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Ravens find the right offensive balance against Patriots

The Ravens trailed the New England Patriots by nine points with 7:29 to go Sunday night when quarterback Joe Flacco initiated a drive that probably should serve as a blue print for the offense for the rest of the season.

Starting at the Ravens' 8-yard line, Flacco dumped the ball off to Ray Rice for a 12-yard gain. A 6-yard run by Rice and a defensive holding penalty on Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, who was defending a deep pass to Torrey Smith, bailed the Ravens out of a first-and-long situation.

Then came a 21-yard completion to wide receiver Jacoby Jones, a 16-yard connection to Smith, a 5-yard pass to tight end Dennis Pitta and a check down to Rice that resulted in a 27-yard gain. Two plays later, Flacco found Smith in the end zone for a 5-yard touchdown . Eight plays, 92 yards and 3:28 later, the Ravens were well on their way.

"We were moving the ball pretty well, and everyone was getting involved," said Smith who finished with six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns . "I think that's the type of offense we're going to be. We have a lot of different threats and … we've got guys that can make plays all over. It doesn't fall on my shoulders or anyone else's."

For all the talk about Justin Tucker's disputed game-winning field goal, the most pleasing development from Sunday's victory may have the Ravens achieving the offensive balance that they have long sought.

The Ravens, operating out of the no-huddle for a good part of the night, ran the ball 26 times and threw the ball 39 times in a game where they trailed for extended stretches. In the first two weeks, the Ravens threw the ball 71 times and ran it 44.

"[We] don't have to answer the questions about who didn't get their touches, right?," Ravens coach John Harbaugh joked Monday.

The Ravens wracked up 503 yards of offense against the Patriots and dug out of a 13-point second-quarter deficit and a nine-point fourth quarter hole with Flacco spreading the ball around and Rice remaining a critical part of the offense.

A week after offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was criticized for not giving the ball to Rice in several third or fourth-and-short situations in a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Rice got a season-high 25 touches, including 20 on handoffs. In his first two games, the Pro Bowl running back had 26 total carries.

"It felt good to get the running game going. The run set up the pass," said Rice who rushed for 101 yards and a touchdown and had five catches for 49 yards. "Joe Flacco really picked that defense apart, but we also ran the ball really well. … It's different week-in and week-out. We say tempo, we say no-huddle, but it depends on what we're playing. Every team we play is going to be different, but we did have a good tempo going."

Shrugging off a poor second half against the Eagles and a sluggish first quarter Sunday in which the Ravens didn't even get a first down, Flacco completed 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. But what was most notable about those numbers, was how many Ravens that he got involved.

He targeted eight different Ravens with Smith getting a team-high 10 opportunities. Seven different Ravens had two catches or more, and three (Smith, Pitta and Rice) had five catches or more. Cameron also used a variety of personnel on the 72 offensive snaps, giving 42 snaps to Pitta, 39 to tight end Ed Dickson, 34 to fullback Vonta Leach, 30 to Jones and even 15 to rookie running back Bernard Pierce.

"It's not something we're overly concerned about in this building," Pitta said . "We trust Joe's decision making and he does a great job of throwing it to the guy who is open based on the defensive looks. Some weeks, one guy will have a bunch of touches because that's what the defense is giving us and the next week, it will be a different guy. It's all about what they give us and adjusting to that."

Flacco did appear to lock onto Pitta in the first quarter and as a result, his pass was intercepted by Steve Gregory, resulting in New England's first touchdown. However, for the rest of the game, he moved the ball around and that meant several dump-offs to Rice along with a handful of shots down the field to Anquan Boldin, Smith and Jones who caught three balls for 86 yards and drew the pass interference call that set up Tucker's game-winning field goal.

"Jacoby is doing a lot of good things for us. He's a great athlete, has some speed on the outside," said Flacco. "Besides the fact that he and Torrey can make plays on the outside, they really free the other guys up underneath and let them go to work in man-to-man coverage and let Ray go to work, and that just helps our whole offense out."

Flacco is currently second in the NFL behind the New York Giants' Eli Manning with 913 passing yards and 12th with 110 attempts. The Ravens are also second in the NFL with 98 points through three weeks, trailing the Washington Redskins by one. To keep up that pace, Harbaugh knows his team is going to need to continue to show the type of balance that it displayed Sunday night.

"You just never know which way it's going to go. Some days you might spread it around and we like that because we're less predictable that way," Harbaugh said. "We like it to be moving in different places, but the progressions take Joe to where he's going to go. And run-pass, a lot of times the defense dictates that in the system that we're in right now. You always try to do what you think gives you the best chance to move the football and ultimately to score points. The fact that it played out that way though is a good thing."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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