It took nearly three full quarters into the Ravens' 2008 campaign for "Let's go Flacco!" cheers to rain down from the M&T Bank Stadium stands on rookie Joe Flacco. When the quarterback closed the quarter with a 38-yard touchdown run, those cheers got even louder.
In his regular season debut - which came earlier than originally anticipated because of Kyle Boller's season-ending shoulder injury and Troy Smith's tonsil infection - Flacco calmly guided the Ravens' offense to a 17-10 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals.
He was helped by a defense that was stingy as ever, running all types of blitzes and coverages to limit their AFC North rival to only 154 total yards and eight first downs in John Harbaugh's first game as a head coach.
"It was a team game," said Harbaugh. "Through some adversity in the game, through some tough times [and] having each other's backs [we persevered]. Defense supporting and picking up the offense, offense supporting and picking up the defense, and special teams kind of undergirding the whole thing.
"That's basically how we won this game."
Flacco's 15-of-29, 129-yard performance was befitting a veteran, not a first-round draft pick from the University of Delaware relegated to second-string status little more than two weeks ago.
A raucous crowd of 70,978 watched Flacco throw a key block on Mark Clayton's 42-yard touchdown run on a double reverse to open the scoring. If the rookie hadn't won over the masses at that point, his naked bootleg down the right sideline to paydirt solidified the love affair.
"It's just football, but it's a lot of fun, just like it's always been," said a smiling Flacco. "Once you get out on the field and you're around your guys, it is just football, the same thing we've been doing for the last 20 years of our lives.
"It was a lot of fun out there."
Meanwhile, the Bengals' Carson Palmer could only muster 99 yards on a 10-of-25 showing. Baltimore threw a myriad of schemes at Palmer, who was sacked twice but hit many other times. The Pro Bowler tossed an interception on his deepest drive into Ravens territory that led to Clayton's touchdown.
In the end, Palmer's 35.2 passer rating was his personal worst out of 61 career games.
At times, the Ravens played eight defensive backs to counter talented wideouts Chad Ocho Cinco (nee Johnson) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan even employed his goal-line package at the 25-yard line.
"It's funny, because in the preseason, we don't show you fire zones on every snap," Ryan said. "I don't think we ran a single call today that we ran in the preseason. I kind of had to bite my tongue and watch it out there, but we've been working those packages all along."
Things got off to a rough start for the Ravens, however.
Flacco's initial attempt of the day, a 9-yard completion to tight end Todd Heap, was fumbled away. Cornerback Chris McAlister stole the ball back 10 minutes later when he intercepted a tipped Palmer pass on Baltimore's 17-yard line.
The Ravens then marched 78 yards, the last 42 coming on Clayton's surprise jaunt around the left edge. Flacco handed off to wideout Derrick Mason, who was running from left to right. Mason in turn flipped the ball to Clayton, who followed a Flacco block in the open field.
"It looked good in practice, and it certainly looked good today," Clayton said of the play, which signifies the changes coming under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "I'm like, 'Joe, just don't hurt yourself no matter what you do.'
"Coach tells us that if you don't have the ball, you're a blocker. That goes for all 11. Everybody was able to make some good blocks, and I was able to get the ball in the end zone."
Clayton gladly returned the favor in the third quarter by sealing his man 30 yards away from where Flacco began rolling out to the right to eye his touchdown scramble. Seeing more real estate than the 10 yards he needed for a first down, Flacco took off behind a Jason Brown block.
Clayton's defender was the last Bengal to beat.
"I started running, and I was thinking 'first down, first down, first down,'" Flacco explained of a run that was 13 yards longer than any attempt in his Delaware career. "I got to the first down point, and I thought, 'Oh my gosh, I don't think there's anybody here.' I just started going up field and thought, 'I'm going to get to the end zone here.'"
The Ravens added a 21-yard field goal from Matt Stover after McAlister scooped up a fumble from Cincinnati running back Chris Perry late in the first half, which could have been a touchdown if a dart from Flacco hadn't slipped through the hands of Todd Heap in the end zone.
The Bengals answered with a two-minute drill that culminated in Shayne Graham's 43-yard boot.
But even with a 14-point lead heading into the final period, the Ravens kept their opponents in the game when running back Ray Rice, who finished with 64 yards on 22 carries, coughed up the football on a fourth-quarter drive.
Cornerback Jonathan Joseph pounced on the fumble and sprinted 65 yards untouched, pulling the Bengals to within a touchdown.
Cincinnati again threatened when it got the ball back, but a critical fourth-down stop when defensive lineman Haloti Ngata stuffed Perry for a 1-yard loss returned possession to Baltimore with 7:15 left.
The Ravens relied on the stout legs of 260-pound fullback Le'Ron McClain to churn out three of four first downs on the game's final series, which ended with Flacco dropping to his knee twice to run out the clock.
McClain, in fact, was the workhorse. He averaged 4.5 yards on 19 carries and ended up with 86 yards, helping Baltimore eat up the time of possession by 36:15 to the Bengals' 23:45.
"That's what a football team does," Harbaugh stated. "We've got a thousand things we've got to work on between now and next week - and for the next 15 weeks. But our guys found it down within themselves to make sure the defense didn't go back out on the field.
"That's an offense making a defense better."
For many years in Baltimore, that was often not the case.