A two-drive sequence in the first quarter of the Ravens' game against the Buffalo Bills on Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium provided a nice synopsis of the team's performance in the preseason and might foreshadow what's to come when the games truly matter.
On the Bills' second drive, Ravens second-year pass rusher Matthew Judon slammed Tyrod Taylor to the ground, forcing a punt and knocking Buffalo's starting quarterback from the game with a concussion. The Ravens took over on the Bills' side of the field, but were forced to settle for a 40-yard field goal by Justin Tucker after quarterback Ryan Mallett settled for a 6-yard check-down pass on third-and-10.
The third preseason game featured more of the same for the Ravens, who watched the first-team offense muster just three points and the starting defense dominate the Bills in a little more than a quarter of work in an eventual 13-9 victory over the Bills.
"I thought defensively, obviously, we played really almost spectacularly and we came up big with turnovers when we needed to," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think we had six, seven battled balls. We had a turnover early that we turned into a score. The offense did a good job of that. And then getting the turnover at the end when they were moving was big. Our offense played well except for the penalties in the first half, especially at the end of the first half."
A 15-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum to running back Taquan Mizzell in the third quarter gave the Ravens the lead and was their only touchdown. The score was set up by Jaylen Hill's second interception of the preseason, the latest big play for a defense that has surrendered just 19 points in three games.
The defense held onto the lead when Patrick Onwuasor stripped Brandon Reilly and recovered the fumble at the Ravens' 11-yard line with just over a minute to play.
"At the end of the game, everything came together," Onwuasor said.
The Ravens are now 3-0 in the preseason and they'll close it out Thursday on the road against the New Orleans Saints.
Starters are unlikely to play in that game, meaning that the Ravens' starting defense won't have allowed any points in the preseason.
"This has been a great start for us, but obviously, we have a lot of things to work on," Ravens defensive end Brent Urban said. "I think it was a great showing tonight, and the guys were really revved up to go. We played physically up front and locked them down on the back end. It has been a great start, but we still have a long way to go, and there is work to be done."
Ravens safety Eric Weddle acknowledged earlier in the week that the first two preseason games have shown "what type of team" the Ravens are. "Play great on defense, play unbelievable on special teams and play solid on offense — that's going to be the secret for us to win," he said.
The Ravens, though, still haven't showed themselves capable of being a "solid" offensive team yet. It certainly didn't help that on Saturday, they were without quarterback Joe Flacco (back), running back Danny Woodhead (hamstring), wide receiver Breshad Perriman (hamstring), starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley (undisclosed) and reserve tight end Maxx Williams (undisclosed).
The hope remains that all of those players will be ready for the team's Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Starting his third straight preseason game, Mallett didn't make any obvious mistakes, but he wasn't able to get the first-team offense close to the end zone either. He finished 6-for-10 for 58 yards, and was surprisingly taken out early in the second quarter.
The Ravens got one first down on their first drive, but Mallett missed an open Mike Wallace on third down.On the Ravens' second drive, which started on the Bills' 47, Mallett found Mizzell open in the slot for 16 yards. However, the drive stalled and the Ravens were forced to settle for Tucker's field goal.
Mallett moved the Ravens into Bills territory on his third drive, but a crack-back penalty on wide receiver Jeremy Maclin wiped out Buck Allen's 17-yard run and stalled the team's momentum.
Harbaugh inserted Woodrum, who had played well in the first two games against second- and third-team defenses, giving the former Liberty quarterback a chance to work with the starters. That's what fans have been calling for ever since Woodrum ran for two touchdowns in the wipeout of the Miami Dolphins in the second preseason game.
"We had decided to do that pretty much early in the week just to see how he did," Harbaugh said. "Ryan's gotten a lot of reps in the preseason. I thought Ryan played well tonight. We just decided that we wanted to see him a little earlier to see how he did because he played so well. I thought he did OK."
Woodrum couldn't recapture the magic that he found in the first two preseason games. On his first drive, he missed an open Wallace down the left sideline and then an errant Ryan Jensen snap on fourth down resulted in Woodrum taking an intentional grounding call.
The rest of the first half — and most of the third quarter for that matter — didn't get much better for Woodrum or the Ravens offense. The Ravens headed into intermission with 114 total yards of offense and 110 penalty yards. Woodrum finished 8-for-13 for 55 yards and the one touchdown to Mizzell, who led the Ravens with 59 all-purpose yards.
Buffalo's starting offense didn't fare any better. In three first-quarter drives against the Ravens, the Bills managed just 35 net yards and two first downs, and they lost their starting quarterback in the process.
The Bills then went three-and-out against the Ravens on their first drive of the second quarter, a possession that ended with rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman fumbling the ball and Weddle pouncing on him for the sack.
Buffalo finally got on the board six seconds before halftime when veteran fullback Mike Tolbert plunged in for a 1-yard touchdown run. The score was set up by a pass interference call on Ravens cornerback Sheldon Price.
Otherwise, the first half was an ugly affair for the Ravens, who watched several key players head to the sideline with injuries. Tucker entered into the concussion protocol after he was shaken up while making a tackle of Brandon Tate on a kickoff. It was eventually announced that he had been cleared, but the Ravens played it safe and Tucker was in street clothes for the second half.
"What I was thinking was that I needed to put my head across, go low and get him down on the ground," Tucker said. "I think he just caught me with a knee pad or a thigh pad right in the neck. It was about trying to make a play."
Cornerback Jimmy Smith was taken to the locker room surrounded by a couple of members of the team's medical staff. He returned to the sideline later in the second quarter with his left hand wrapped in ice. Special teams standout and reserve safety Anthony Levine Sr. also entered into concussion protocol, but he he was cleared.