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Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's return to field coincides with return of a run-heavy game plan

The drive started on the Ravens’ 12-yard line and ended on the Cincinnati Bengals’ 7. In between, the Ravens ran 17 plays, gained 81 yards, benefited from three Bengals penalties and killed 9:38 off the clock.

Justin Tucker’s 25-yard field goal sailed through the uprights to end the drive, and the Bengals’ comeback hopes in an eventual 20-0 loss went with it. The Ravens held the ball for 17 plays on the drive despite not completing a pass. Fourteen of the plays on the drive were runs, and the Ravens gained more than 7 yards on none of them.

The drive that all but iced a season-opening victory was emblematic of the team’s offensive effort in quarterback Joe Flacco’s first game action since the 2016 season finale on this same field. After returning to practice just eight days earlier because of a back injury, Flacco threw the ball just 17 times, completing nine of them for 121 yards and a touchdown. He also threw an interception.

“It reminded me of my first couple of games as a rookie,” said Flacco who was known more as a game manager when he started for the Ravens as a rookie. “It was one of those where we had to run the ball late in the game and just run the clock out. It’s good coming here to get a win. I don’t care how you do it.”

Flacco’s best moment was his 48-yard touchdown connection to Jeremy Maclin late in the second quarter on a play the quarterback audibled on because he knew an all-out blitz was coming and the Bengals had no safety deep.

Maclin’s man was rubbed off by Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson and the team’s late offseason wide receiver addition coasted into the end zone.

“I kind of saw what they were lined up in,” Maclin said. “In the back of my head, I’m just hoping. I hope nobody drops. They end up coming with pressure and he was able to hit me in stride.”

Otherwise, Flacco’s most effective play was putting the ball in the hands of a running back and getting out of the way. After an offseason during which they hired Greg Roman to direct the run game and vowed to show a greater commitment to a more balanced offense, the Ravens delivered on that promise in the opener, running 42 times for 157 yards and Terrance West’s 2-yard touchdown.

Buck Allen had 21 carries for 71 yards and West (Towson University, Northwestern High) rushed 19 times for 80 yards. Danny Woodhead and Michael Campanaro (River Hill) also had solo carries.

Last season, when the Ravens finished with one of the worst ground games in the NFL, they ran the ball 30 or more times just twice in 16 games. By late third quarter Sunday, they had already had 30 rushes.

“It’s nice to not make [Flacco] have to throw the ball 55 times in his first game out,” right guard Marshal Yanda said. “He hit the one to Jeremy and he was gone. It was great. He had a great game and we’re going to keep on rolling.”

Flacco, who didn’t play at all in the preseason and was sidelined for five weeks because of a back injury, conceded that there were a few occasions when he felt his footwork and rhythm were a little bit off. He brought up a specific throw to Maclin in the second quarter, which Flacco bounced in front of the tightly covered receiver.

However, Flacco said he felt comfortable throughout. The truth was the Ravens didn’t need much from their 10th-year quarterback with the way the defense was playing. They just needed him to avoid key mistakes and take what the game gave him.

“That was a game that running the ball turned out to be a key to,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I thought we were really patient with it. I thought we called it really well. I thought we blocked it really well and our guys ran it really well. Joe was a big part of that as well, in terms of organizing it. It was a good day that way.”

Not only did the Ravens get out of Paul Brown Stadium with their first victory here since 2011, they came out with a relatively healthy quarterback, at least according to Flacco. He did have a scare late in the third quarter when he was slung down by Carlos Dunlap on a third-down incompletion.

An NFL spotter called down to the field and had Flacco tested for a concussion. The quarterback passed the test and finished the game.

“I felt good. My back didn’t take anything, really,” he said. “My chin did on one those play-action plays down on the goal line. I tried to get the ball on a check-down and got hit from both sides, I think. I think I’m ready to step into the ring. I think I got a good chin.”

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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