After last weekend's 22-17 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Terrell Suggs did a pretty good job of summing up the 2011 Baltimore Ravens: "There's the hard way and there is the easy way and there is the way we do it."
The Ravens did it their way on Sunday, taking a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter then holding off a late Cincinnati Bengals rally for a 31-24 victory. A win's a win, though, and the Ravens really needed this one.
Here are my quick-hit thoughts after the Ravens improved to 7-3 with Thursday's Harbaugh Bowl looming:
1. Torrey Smith was the man of the match in this one, hauling in a career-high six catches for 165 yards, which was a personal best for Smith, too. It's very difficult for players to get behind the other team's secondary, but the rookie is doing it with such regularity, it has become pretty much ho-hum at this point. The second-round draft pick has established himself as one of the NFL's most dangerous deep threats, and he's rounding out his overall game. He almost scored a long touchdown on a slant play before he was yanked down by his dreads.
2. Joe Flacco threw for 270 yards on 27 passes in Sunday's win. He had 255 in exactly twice as many passes in the loss to the Seahawks. See what a little balance does for the passing game? The Ravens ran the ball early in the game, and even though they didn't bust a big run until the second half, it opened things up for Flacco and his wide receivers. By the time the game was over, Ray Rice had 104 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. And both of Flacco's touchdown throws came on play-action passes. Balance is the biggest key for this offense. (Blogger's note: I previously published the third quarter stats here instead of the final numbers. I've since updated the numbers. My apologies.)
3. Andy Dalton was pretty impressive, which is really saying something because he threw three interceptions. He had great poise in the pocket. He made plays with his feet. And he has enough smarts and anticipation to make up for unspectacular arm strength. This kid is going to give the Ravens trouble for the next several years.
4. Of course, it helped that the Ravens' pass rush couldn't get to Dalton until the final two plays of the game (when it mattered most). The Ravens had just two sacks on Sunday and have tallied four the past three games. What happened to that pass rush that was wreaking havoc in the first month and a half of the season?
5. The Ravens did force three turnovers, though, and the offense cashed two of them in for touchdowns. Ed Reed got his first interception since the season opener, but it's not his fault quarterbacks have avoided him.
6. The special teams unit didn't turn the ball over, which is progress. The next step: making positive plays.
7. One more special teams note: This was the annual Sam Koch appreciation game. He booted the laces off the ball against the Bengals, averaging 48.9 yards on eight punts. He is bound to make a Pro Bowl eventually.
8. It was a game of firsts for Jimmy Smith, who appeared to play more on defense Sunday than he has at any point during his rookie year. He got his first interception, which the rookie quickly followed up with his first career fumble. And he got burnt for a touchdown for the first time when Andre Caldwell blew by Smith, who was left on an island, for a 49-yard score in the final quarter. Smith will benefit from those growing pains.
9. The Ravens defense wasn't the same without Ray Lewis, but the Ravens managed to survive on Sunday. They were stout against the run, but Dalton passed for 373 yards as the Bengals tried to play catch up. After the game, Ed Reed admitted there were communication issues without Lewis on the field calling the plays. With a short week, it's hard to envision Lewis being healthy enough to play Thanksgiving night against the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers (and it doesn't make sense to rush him back). Will his teammates be up for another tough task?