Quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens offensive line had taken their share of criticism the last two weeks. Flacco admittedly struggled in losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers, and the offensive line struggled to keep him clean in both of those contests.
It was a different story Sunday in Oakland, as the Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage to give Flacco time to throw and open holes in the running game.
"They played awesome," Flacco said of the linemen after the 30-17 victory.
Flacco didn't take a sack for the first time this season, and he responded by playing his best game of the year. He stood tall in the pocket, worked through his progressions to keep drives alive and also connected on a pair of deep passes to receiver Mike Wallace.
Flacco said during the week that he needed to trust his protection, and that's exactly what he did against Oakland. The difference showed in the results, as Flacco completed 19-of-26 passes for 222 yards.
"Especially the last two weeks, Joe has been taking a little bit of heat," right tackle Austin Howard said. "We take that personal."
Sunday's game was particularly meaningful to Howard, who was released by the Raiders in training camp. Wallace said that Howard was "hyped" throughout the game, but Howard tried to downplay any extra personal motivations that he had.
"No matter who we're playing, we take a lot of pride in making those holes for the running backs and keeping our quarterback clean," Howard said. "We feel good about that."
The success against Oakland was particularly impressive considering the Raiders personnel. Their defense is headed by reigning Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, but Howard and left tackle Ronnie Stanley held him at bay.
Flacco and Head Coach John Harbaugh also pointed to their game plan of using the running backs and tight ends to give the offensive linemen some extra help in pass protection.
"I thought our offensive coaches put together an excellent game plan in that way," Harbaugh said.
In addition to keeping Flacco clean, the line paved the way for the offense to rack up 143 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. Javorius Allen led the way with 73 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries.
That ground-and-pound approach was particularly beneficial in the second half when the Ravens were able to control the time of possession to protect their lead.
"I told them all game, specifically at the end of the game, how great of a job they did all day," Flacco said. "Then at the end, they're putting it on them and being able to run the clock down and do what we did, that was huge."
The line has been maligned at times this year as they've tried to overcome injury after injury. The unit has already lost All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda (ankle), starting left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) and reserve interior linemen Nico Siragusa (knee) and John Urschel (retirement). They took another hit Sunday when new right guard Matt Skura suffered a knee injury and did not return.
Despite the injuries, the line showed against Oakland that they can play at a high level and set the tone for the offense. The Ravens are counting on getting more of that down the stretch.
"We still aren't done and we have a lot more to go," Howard said.