By the end of the first quarter at the Georgia Dome on Thursday, the Ravens offense had no first downs and 9 total yards. Their starting defense had already allowed one touchdown and was on the verge of giving up another, and appeared powerless in trying to slow Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones who had a touchdown and more than 100 yards in less than 15 minutes.
Even the special teams got into the disappointing act by allowing Dominique Franks to return a punt to the Ravens' 15-yard line. Things only marginally improved from there for the starters though the Ravens did salvage something from their preseason opener with a 31-17 victory over the Falcons on the strength of three second-half touchdown passes from Curtis Painter , and two fumble recoveries and an interception by undrafted free agent safety Omar Brown.
Painter, who is hoping to convince the Ravens to keep three quarterbacks, hit reserve tight end Billy Bajema with a 4-yard touchdown to tie the game at 17, and then he found rookie free agent Deonte Thompson behind the secondary for the go-ahead 22-yard score with 1:54 left in the third.
He then hooked up with rookie free agent Bobby Rainey for a 34-yard touchdown pass early in the fourth quarter to break open the game.
But the dominating second-half aside, the talk in the coming days will certainly be about the early struggles of the Ravens' starting units.
The first-half performance, coupled by second-quarter injuries to starting tight end Ed Dickson (subluxed shoulder) and reserve nose tackle Ryan McBean (knee), left head coach John Harbaugh visibly unhappy as he walked to the locker room at intermission, and lamenting several facets of the Ravens' play.
"It was obvious in the first half that we have a lot of things to work on," Harbaugh said. "Really, we need to be better on offense, defense and special teams. There were times we played like Ravens, but we were not consistent."
The team's offensive line was the biggest question mark coming in with two rookie starters in center Gino Gradkowski and right tackle Kelechi Osemele, along with a newcomer at left guard, veteran Bobbie Williams. Their performance Thursday did little to erase the skepticism.
Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice found no room, rushing three times for 4 total yards, and quarterback Joe Flacco was under duress throughout his four series in the game.
"We knew we were going to get tested by a very good pass rush team, on the road and on turf," said Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "Once we settled down, we did OK."
Flacco was sacked twice, and hit several other times including on one play in the first series where linebacker Sean Witherspoon burst through the middle right past Gradkowski and got a free shot at Flacco's rib cage.
The Ravens quarterback was dropped again — this time by linebacker Akeem Dent — early in the second quarter. But Flacco got to his feet and led an 11-play, 77-yard scoring drive that at least allowed the first-team offense to go on the team charter with a little momentum.
On third-and-12 from their own 21, Flacco hit Torrey Smith for 15 yards to give the Ravens their first first down 1 minute, 09 seconds into the second quarter. He had four more first-down completions on the drive before he hit Dickson with a 9-yard touchdown pass. Dickson got up favoring his right arm. Harbaugh said after the game, Dickson subluxed his shoulder and could be out a couple of weeks. He'll have more tests Friday.
"It's preseason and it took us a little while to get going," said Flacco who finished 9-of-12 for 88 yards and a touchdown"We've got to look back at some of those plays and miscues, because the Falcons got a couple good pressures. There are a lot of things we can do better on third down in terms of recognizing the man coverage and trying to break away a little bit. But on that last drive, it was good to get into a rhythm and get it going a little bit."
The Ravens' defense got off to an equally slow start. With linebackers Ray Lewis (coaches decision) and Courtney Upshaw (shoulder sprain) not playing and safety Ed Reed participating in just one series, Falcons starting quarterback Matt Ryan marched his team down the field for scores in two of his four drives.
Getting no pressure from the Ravens' pass rush, he needed just eight plays to go 80 yards on the game's first possession. Jones, mostly working on cornerback Cary Williams, caught four passes for 58 yards on the drive including a juggling 7-yard touchdown catch.
The Ravens stopped the Falcons on their next two drives with one of them ending on Brendon Ayanbadejo's interception. However with Ryan again finding Jones (six catches for 109 yards and touchdown), the Falcons went 85 yards on 10 plays and took a 14-0 lead on Jacquizz Rodgers' 2-yard touchdown run.