The Ravens' 24-10 preseason rout of the New York Giants brought mixed emotions to their passing attack Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
Injuries to wide receivers Donte' Stallworth and Mark Clayton tempered the jubilation of a scintillating highlight reel by Joe Flacco and his array of targets.
Flacco threw for 229 yards and two touchdowns in a little over one half of work as the Ravens sailed to their seventh straight preseason win. He went down the seam to Anquan Boldin (four catches for 52 yards and one touchdown). He connected over the middle to Todd Heap (six catches for 69 yards and one touchdown). He hit Derrick Mason (five catches for 35 yards) and Mark Clayton (one catch for 20 yards) on the outside.
The Ravens (3-0) threw the ball at will, calling pass plays 80 percent of the time in the first half (37 of 46 plays). They threw it on the first 13 snaps of the game. They threw it so much that it seemed like offensive coordinator Cam Cameron drafted Flacco for his fantasy football team this week.
"Our plan coming out was throw the ball, throw the ball and throw the ball some more," Flacco said. "It was fun. I had a great time. We were clicking."
Flacco added, "We're definitely confident about how we're going to enter the season."
The successful night was slightly tarnished by injuries to two of their top four wide receivers.
Stallworth, the Ravens' No. 4 receiver, broke his foot and will miss two months. The Ravens hope to get their best deep threat back "right around the bye week [at the end of October]," according to coach John Harbaugh.
"It's a big blow for us because he's a guy that can help this team out especially with his speed stretching the defense," Boldin said.
Clayton, the team's No. 3 wide receiver, took a hit to the head from Giants safety Antrel Rolle one play before Heap's touchdown. Rolle was penalized for a personal foul, and Clayton left the game with a mild concussion.
But Clayton could be ready for the season opener against the New York Jets, which is 15 days away . After Clayton and Stallworth, the Ravens' next receivers are Demetrius Williams (sprained ankle), Marcus Smith and rookie David Reed.
"It's obviously something we'll be careful with but it shouldn't be a long-term thing," Harbaugh said of Clayton.
If the third preseason game is any indication of what's to come in a few weeks, this is definitely a new look for the Ravens. When the Ravens played the Giants in the Super Bowl 10 years ago, they attempted 26 passes in the entire game. On Saturday night, the Ravens threw 32 times in the first half alone.
"We're just starting to get comfortable with one another," Boldin said. "For us, we considered the half a real game. We tried to pick it up a little bit and get in sync because this is truly the first dress rehearsal that we'll get before the regular season."
At a time when some of the fan base was clamoring for backup quarterback Marc Bulger, Flacco (21 of 34 passes for an 89.0 quarterback rating) silenced them with two touchdown drives in the second quarter, when he completed six of seven passes on each one.
The first series that ended with a touchdown was a signature one for Boldin, who was acquired this offseason in a trade with Arizona. Two plays after tossing a defender to the ground with a block, he beat Giants cornerback Courtney Brown to the inside and then caught a nine-yard pass thrown behind him for his first touchdown this preseason.
"The guy was pressing [and} Joe and I looked at one another," Boldin said. "We both felt that if I could beat him right away, Joe would be able to get the ball to me. The safety went the other way and Joe hit me perfectly."
The passing attack showed its determination the next time the Ravens touched the ball. After an illegal formation penalty took away a first-down pass play, Flacco completed a 10-yard pass to Mason for another first down. After Flacco fumbled a snap on third-and-one, he hit Heap on an 11-yard slant on fourth down.
"We have confidence with this group on fourth-and-short," Cameron said, "and we'll cointinue to be aggressive with those."
Heap finished off the drive by catching a 13-yard touchdown pass while having safety Antrel Rolle (who was flagged for illegal contact) draped on his back. Flacco's second touchdown throw staked the Ravens to a 17-0 lead with 3:52 left in the first half.
"It was just a play where Joe had faith in me to go get the ball," Heap said. "I'm definitely glad to see it work. It's a play where you have to body the guy up and make a play."
The Ravens, who had trouble with fumbles this preseason, looked much sharper on offense. They maintained a fast tempo by going no huddle. They spread out the defense, splitting out three and four receivers on a regular basis.
The one disappointment for the offense came late in the final drive of the first half. Flacco's pass went off Boldin and to New York cornerback Corey Webster. It marked the only turnover for the starting offense.
"It was a good showing but I think the reality is that we left some points out there," Flacco said. The Ravens' starting defense looked vulnerable against the run for the second time in three weeks. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw stiff-armed both safeties, Dawan Landry and Tom Zbikowski. The other running back, Brandon Jacobs, bowled over tacklers.
But the Ravens did make a stand at their own 15-yard line, stonewalling Bradshaw for no gain on third-and-one and fourth-and-one.
"We need to tackle better, wrap up better, keep the edge better and run to the ball better," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said. "But we do love the way our guys got after them in the first half." The Ravens were 78 seconds away from closing out their third straight preseason game without allowing an offensive touchdown. But Giants receiver Victor Cruz caught a 1-yard pass from third-string quarterback Rhett Bomar to end the Ravens' streak at 11 quarters.