After waiting weeks for offensive tackles Adam Terry and Jared Gaither to return from ankle injuries sustained in the first week of training camp, Thursday's preseason finale against the Atlanta Falcons was the right time to come back.
And even though the Ravens were on the wrong end of a 10-9 outcome, seeing the entire starting offensive line together was reason enough to get a smile out of quarterback Joe Flacco.
Flacco was the direct beneficiary of the unit's solid play.
Atlanta did not register a sack when Flacco was in the game, and the rookie remained untouched for much of the night. Flacco had enough time to cycle through his reads and calmly complete eight of 13 passes for 72 yards.
More importantly, he did not toss an interception.
"They were awesome," Flacco said after the game. "I was back there and I didn't really feel too much pressure at all. I felt like I was back there and I had a 10-yard wall in front of me. It was great to be behind those guys.
"They played their butts off and they did that again tonight."
Running back Ray Rice also looked sharp behind an intact line. The second-round draft pick rushed for 37 yards on seven carries.
His biggest gain came at the start of the second quarter, where Gaither sealed the left edge and fullback Lorenzo Neal cleared out a would-be tackler for a 23-yard run.
"It just felt good to start getting the ball rolling," Gaither noted. "First series was a little tough, but it was just a warm-up. We got the ball rolling and it felt great. I was having fun out there."
Gaither took his first practice reps Monday after a high-ankle sprain sidelined him the opening week of training camp.
But even with a little rust, the 6-foot-9, 330-pound Maryland product showed why the Ravens are confident he can eventually replace future Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden.
"I had a couple days of practice, and I knew I was ready for the game," explained Gaither. "I was mentally prepared, and I was physically ready. I knew my ankle was going to hold up. It was just about getting out there and getting with my guys on the offensive line and getting the job done."
Coming together as a unit was something offensive line coach John Matsko emphasized all week, but that was easier said than done.
Terry and Gaither had missed key quality playing time due to their injuries, while center Jason Brown, left guard Ben Grubbs and right guard Marshal Yanda took every preseason snap.
Now that they were all together, it was important to make a statement.
"I thought we were pretty physical," Terry said. "It was the most physical that we had been since I've been here. We had every guy across the board coming off, firing it out. That's what is expected of us.
"Coach Matsko is, to say the least, a task master. He came after us and challenged us for this game. I don't even know what he's going to come at us with against Cincinnati.
"We just have to keep going."
Roster Cuts Looming
The Ravens must trim their roster down from 75 to 53 by Saturday at 6 p.m. ET, and while many players on the bubble say they don't think about the impending date, many will also admit it's difficult to completely ignore it.
"You can't not be aware of it," said wideout Justin Harper. "You just have to put your trust in God that everything will work itself out. You hope that you've done enough to earn that roster spot, but if it's not meant to be at this time, you'll get another opportunity."
As a seventh-round draft pick, Harper knows he's not guaranteed a locker, especially since he hasn't registered a reception since preseason's Week 1. Still, Harper hopes that the little things, like the key block he threw Thursday night to spring running back Allen Patrick for a 25-yard gain, will help him stand out.
Receiver Matt Willis has taken an even more unlikely road. The undrafted free agent out of UCLA was originally cut last year after training camp, but was brought back to the practice squad. Willis, who played only two years of collegiate football, then signed to the active roster midway through the season.
Showing sure hands and the speed that comes with a track-and-field background, Willis has been making another case for sticking in Baltimore.
His only catch in the Falcons contest was a tough 32-yarder that he snatched from over an Atlanta defender.
"I'm still learning the position, and I'm taking all of that very seriously," Willis said. "Knowing everything that I knew from last year, like how to be a professional, really helps.
"Last year, I wasn't even supposed to make the team, but I just came in and played as hard as I could. Hopefully, when you do make that play on the field that helps your team, the right people are watching."
Defensive end Marques Douglas was a member of the 2008 Ravens for only one day before he was thrown into action on coordinator Rex Ryan's defense. Douglas, who played in Baltimore from 2001-04, was happy to be back in purple and black after three years in San Francisco. "The one thing I appreciate is being back on a team with the people in the locker room, they really care about football, they really care about getting off the field on third down," he said. "That's something I hadn't had in the last three years and so just being back with the guys, it's exciting, and I'm excited to be here."…Roster cuts also weighed on the minds of some veterans. Tight end Daniel Wilcox had been sidelined all offseason with a foot injury, and he was able to finally play extended minutes against Atlanta. "I think it means the world to us right now, for the simple fact that the coaching staff hasn't had the opportunity to really evaluate us because we've all been hurt," Wilcox stated.