“There was probably a little bit of, ‘Man, I haven't been out there for a while.' But it was just excitement,” said Joe Flacco when asked about being nervous before the games.
Joe Flacco's night started with one of the team's big free-agent additions, tight end Benjamin Watson, tearing his right Achilles tendon on the first play of the game, and ended with the veteran quarterback misfiring on a fourth-down throw to wide receiver Mike Wallace.
Everything in between went about as well as Flacco could have hoped in his first game action since he tore the ACL and MCL in his left knee on Nov. 22. Flacco led two relatively long drives, one resulting in a Ravens field goal, and finished the night 11-for-16 for 94 yards.
The Ravens dominated the Detroit Lions, 30-9, at M&T Bank Stadium to improve to 3-0 on the preseason. But the uplifting and successful returns of Flacco and rush linebacker Terrell Suggs were marred by injuries to Watson and running back Kenneth Dixon, two offensive playmakers the Ravens added this summer.
"This team has a certain way that it's supposed to feel, or how it's supposed to look," said Suggs who had two tackles in his first game action since he tore his Achilles tendon in last year's season opener. "It's starting to look like that. We had some more guys go down, but we've been preparing the whole training camp. It's all about the next man up."
Watson fell down while running a route without being touched by the defense. He couldn't put any weight on his right leg as he was helped off the field by two Ravens athletic trainers, and he was quickly diagnosed with a torn Achilles. An MRI will be taken Sunday to confirm the news.
Dixon, a rookie fourth-round draft pick, was taken to the locker room in the same manner late in the second quarter, unable to put any weight on his left leg. Trying to get in the end zone, Dixon's left knee bent awkwardly when he was hit by former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Dixon, who had six carries for 41 yards and one catch for nine yards before the injury, was diagnosed with a left knee sprain. He's expected to miss time, but he'll also have an MRI on Sunday to determine the severity of the injury, and how long he'll be sidelined.
"Ken does not look like an overly serious injury," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We'll see tomorrow with the MRI. But there's some optimism there."
Tight end and running back were positions where the Ravens have some depth. However, the injuries to Maxx Williams and Dennis Pitta, and the pending suspensions of Darren Waller (four games) and Nick Boyle (10 games) leave them in a precarious spot at tight end. At running back, the Ravens still have Justin Forsett, Buck Allen and Terrance West (Towson), but the team was extremely excited about Dixon's progress.
It was especially cruel to see two playmakers go down on a night when Flacco and Suggs made their returns.
Flacco hasn't missed a practice throughout the preseason, but Harbaugh opted to hold him out of the first two preseason games. When the veteran quarterback took the field Saturday night, it had been 279 days since he last saw game action.
Flacco vowed to keep things as normal as possible. He's always nervous before games, and he said Saturday was no different.
"There was probably a little bit of, 'Man, I haven't been out there for a while.' But it was just excitement," Flacco said.
He arrived on the field for his initial warmup at 5:15 p.m., 1 hour, 45 minutes before the scheduled kickoff. He threw a few passes and then went over to greet Lions head coach Jim Caldwell, the Ravens offensive coordinator for their Super Bowl run in 2012.
A couple of minutes later, he went over to greet Lions receiver Anquan Boldin, another key member of the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII team. Just before 7 p.m., Flacco was introduced to a rousing ovation as he was the last man out of the tunnel.
The Ravens got the ball to start the game and Flacco fittingly went deep on the first play. However, he overthrew Wallace down the home sideline after the veteran had gotten a step on a Lions cornerback. Flacco also had an offensive lineman pushed back in his face on the play, which was reminiscent of how he got hurt.
"We had a touchdown right there for the first play of the game if I hit Mike there," Flacco said. "I was just disappointed we didn't make the play."
Flacco rebounded on the next play and hit Kamar Aiken for 15 yards. Two plays later, he connected with Wallace for a 20-yard gain. The Ravens' drive ultimately stalled when Flacco fired an incomplete pass to Aiken on third-and-7, setting up Justin Tucker's 40-yard field goal. Flacco was 4-for-6 for 48 yards on the drive.
"It felt really good," Flacco said. "I was a little quick on a couple of things, but it felt great to be back out there. To be out there with the guys, that's what it's all about."
On the next drive, Flacco hit Wallace for 12 yards on third-and-10. He then found Forsett for 10 yards, Wallace for five, Dixon for nine and fullback Kyle Juszczyk for a three-yard gain on third-and-1.The drive ended when Flacco threw an incompletion to Wallace on fourth-and-3 from the Lions' 44-yard line.
"I messed up a couple of throws to him," Flacco said. "I think we left a few opportunities out there, including another one to Kamar."
Flacco said earlier in the week that he expected to play about a half. However, by the start of the second quarter, he had already put aside his helmet and embraced spectator mode. Given Watson's injury, it was understandable why Harbaugh removed his starting quarterback when he did. Suggs also was removed after a quarter.
"It was great to see them both out there," Harbaugh said. "It was important to get them back in a real game and reacquainted with what that feels like. They are good players. They make plays, and they lift everybody up."
Ryan Mallett replaced Flacco and directed two second-quarter scoring drives, hitting Jeremy Butler for a 25-yard touchdown pass, and scoring on a 1-yard quarterback sneak.