TAMPA, FLA. – Joe Flacco faked the handoff, rolled to his left and stared downfield. Without a Tampa Bay Buccaneer defender in sight, he waited and waited, and then waited some more.
Finally unleashing a high-arcing pass, Flacco watched Steve Smith run onto the ball and then fall forward into the end zone.
Every touchdown -- there were five of them in all, each coming in a stunning and record-breaking first 16 minutes, three seconds of the game -- wasn’t that easy for the Ravens’ quarterback.
But there were times in their 48-17 trouncing of the hapless Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium when Flacco and the Ravens’ offense looked like it was playing in a glorified scrimmage where covering receivers was optional.
“It was definitely a fun day,” said Flacco who completed 21 of 29 passes for 306 yards and the five touchdowns. “You don’t get those too often in this league. It was pretty crazy. We had a great first drive going there and putting points on the board. Defense got us the ball back, and they did a really good job throughout the first half of getting us the ball back with pretty short fields. We were able to convert them all. It happens so quickly and it was such an awkward situation, but it was fun for us.”
In helping the Ravens improve to 4-2 this season, Flacco set a career high – and tied Tony Banks’ franchise record from 2000 – in touchdown passes. The scoring barrage started when Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 9-yard touchdown at the 13:11 mark of the first quarter. It ended with the 56-yard pass to Steve Smith just 1:03 into the second quarter.
In between, there was another touchdown to Torrey Smith and scoring strikes to Kamar Aiken and Michael Campanaro, both firsts in their careers. The Ravens scored touchdowns on their first five possessions and got a Justin Tucker 46-yard field goal on their sixth.
“We’ve had some pretty good games on offense, but I don’t think anything ever happened that fast before,” Torrey Smith said. “That was quick.”
Smith said the Ravens started talking on the sideline about Flacco breaking the record of seven touchdown passes in a game, a mark held by numerous players. Instead, they settled for him throwing the quickest five touchdown passes in a game since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger. He also was the first quarterback to throw five touchdown passes in a first half since the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady did it in 2009.
“It’s about as fast a start as you’re going to get in all three phases,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, whose team lead 28-0 at the end of the first quarter and 38-0 at halftime. “For the offense to do what they did early for Joe and the wide receivers and the offensive line, to do what they did early is just historic.”
Remember all that was said and written in the past couple of days about the struggles of the Ravens offense on the road? The Ravens’ 28 first-quarter points were the most they’ve scored in any quarter on the road in team history.
The 38 points were the second-most that they’ve ever scored in a half. The 48 points for the game tied for the second-most they scored in franchise history, trailing just the 55 that the 2012 Ravens put up against the Oakland Raiders.
“Joe threw some excellent passes. He threw some darts in there to Torrey and I was happy for Torrey,” said Steve Smith who had five catches for 110 yards and the touchdown. “I was just sitting there and watching it, going, ‘Wow.’ He was throwing some heat seekers in there and they were right on target.”
After watching Flacco and the offense in practice this week, Harbaugh said he expected the Ravens to play really well. Offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak also told Harbaugh during the week that he expected the Ravens to have success throwing the ball against the Buccaneers, who were down two starting cornerbacks.
But neither man could have expected this.
“I’m going to be straightforward with you – it was a really good week of practice,” Harbaugh said. “Friday was about as precise of a Friday as we’ve had. We ran right through our Saturday stuff without a single glitch. The guys were locked in. It’s not going to be like that all the time, obviously, but you chase perfection.”
The Ravens did plenty of other things well, too. With two rookies starting on the left side of their offensive line – undrafted free agent James Hurst started at left tackle and fifth-round pick John Urschel played for an injured Kelechi Osemele at left guard – they rushed for 169 yards and gained 4.8 yards per carry.
Justin Forsett became the first Raven to rush for 100 yards this season, gaining 111 yards on just 14 carries. Bernard Pierce added a 4-yard touchdown run on the final play from scrimmage in the third quarter.
On defense, the Ravens sacked Tampa Bay starter Mike Glennon five times, matching their previous season total, and picked him off once, with Jimmy Smith becoming the first Ravens defensive back this season to get an interception. In the decisive first half, the Ravens held the Buccaneers to 101 yards of total offense, forcing five punts and one turnover.
“We just wanted to have some success on defense,” said Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs, who got his first full sack of the season. “We just wanted to play well. We were doing that and [Flacco] was hot. He was slinging it and he was playing really well.”
The play that probably best symbolized Flacco’s day was the long touchdown pass to Steve Smith. Flacco had already looked off Smith and was trying to find another receiver.
“The corner (Alterraun Verner) did a good job; he just backed up and played it,” said Flacco, who couldn’t recall throwing five touchdown passes in a game in high school or at the University of Delaware. “So I came back inside [and] it was kind of a broken play-extended play at this point. 'Where can I get the ball?' and there was nowhere really open.
"So I just said, ‘All right, let me throw one up and see what happens.’ I guess today was the kind of day it can end up in the right guy’s hands for a touchdown.”
Things got so bad for the home team that after Campanaro (River Hill) made the leaping 19-yard touchdown catch in the end zone to give the Ravens a 28-0 lead, fans started hitting the nearest exits in droves. The first quarter wasn’t even over.
The crowd was announced as 60,041 but by the start of the third quarter, the stadium looked like it was only about one-quarter full and many of the fans remaining were wearing purple Ravens jerseys.
“1-5 says we’re not a good football team, and we’re not a good football team,” said Buccaneers coach Lovie Smith. “It’s kind of as simple as that.”
Joe Flacco completed five touchdown passes in a game faster than any quarterback since the AFL-NFL merger.
Year; Quarterback; Opponent; Time
2014; Joe Flacco; Buccaneers; 16:03
2007; Ben Roethlisberger; Ravens; 28:09
2004; Donovan McNabb; Packers; 28:12
1986; Tommy Kramer; Packers; 28:55
2004; Peyton Manning; Packers; 29:03
Source: Elias Sports Bureau