Ravens head coach John Harbaugh talked about the play of WR Breshad Perriman, RB Alex Collin and the offensive line against the Raiders. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Despite four weeks of evidence mostly to the contrary, the Ravens said for weeks that they were capable of putting together a complete offensive performance. As poorly as they played offensively in losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers, they even insisted they were close to a breakout if a few things were cleaned up.
The offense's performance in a 30-17 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday wasn't necessarily explosive or dynamic. It did, however, answer some lingering questions about the unit's viability.
Yes, the Ravens are more than capable of playing a clean football game with no turnovers and just one penalty. Yes, Joe Flacco still can be a successful downfield passer and has the necessary elements on the outside to make it happen. And yes, the Ravens are fully equipped to maintain an effective run-pass balance and to run the ball successfully late in the game even when teams are gearing to stop it.
"It's hard to have confidence if you're not doing anything to generate confidence," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "It's one thing to believe, and you have to believe sometimes unseen — that's what faith is. But as far as confidence in athletic ability, there's something to going out and doing it."
To a man, the Ravens offensive players said after Sunday's key road victory — which ended a two-game losing streak, improved the team's record to 3-2 and pulled the Ravens into a first-place tie with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North — that the performance doesn't change the team's mindset.
Flacco, who halted his streak of 10 consecutive games with an interception, was really the only Raven to say that the win carried extra significance, given the opponent, timing and location. However, Flacco was also quick to point out that the 365-yard performance from the offense was only a step in the right direction and that it was hardly complete.
"We were able to get after them on offense a little bit, especially earlier in the game," said Flacco, who completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards. "I wish we would have carried it into the second half, but we didn't today."
Against the Raiders, they scored on three of their four first-half drives. They then finished the game with two extended drives that resulted in field goals by Justin Tucker and all but put Oakland away. Those drives were sparked by a couple of big third-down completions thrown by Flacco, the offensive line controlling the line of scrimmage and the running backs getting downhill and picking up yardage.
The only real blemishes in the offense's afternoon were not finishing a couple of drives with touchdowns and the two drives in the third quarter, which netted 2 total yards and resulted in three-and-outs. The Raiders turned one of those possessions into a 3-yard touchdown run by Marshawn Lynch that cut the Ravens' advantage to 24-17.
The next challenge for the Ravens is avoiding those lulls, applying constant offensive pressure and putting opponents away.
"I think the formula is going to be different every week," Harbaugh said Monday. "Getting a lead is always a good thing. That's no revelation. And when you get the lead, you've got to keep the lead. And if you keep the lead, you try to extend the lead. That goes without saying. That's philosophy. That's football. That's what you do. You try to do that. It's probably true for every sport. But how it plays out is week to week."
Certainly, an offense that is able to consistently run the ball, doesn't turn it over, makes key third-down conversions and opens things up with a few deep shots would seemingly be a good recipe every week. But it also is an elusive one.
Several Ravens were quick to point out Sunday that one game won't matter if they can't repeat it, starting Sunday at home against the Chicago Bears.
"Not enough. Not to ourselves," wide receiver Mike Wallace said when asked Sunday whether the offense had answered some questions. Wallace had his best game of the season with three catches for 133 yards. "We know who we are. We're just going to go out and continue to play our game. I don't care about questions. I'll sit up here two hours and answer questions. It doesn't matter to me. It's about performance. Whether we have questions about it or we are making plays, people are always going to have something to say. So we might as well go out and just have a good game."
Asked what questions the offense still need to answer, Wallace said: "How can you score 40? How can you score 50? The Patriots did it. That's the kind of team you want to try to be like on offense. You want to be a high-scoring team. If your team comes out and you're not scoring 30, 40 points a game, you have some work to do. You have a lot more to do."
Still, if nothing else, the Ravens changed the conversation around the team heading into Bears week, which started Monday with the coaching staff reviewing tape and Harbaugh planning to stay up late to watch the prime-time game between the Bears and Minnesota Vikings, the Ravens' next two opponents.
All last week, the Ravens were asked about the poor performances of the offense and whether it was salvageable. Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg were particularly under fire.
Questions about whether they can maintain the offensive momentum that was started Sunday in Oakland will be far easier to answer this week.
"To me, it's doing. It's going out and executing. So all that other stuff to me is just interesting, corner-of-the-bar conversation," Harbaugh said. "To me as a coach, you go by what you see, and what you see is what you evaluate that matters and what you see is what you attack in terms of things that you want to improve or things that you chose to do in the next game plan or don't include. … We have great conversations with those guys. So that part of it plays in, but confidence is just something that's hard to define. I think you know it when you see it, but it's important to have it, and I believe if we execute well, we're going to be very confident."