Ryan Mallett and the Ravens' de-facto starting offense didn't alleviate any concerns that will arise if quarterback Joe Flacco's absence becomes a lengthy one. The Ravens' starting defense did little to tone down any of the preseason hype about how good it can become.
The preseason opener — a 23-3 victory over the Washington Redskins on Thursday night before an announced 70,469 at M&T Bank Stadium — went according to form if you had been following the Ravens over the first two weeks of training camp. The Mallett-led offense struggled despite repeatedly getting the ball in good field position. The starting defense and top defensive reserves overwhelmed the Redskins.
A 2-yard touchdown run by Terrance West and two field goals by Justin Tucker gave the Ravens a 13-0 lead at halftime, but the first two quarters were a slog for Mallett and the offense. He completed nine of 18 passes for 58 yards. He didn't throw a touchdown pass, but he wasn't intercepted either, compiling a 57.2 quarterback rating. The performance will do little to quell the outside belief that the Ravens should consider bringing in free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.
"We still have a lot to work on, but it is training camp and the preseason," Mallett said. "The farther we go along, the better we will get. It was just fun being out there with the guys and getting used to everybody."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh praised Mallett after the game for playing "winning football."
"He played good football, just what we asked him to do," Harbaugh said.
The Ravens did get a spark later when undrafted rookie wide receiver Tim White caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from Josh Woodrum to give the home team a 20-3 lead. The touchdown was set up a 46-yard punt return by Keenan Reynolds (Navy).
In fairness to Mallett, who was relieved by Dustin Vaughan for the start of the third quarter, it always was going to be tough to get a read on the offense because of the number of starters who were on the sideline in street clothes.
Flacco was obviously the most prominent absence as he continues to rehabilitate a pre-training camp back injury. However, one of the team's top running backs (Danny Woodhead), its top three wide receivers (Mike Wallace, Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman), one of its top tight ends (Benjamin Watson) and three projected starting offensive linemen (Marshal Yanda, Alex Lewis and Austin Howard) were all held out of the preseason opener.
The only offensive players on the field who are expected to start in the Sept. 10 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals were West (Northwestern High, Towson), tight end Nick Boyle, left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Ryan Jensen.
Predictably, the patchwork offense mostly struggled and looked like it has for much of training camp, when errant throws, interceptions and the lack of a downfield threat have been more the norm.
"I thought we ran the ball well, but there are a few plays that I would like to have back," Mallett said. "We had 13 points, and those field goals at the end of the half were big for us."
On their first possession, the Ravens went three-and-out despite an 8-yard end-around carry by rookie Tim White. Mallett's first pass whizzed through West's hands. His second one, on third-and-2, was underthrown and Michael Campanaro (River Hill) couldn't catch it.
His third attempt came on third-and long on the Ravens' next drive and Mallett either underthrew Chris Moore or overthrew Quincy Adeboyejo, depending on your perspective. That made him 0-for-3 and left the Ravens offense with 11 total yards and consecutive three-and-outs on its first two drives.
Mallett's first completion went to running back Buck Allen and it lost a yard as Allen was popped by former Wilde Lake standout Zach Brown before he even had a chance to get upfield. On the next play, he tried to hit Campanaro down the right sideline, but the ball was underthrown. Fortunately for the Ravens, Joshua Holsey was called for defensive pass interference, a 23-yard penalty.
That set up a 43-yard field-goal attempt by Tucker, whose kick banged off the upright. The Redskins were called for an illegal-formation penalty on the kick and the Ravens offense went back onto the field.
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West, the team's lead back, rumbled for 18 years, setting up his own leaping 2-yard touchdown run for the game's first points.
"We are missing some pieces up front, but I think the guys did a good job tonight," West said. "I think we will have a good unit this season."
Tucker made it 10-0 with 36 seconds left in the half with a 37-yard field goal, culminating a 14-play drive that gained only 34 yards.
The interception set up Tucker's 59-yard field goal with no time on the clock, giving the Ravens a 13-0 lead.
The Redskins, who kept starting quarterback Kirk Cousins in for just two drives, managed just 47 total yards of offense and four first downs in the half. Pretty much all the Ravens' defensive starters played at least the first two series. Washington scored early in the third quarter on Dustin Hopkins' 49-yard field goal.