big part of our plans," coach John Harbaugh said. "I texted Bobby before the game. He is, rightly so, kind of upset about it. Bobby is a guy that I cherish. We just did it for special teams reasons, pure and simple. Anthony Allen has done a great job on special teams, and we made a strategic rster move we hope works out for us"
Allen played on almost all of the special teams units, also rushing for 13 yards on four carries.
"That's a testament to staying ready," Allen said. "You have to stay ready in this league, and that's what I did."
Return game shuffle
Signed to a two-year, $7 million contract and installed as the primary return specialist, Jacoby Jones was used sparingly on special teams. He returned one punt for nine yards.
Rookie wide receiver Deonte Thompson returned four kickoffs for 88 yards.
Operating out of three-wide receiver sets, Jones caught three passes for 46 yards as he was targeted three times.
Not much spending room
The Ravens are just $1.477 million under the NFL salary cap limit after reducing offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie's base salary from $3.2 million to $2.2 million last week.
The Ravens carried over $5.831 million in cap room from last year.
Baltimore has the fourth-least salary-cap room in the league.
The Ravens' injury settlement for linebacker Stevie Baggs' leg injury was $48,176. Tight end Matt Balasavage received a $112,412 injury settllement.
Heap makes trek to pay his respects to Art Modell
With his upper lip and nose scabbed up from a hit he absorbed during the Arizona Cardinals' victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Todd Heap walked into the Ravens' locker room late Monday night.
Heap had flown across the country not just to take in the Ravens' win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but also to pay his respects to the late Art Modell, the former majority owner of the Ravens and Cleveland Browns. Modell died of natural causes at age 87 last Thursday at Johns Hopkins Hospital.
Along with multiple luminaries from around the NFL, Heap will attend Modell's funeral Tuesday morning at Baltimore Hebrew Congregation.
"It's very important for me to say goodbye," Heap told The Baltimore Sun. "I have so many great memories of Art. He was just a great guy all-around. He meant so much to this community and this organization, but he meant a lot to me personally.
"He was just a great man, a great leader, a great example, an uplifting guy. He was always making people smile. I just have so many great memories of him."
Veteran guard Bobbie Williams was a game captain against his old team. The Ravens deactivated wide receiver LaQuan Williams, outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, offensive tackle Jah Reid (strained right calf), defensive linemen DeAngelo Tyson and Bryan Hall, tight end Billy Bajema and cornerback Asa Jackson (illness). "I tell myself to be patient," Kindle said. "Work hard and it will come." ... The Bengals scratched cornerbacks Dre' Kirkpatrick (knee) and Jason Allen(quadriceps), running back Bernard Scott (hand), tight end Donald Lee, wide receiver Ryan Whalen, tight end Richard Quinn and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (knee). ... Center-guard Justin Boren (foot) cleared waivers after his injury settlement and is a free agent again.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun