Coming off of a defensive performance where the high-powered Cincinnati Bengals were held to only 154 total yards, two plays could sum up the way Baltimore's unit wanted to play in a 17-10 victory.
Behind 10-3 in the third quarter, Cincinnati had finally marched below the Ravens' 40-yard line for only the third time of the game. Facing fourth-and-two, the Bengals opted for a quick shovel pass to spry running back Kenny Watson, who was met at scrimmage by linebacker Jarret Johnson for no gain. Johnson simply sliced in off the left edge to wrap up Watson's waist.
Then in the final period, Cincinnati only needed 1 yard to convert a first down and keep a series alive while only needing a touchdown to tie the score.
This time, it was 340-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata making the play, stopping Chris Perry for a 1-yard loss.
The 154 net yards may have been the 10th-best number in Ravens history, but it was the stonewalling at the line which showed the purple and black weren't going to budge.
The players involved in defensive coordinator Rex Ryan's various schemes give credit to the man many liken to a mad scientist.
"Rex is always going to put you in an opportunity to make plays, and he's going to move you around and let you do different things," said Ngata. "It's a fun defense to play in, and we got after it today."
Ngata's critical tackle for a loss was at a time when the Bengals were building momentum out of desperation. With little over seven minutes left in the game, they knew time was running out and they needed to score quickly.
In a somewhat unorthodox move, Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis put in his goal line package to eek out the single yard they needed, a strategy Ryan immediately countered.
"Most teams don't do that on the field, by he went to a goal line formation," Ryan explained. "We knew that they were going to get the first down had we not played our goal line defense.
"So, we were able to get our goal line defense out there, and then when they ran the ball, it probably wasn't real smart to run it at Haloti."
In all, it was a stellar showing for a front seven that was missing starting nose tackle Kelly Gregg, one that could be summed up in those two fourth-down stops.
O-Line Continues Solid Play
After injuries kept the Ravens' entire starting offensive line from playing much together throughout the preseason, the unit held Cincinnati's defense to no sacks and only one quarterback hurry, allowing Joe Flacco to feel comfortable in the pocket.
In addition, left tackle Jared Gaither, left guard Ben Grubbs, center Jason Brown, right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Adam Terry were key in Baltimore's posting 229 rushing yards, sixth most in team annals, on the legs of Ray Rice (22 carries for 64 yards) and Le'Ron McClain (19 carries for 86 yards).
For a group that has been questioned for being too inexperienced and inconsistent, Sunday was a good way to begin a rebuttal.
"It's not pretty," said center Jason Brown. "'We were out there just trying to play smash-mouth offense. And the thing is, you saw adversity here and there.
"On the next-to-last drive, we had a pre-snap penalty and a holding call. It got back to third-and-long, and we said, 'Come on guys, we're better than that. We've worked too hard to start the game the way we did and give it away at the end.' That's when we re-grouped and came back in on the last drive."
For that final series, the Ravens drove from their own 26-yard line to Cincinnati's 10, picking up four first downs along the way. McClain accounted for 42 yards and three of those first downs.
According to Brown, the Bengals even brought something extra to the 260-pound fullback, hitting McClain hard and taunting him as he lay on the turf because he was talking trash earlier in the contest.
"We just need to run it out and take it to them," McClain said. "The offensive line played real well, and the running game was great."
McGahee Suits Up to Sit
It wasn't clear on how much of the load in the Ravens' running game Rice and McClain would carry because starter Willis McGahee was in full uniform on the sideline.
With concerns about his right knee, which underwent arthroscopic knee surgery in training camp, coaches opted to not play the Pro Bowler.
Additionally, McGahee only rejoined the practice field Monday after missing all of the preseason.
"We were concerned about the knee and the fact that he didn't play a lot," said head coach John Harbaugh. "We were hopeful to get him into the game at some point in time, but the way the game shook out, we were unable to do it. He'll practice in a more physical manner this week, and then we should have him ready to go next week."
Ravens safety Ed Reed was not expected to play, but he manned his normal position in the Ravens' secondary after monitoring a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulders. "My health is still No. 1. It's still day-to-day, and if I had pain in it, I wouldn't have played," Reed said. "I had a real good conversation with coach [Harbaugh] before the game, and he wanted me to keep him posted throughout the game. It was a blessing to be out there with my teammates and get through injury-free.:…Wideout Mark Clayton's 42-yard touchdown run was the second of his career, with the last one going for 11 yards on Dec. 19, 2005 against the Green Bay Packers…Joe Flacco and Atlanta's Matt Ryan were the first quarterbacks to start opening day as rookies since Kyle Boller made his starting debut in Week 1 of the 2003 campaign...The Ravens wore white jerseys and black pants. Longtime team equipment manager Ed Carroll couldn't recall the exact last time Baltimore donned that combo, but he said it would have to be 1997 or 1998.
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