OAKLAND, CALIF. — The tone was set during the final preparation meeting at the Ravens Bay Area hotel. For weeks, the Ravens players and coaches had been asked about the absence of a downhill passing game from their struggling offense. They insisted that all the elements were in place and it would come.
On Saturday night as the game plan was being reviewed, the Ravens were informed that the offense was going to force the issue. Quarterback Joe Flacco was going to throw the ball deep on the very first play from scrimmage Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.
"I was hyped when I saw the play call," Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "You have to win. You can't have a play call like that and not win because [offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg] may not want to call it anymore. I just knew last night when I saw the play, if we can get this play … it was going to be a snowball effect."
It went — both the first play and the offensive game plan Sunday — exactly as the team had hoped. A well-protected Flacco launched a high-arcing throw down the near sideline and Wallace beat cornerback Sean Smith and ran under the ball for a 52-yard gain.
What followed was the Ravens' best offensive performance all year as Flacco and company played mistake-free football in ending a two-game losing streak by earning a 30-17 victory in front of an announced 54,980 at the Oakland Coliseum.
"It felt like we hadn't won in months," said Ravens middle linebacker C.J. Mosley, who was part of a defense that forced one turnover, scored a touchdown and sacked Raiders backup EJ Manuel three times. "It's good to get a victory against an AFC opponent at their home. Now, we know we're tied for first place."
The victory improved the Ravens to 3-2 and, coupled with the Pittsburgh Steelers' home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, created a tie for first in the AFC North. The more important development Sunday, however, was the appearance of an offense that moved the ball down the field when points were needed, didn't bog down amid a series of mistakes and found the right pass-run balance under Mornhinweg.
In leading the Ravens to points on five of their eight full drives, Flacco completed 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards and ended his streak of 10 games with an interception. The Ravens hit on a few deep shots — Wallace had three catches for 133 yards — didn't allow Flacco to be sacked and rushed for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
Reserve tight end Vince Mayle scored on a 2-yard end-around in the first quarter to start the scoring, and Buck Allen's 1-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter gave the visitors a 21-3 lead.
Then, after the Raiders made it a one-possession game on Marshawn Lynch's 3-yard touchdown run with 3:46 left in the third quarter, it was the Ravens offense that closed the game out. A 12-play, 72-yard drive ate up 5½ minutes and led to Justin Tucker's 21-yard field goal. A 13-play, 54-yard drive — the Ravens ran the ball on nine straight plays against a defense that knew what was coming — absorbed 6:26 and ended with Tucker knocking it through the uprights from 44 yards.
"It's a dream for an offensive line to know that it's in our hands, to know that we're going to run the ball and they know we're going to run it and to be able to do it successfully," left guard James Hurst said. "It was a great way to end the game."
The game certainly had a redemptive feel to it for the Ravens. That narrative started with Flacco, who played two of the worst games of his career in back-to-back losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens were shut out in the first halves of both games and much of the criticism for the subpar efforts was directed at the 10th-year quarterback.
On Sunday, they built a 21-3 lead, aided by cornerback Jimmy Smith's 47-yard touchdown return of a fumble by tight end Jared Cook, and then after a sluggish start to the third quarter offensively, regained their rhythm on back-to-back scoring drives spanning the third and fourth quarters.
"I don't hear about [the criticism] anyway. You might see it when you're scrolling through Instagram and doing stupid things while you're bored, but, hey, man, it's part of being an NFL quarterback, dealing with tough times," Flacco said. "When you don't play well, you own it and you move on to the next one. I have confidence in who I am as a player and as a person and who we are as a football team. So, I'm never going to waver. I may not play well one week, but it's not going to change who I am and who I believe I am."
The Ravens' running game lost starting back Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High) to a calf injury on the game's very first drive, but leaned on Allen (21 carries for 73 yards) and Alex Collins (12 carries for 55 yards and no fumbles) the rest of the way.
To a man, the Ravens felt the key to the game was the blocking of the offensive line and the tight ends, who kept Khalil Mack, Bruce Irvin and Mario Edwards Jr. away from the quarterback most of the day and wore down the Raiders front on the ground.
"I think guys came out with a mindset that we wanted to dominate the game and make a statement, and I think we did that from the start," said wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, who had six catches for 43 yards and made several key third-down receptions. "I think the offensive line played great — both in the run and the pass game. I thought they dominated. Everything starts up front. Anytime you keep Joe clean, anytime you open up lanes for those running backs, we like our chances."
The Ravens downplayed the importance of the offense's output going forward. In fact, they spent much of postgame talking about how much improvement the team still needs to make before its home matchup with the Chicago Bears next Sunday. Flacco was particularly annoyed by the two three-and-out drives to start the third quarter that let Oakland get back in the game.
However, before he showered and got ready for a long flight home, Flacco acknowledged the possibility that the victory could serve as a turning point for the Ravens.
"I think this one is a little more significant because just what it does for the mentality and the confidence of the football team, and what the other side, what not winning would have done to the mentality of the football team," Flacco said. "It counts the same, just as any other. It doesn't matter when you lose them, necessarily, or when you win them, you just have to have the right amount of wins at the end. As far as the mentality of this football team and the confidence of our offense, of our defense, I think this will definitely go a little bit longer than a normal win."