By Edward Lee
6:00 AM EST, November 29, 2011
The Ravens’ ability to pull away from the San Francisco 49ers for an eventual 16-6 win on Thanksgiving night was built on the offense’s proficiency on third downs, especially in the second half.
After converting just 1-of-6 third downs in the first half, the unit went 6-of-9 in the second half, including five straight to open the third quarter.
“When you have that kind of game plan, your line being so efficient on third downs, you have to come through,” said quarterback Joe Flacco, who completed 7-of-10 passes for 84 yards on third downs. “We had a lot of guys come through for us and just made some big plays in those situations.”
The Ravens were especially sharp on their first possession of the second half, converting four third downs including a third down-and-goal with an eight-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta.
The offense’s ability to move the ball wore on the 49ers, who dropped from fifth to seventh in the NFL rankings with regard to stopping opponents on third down.
“It was very frustrating,” San Francisco inside linebacker Patrick Willis said after the loss. “Any time the other team can convert a third down, it’s not good. We understand getting off the field on third down is very valuable to our defense. That also gives our offense a chance to get the ball back and score, but we didn’t do that tonight.”
For the game, the Ravens converted 7-of-15 third downs (46.7 percent). For the season, the offense moved into a tie with the Tennessee Titans for 11th in third-down efficiency (40 percent on 62-of-155).
“That’s the goal in the game – try to control the clock and convert,” rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “That’s what good offenses do, especially in clutch times like that. When the game was going the way it was, it felt like whoever scored was going to win. For us to get the lead and maintain the lead by controlling the clock, it was big.”
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