Ravens defensive players flew to the ball. Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was hit and harassed throughout. And when the Ravens needed one more defensive play, it was the defense's longest-tenured member to come up with it.
The Ravens' defense, maligned for the past few seasons for its failure to make game-changing plays, shut down the Bills in a 13-7 regular-season opening victory in front of an announced 71,104 at M&T Bank Stadium. The win featured two Justin Tucker field goals and a 66-yard touchdown connection between Joe Flacco and free agent acquisition Mike Wallace.
However, it was the Ravens' defense that carried the day.
Given one more chance to lead the Bills back, Taylor, the former Raven, had the ball in his hands with 5:35 to play, and Buffalo trailing by six. But Buffalo, as it did for much of the afternoon, went nowhere and Terrell Suggs sacked Taylor.
The Ravens built a 10-0 lead early in the third quarter and had numerous chances to put the game away but couldn't due to a mistake-filled afternoon on offense. It appeared the Ravens were on the verge of getting in the end zone and putting the game away after Flacco hit Dennis Pitta for 23 yards deep in Bills' territory.
However, the Bills' defense, which harassed Flacco all afternoon, stiffened. The Bills forced the Ravens to settle for a Justin Tucker field goal from 45 yards. A 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Jerel Worthy allowed the Ravens to take the three points off the board and get another chance at a touchdown.
They were stopped again, this time settling for Tucker's 37-yard field goal. The Ravens' first points since the 10:11 mark of the second quarter gave the home team a 13-7 lead. As it turned out, that was enough.
Looking to extend their three-point lead, the Ravens marched into Bills' territory late in the third quarter, largely on the strength of two Buffalo 15-yard penalties. However, on fourth-and-1 from Bills' 42-yard line, Flacco's pass to running back Terrance West went for no gain.
The Ravens outplayed the Bills badly in the first quarter, out-gaining them 114-2. However, they led only 3-0 on a 50-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.
Back-to-back false start penalties on the Ravens' second offensive drive, the first called on rookie left tackle Ronnie Stanley, set them back. They still had a second-and-10 from their own 49-yard line, but a miscommunication between Flacco and veteran center Jeremy Zuttah led to a turnover. Flacco wasn't expecting the snap when Zuttah bounced it off his chest. Bills defender Preston Brown recovered it, giving the Ravens their first turnover on the season.
On their next possession, the Ravens drove the ball into Bills' territory. The drive started with an acrobatic catch from Breshad Perriman, the second-year receiver making his first NFL catch a memorable one. Flacco rolled out and found Kamar Aiken for 16 yards and the Ravens had the ball at Buffalo's 27.
However, right guard Marshal Yanda was called for a holding penalty on a 4-yard run by Justin Forsett and the Ravens never recovered. Tucker, who was 8-for-19 from 50 yards and beyond over the past two seasons, converted his first from that distance to put the Ravens on the board.
The Ravens coaches began the arduous process of self study immediately after the conclusion of a disappointing 2015 season. What coach John Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Dean Pees saw on tape didn't look a whole lot like the defense that longtime admirers have come to expect from the Ravens.
With the Ravens' defense continuing to give up little ground to Taylor and company, Flacco hit Mike Wallace for 66-yard touchdown pass. Wallace, who the Ravens signed as a free agent in the offseason largely because of his speed, ran a post route from the slot. He turned around safety Duke Willams and caught the ball in stride for the long touchdown. The 66-yard score nearly doubled his longest catch as a Minnesota Viking last year, which was 34 yards.
The Ravens led 10-0 and at that point of the game, the Bills had only one first down on their first three drives. However, the Bills finally got something going on offense and it started with their running game. LeSean McCoy had runs of 16, eight and 14 yards as the Bills advanced deep into the Ravens' territory.
On third-and-13 from the 37, the Ravens appeared to have Taylor dead to rights. However, the Bills quarterback shed an Albert McClellan sack attempt, and then spun away from Terrell Suggs before finding tight end Charles Clay open in the middle of the field for a 33-yard gain.
Four plays later, McCoy converted from fourh-and-goal from the 1, and the Bills cut the Ravens' lead to 10-7. That score held into halftime and through the Bills' first drive of the third quarter when Dan Carpenter sent a 49-yard field goal attempt wide right.