Flacco, Houshmandzadeh, Mason reach milestones vs. Panthers

For what seemed to be the first time in a while, the Ravens met an opponent that didn't appear to be too concerned about defending the deep ball.

And the offense took advantage, going long early and then finding underneath and intermediate routes later. That flexibility helped the Ravens secure a 37-13 victory over the Carolina Panthers on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium.

"I think we definitely showed those guys that we were going to try to take shots downfield," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "Even when we didn't throw the ball downfield, we were making moves that were going to push those corners back, and I think that may have helped us do some things later on in the game."

Against a Panthers pass defense that had entered Sunday's contest ranked fifth in the NFL in average yards allowed, the Ravens collected 13 of 22 first downs and 278 of 378 total yards through the air.

Flacco passed for 301 yards -- his first 300-yard game of the season -- and his 56-yard strike to wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh on the offense's second play of the game helped him tie Vinny Testaverde for the most passing touchdowns (51) in franchise history.

Houshmandzadeh became the 53rd player in the NFL to catch the 600th pass of his career, and fellow wide-out Derrick Mason recorded the 900th reception of his career two quarters later.

But individual accolades aside, Sunday's performance was notable in that the offense appeared to dial in plays designed to attack Carolina's coverage, which initially seemed to be concerned about the Ravens' underneath routes.

On Houshmandzadeh's touchdown, Panthers cornerback Chris Gamble took a few steps inside, leaving Houshmandzadeh to run a deep post route against safety Charles Godfrey. Houshmandzadeh caught the pass and then dragged Godfrey across the goal line to give the Ravens a 7-0 lead just 2:34 into the game.

Flacco completed a pair of 23-yarders to Mason and Houshmandzadeh later in the opening quarter and then connected with tight end Todd Heap on a 26-yarder in the second quarter.

"We definitely came in wanting to take some chunks," said Flacco, who completed 24 of 33 passes and finished with a passer rating of 110.8. "We took some chunks early and were able to move the ball down the field and pick up some first downs without even getting into third-down situations. When you do that, it kind of gets your offense rolling. We kind of accomplished what we set out to do today."

With Carolina focused on deep routes in the second half, the offense turned to intermediate and underneath routes. Flacco hit wide receiver Anquan Boldin and Heap for a pair of 16-yard gains in the third quarter, and a 29-yard strike to Heap in the middle of the field in the fourth quarter resulting in the wide receivers flushing the secondary deep.

"We got some digs against the two-deep stuff, which is good to see," coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought Joe was very patient in the pocket with some of the three-man-rush and four-man-rush [tactics]. He held the ball a little bit and found some receivers and made a couple of great scramble plays. But he did miss some guys, too. There were some guys he could've put the ball on, and we could have had a bigger day. So we're going to look at that very critically and try to get better."

Days after Harbaugh emphasized that Flacco has the ability to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage, Houshmandzadeh said Flacco is thriving with his newfound freedom.

"They're just giving him a lot more leeway," Houshmandzadeh said. "I think the last couple of weeks, they're giving him a little more leeway to kind of do certain things on offense that he wasn't given the liberty to do early on, and he's doing a good job of it."

Mason said he hoped that the offense's downfield results would silence critics who have dissected the Ravens' absence of big plays in the passing game.

"We're going to take our shots," he said. "I think we get a bad rap from people saying we're not taking enough shots. We take a lot of shots downfield, but defenses try to take it away. If we get one over the top in the first quarter, you best believe that they're going to try to take it away in the second, third and fourth quarters, and that's what they did. They played a lot of two-deep coverage and played the safeties high. We got some things underneath, but we're not going to try to press the issue and throw the ball down the field each and every time just for the sake of throwing it down the field and making people happy. If we hit a big one like we did with T.J. in the first quarter, then defenses are going to start trying to take it away. So that's why we have to do the things underneath. So we're just going to be patient about what we do as an offense and move forward."