As great as the Ravens' defense was Sunday night and it was magnificent in a 34-17 rout of the New York Jets it was the resourcefulness of quarterback Joe Flacco on third down that helped Baltimore land critical early blows in this bare-knuckle fight.
Then it was Flacco's lapse into malaise in the second quarter that allowed the Jets to sneak back into the game.
Flacco was masterful on third-and-long in the first quarter, converting three such plays that led to 10 points and a 17-7 Ravens lead.
"They like to play a lot of man [defense]," Flacco said. "I think early on, they were playing kind of soft on us, and in those situations we were able to get some guys singled and make some big plays."
He hit Ed Dickson on a hitch for 14 yards on third-and-13 on the first series, but the Ravens eventually punted.
On the next offensive series after the teams traded touchdowns Flacco beat a third-and-13 blitz with a short toss to Ray Rice, who was matched up on safety Eric Smith. Rice made Smith miss, then scampered 52 yards to the Jets' 27. Five plays later, Billy Cundiff hit the first of two 38-yard field goals for a 10-7 Baltimore lead.
Flacco's best work, though, came on the next series, when he faced third-and-8 at the Ravens 43.
Looking at downfield receivers, Flacco was forced to scramble, first to his right, then to his left, then backward. He finally stepped up in the pocket to find Rice again for a 12-yard gain and first down.
On the next play he completed a 28-yard pass to Anquan Boldin defended by Smith to the Jets' 22. A 13-yard completion to Dickson carried to the 4, and Rice powered in for a touchdown from the 3 for a 17-7 lead.
The play to Rice was an example of Flacco keeping a play alive.
"Ray was running a little option route out of the backfield and they just grabbed him, and threw him to ground pretty much," Flacco said. "And every other route over there got cloudy at that point, and I tried to move around to make a play and see somebody get open. We were able to hit Ray coming back down hill. He did a great job of trying to find my eyes, stay in vision of me, and work back down hill to the ball. We got fortunate there. It was kind of a crazy play, [where] anything can happen. But we were able to make a play there and keep a drive going and it ended up being a big play."
Flacco was able to find the receiver who was single covered in the first quarter, when he completed 8 of 17 passes for 142 yards.
He was not able to find any receivers in the second quarter, though, when he went 0-for-10, took a sack and threw an interception that was returned 35 yards for a touchdown by Jets linebacker David Harris.
The interception also came on third-and-long (11), one play after Flacco was drilled by Bart Scott, the former Ravens linebacker, on a deep incompletion.
The Jets used running back Joe McKnight, who had returned a kickoff for a 107-yard touchdown in the first quarter, to blitz Flacco on the play. McKnight got close, and Flacco tried to dump the ball off to Rice. Harris first showed blitz on the play, then dropped into coverage and was waiting on Flacco's errant throw.
Flacco threw 12 straight incompletions at one point and did not complete a pass in the second or third quarter, when the Jets' pressure defense was able to get to him more often.
He hit 10 of 31 passes for 163 yards and a passer rating of 37.4.
"Our defense obviously came up big today," Flacco said. "It wasn't too pretty, but anytime you get a win in the NFL, it's a good one, especially when you are playing a good team like that."