An injury forced the Ravens to shuffle their offensive line Sunday, and the group responded with one of its best performances of the season.
Left guard Jah Reid was inactive because of a toe injury, so the Ravens put veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie back in the starting lineup for the first time this season. The move then slid Michael Oher over to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele to left guard, which he had never played before in the NFL.
The new-look line kept a formidable Colts pass rush off quarterback Joe Flacco and also cleared big holes for the running game.
"I thought they played really well," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "To have two pass rushers like that (linebackers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) coming off the edge and to control those guys for the most part throughout the game is a pretty incredible accomplishment."
Flacco was sacked just once and he had time to throw for most of the day. Of the Ravens' 24 passing plays, the line allowed just six pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
The biggest change for the group was having the 6-foot-8, 354-pound McKinnie back in the lineup. The 11-year veteran started every game last season, but the Ravens opted to go with Oher at left tackle this year and use McKinnie in reserve duty.
McKinnie played sparingly during the regular season, but was called into action Sunday and after a strong showing the Ravens may go with this group of linemen for the remainder of the playoffs.
When asked if he expects to be the starter moving forward, McKinnie told reporters, "I guess so."
McKinnie made a strong case to take over the starting job, as he allowed just one quarterback hurry on the day. He graded out as the second-best linemen behind center Matt Birk, according to Pro Football Focus.
"I feel like I'm improving," McKinnie said. "I got to improve in a hurry because I don't have that much time left. But I definitely feel like I'm getting better and I just feel better too.
"I'd like to thank Michael Oher, just for being a trooper and a veteran for moving back over to the right. And you got to give props to KO for being a rookie and pretty much having to learn guard again. I felt like everybody did a great job. Communication was great."
McKinnie has now logged considerable minutes at left tackle in two straight games. He played nearly the entire regular-season finale against the Bengals, which was an opportunity to knock off the rust before the playoffs.
"I was trying to use that game just to get a feel for game speed and everything again and being in there for a long period of time," McKinnie said.
Earlier in the year, the Ravens had gone with veteran guard Bobbie Williams in the starting lineup at right or left guardrather than putting McKinnie back at left tackle.
But McKinnie has come on strong in practice in recent weeks, Harbaugh said, and that was a big part of the reason they wanted to give him another chance in the starting lineup. The other factor is that McKinnie is getting healthy after dealing with a hip flexor injury earlier this season.
"I had a hip flexor injury that kind of was slowing me down and after the Dallas game that's what was slowing me down for like a month or so," McKinnie said.
Now he's healthy, and the Ravens could decide to stick with him down the stretch.
"Bryant McKinnie could step in there and play as well as he did – he's been practicing so well the last two or three weeks," Harbaugh said. "And you could just tell he was getting healthy, and it was time for him to play, and that's just the way it worked out with Jah's injury."