PLEASE NOTE:The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed on BaltimoreRavens.com represent those of individual authors, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions or policies of the Baltimore Ravens' organization, front office staff, coaches and executives. Authors' views are formulated independently from any inside knowledge and/or conversations with Ravens officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
Coaches talk about team victories all the time, but the Ravens' 31-17 win over the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium was a shining example of that notion.
All in all, there were many factors deserving of credit in the Ravens' improvement to 4-1.
Quarterback Joe Flacco marched to Denver's 1-yard line on each of his first three drives, and the Ravens built a 17-0 lead before Denver even got on the board.
The rushing attack was dominant, posting 233 yards as a group.
Defensively, the Ravens allowed Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, who helms the NFL's most-prolific passing attack, to complete 23 of 38 attempts for 314 yards, but 86 of those came on two long touchdown throws to receiver Brandon Lloyd.
And Baltimore's special teams recovered a fumble and put four of five kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.
Considering the varied contributions, it was Baltimore's most-complete win of the season.
"We have the opportunity to be a really good team," said Head Coach John Harbaugh. "That kind of a football team is in us, and that's what we talked to our guys about. We want to take steps today toward finding that."
Some wondered whether the Ravens would be able to maintain their focus after an emotional win last weekend against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They could have lost momentum after their first series when three cracks at the end zone from the 1-yard line failed to yield a touchdown. Still, the Ravens demonstrated resolve, never taking their foot off the accelerator in any phase of the game.
In taking the AFC North lead with Pittsburgh idle and both the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns losing, the Ravens believe they have a formula for success.
"Defense comes out and goes three-and-out real quick, then the offense comes out and puts 7, 14 [points on the board], then special teams makes a big play and takes 3 [points]," recounted linebacker Ray Lewis. "Any time you win three phases of a ball game, you're going to be a hard team to beat."
On the third play from scrimmage, Flacco enjoyed excellent protection from his offensive line and uncorked a 58-yard bomb to rookie tight end Ed Dickson. They got to the 1, but Willis McGaheee was stopped on second and third down, and a play designed for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata got Flacco sacked on fourth down.
Flacco (14-of-25, 196 yards) came roaring back, using a 19-yard connection with Derrick Mason and a 22-yard hookup with Todd Heap to set up a 1-yard QB sneak that finally opened the scoring.
Then, in the second quarter, a 25-yard pass-interference penalty on rookie cornerback Perrish Cox put the ball on the 1 again, and Ray Rice plunged into the end zone.
Rice, who added another 1-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter, finally broke the 100-yard rushing mark this season with 133 yards on 27 carries. Even McGahee (10 rushes, 67 yards) entered the offensive fray with a 30-yard touchdown sprint at end of regulation.
The duo was critical in the Ravens keeping possession for 36:17, compared to Denver's 23.43.
"There's no excuse for not getting the job done, and today was one of those days where everything felt good, especially in the run game," Rice said. "There wasn't any doubt, and it was a challenge because of the front that we were facing. A lot of the stuff you saw from me was stuff that we worked on all through camp and practice.
"I just think we're a well-balanced offense right now."
Despite Orton's two rainbows to Lloyd, the defense was effective, as well.
Case in point: the Broncos did not enter Baltimore territory until the 1:01 mark of the second quarter.
Or how about in the fourth quarter, when the Broncos were pushing into Ravens-land, desperate for seven points to hang around? Baltimore's tight pass defense forced two incomplete Orton attempts and an eventual 38-yard field goal.
With Fabian Washington and Chris Carr starting at cornerback and Haruki Nakamura, Lardarius Webb and Josh Wilson rotating in, the Ravens largely kept the Broncos' talented group of wideouts from burning them.
Where Orton stung was with a 42-yard bomb to Lloyd with 48 seconds remaining in the first half. The Broncos receiver sprinted past safety Dawan Landry and laid out for the grab to make it a respectable 17-7. Orton struck again at the 35-second mark of regulation, when what was essentially a Hail Mary landed in Lloyd's grasp from 44 yards out.
"We knew coming into the game, if you let him sit back there all day, he was going to do that against you," Lewis said of Orton. "I just think that overall, we really did a great job in disguising and giving him a lot of different looks.
"The plays they did make; this is the National Football League. You're going to make a play."
As for the special teams, Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff was superb. He consistently booted the ball into the end zone on the sun-kissed Charm City afternoon, much to the delight of the 71,246 in attendance.
The kickoff coverage team also helped set up a 37-yard field goal, as Jason Phillips hit returner Demaryius Thomas and jarred the ball loose on a second-quarter kickoff. Baltimore safety Ken Hamlin recovered on the 20-yard line, and Cundiff split the uprights.
The Ravens now face a road battle with the New England Patriots next Sunday.
The last time those two teams faced off, the Ravens won a hard-fought playoff battle in Foxboro, Mass., largely with defense and their pounding rushing attack.
This weekend's win demonstrated that the Ravens can bring a lot more to the field.
"We expected to be right here," said linebacker Terrell Suggs. "It always feels good to have more wins than losses. The NFL season is not a sprint, it's a marathon. The key is to keep going and keep progressing.
"We definitely have one of the biggest games on our schedule next Sunday. We're looking forward to the challenge, but you better believe that we're going to prepare our [butts] off."