The Ravens opened the preseason just the way they wanted.
The starters had a* *limited sampling of work, and then the second and third stringers built up a big lead to take down the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 44-16. In addition to getting the win, the Ravens also left Raymond James Stadium with a relatively healthy squad, which is always a priority in the preseason.
"It felt good just to get the dust off," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "That's what preseason Game 1 is for."
The Ravens played their veteran starters for first quarter, and some starters played the entire first half.
The first preseason game is a chance to see how players are fairing in various position battles based on the starting lineup. Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo started at safety over rookie Matt Elam, Josh Bynes and Daryl Smith started at inside linebacker over Arthur Brown, Jacoby Jones got the nod as the No. 2 receiver, and Courtney Upshaw started at outside linebacker over Elvis Dumervil.
Quarterback Joe Flacco saw two series of work and finished the day 7-of-9 passing for 57 yards and an interception. The offense operated out of the no-huddle and was able to move the ball against the Buccaneers first-team defense before the interception.
"I think for the most part, it felt pretty good, and not just in terms of finally being back out here," Flacco said. "I felt like we operated OK for being this early and that the offensive line played pretty well."
After the interception on its opening drive, the offense stalled on its second drive. Flacco completed just one pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith, and the spread the ball around to fullback Vonta Leach and his running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Rice played only the first series before coming over to the bench.
Receivers Jacoby Jones and Tandon Doss didn't record a reception in limited action. Deonte Thompson grabbed one for 5 yards and dropped another.
"We didn't get much going with the ones, so there are plenty of things we need to work on," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Defensively, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata also played the first two series and the defense gave up only three points with them on the field. Ngata ate up blockers and pushed his way into the backfield, and Suggs showed speed to get around the edges and put pressure on the quarterback.
Most of the Buccaneers' yardage against the starters came on big plays where the defense had breakdowns, rather than sustained drives.
"We've got a lot of communication issues on defense, things that we need to work on," Harbaugh said.
The re-tooled defense has been a big storyline throughout the offseason, and the new pieces did not disappoint in their debut. Defense lineman Chris Canty had a crushing sack on Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman on the game's opening drive, and middle linebacker Daryl Smith was all over the field. Smith finished with four tackles on the night.
"I think this was a pretty good first outing," Smith said.
After the starters came over to the sidelines, the Ravens had a very strong showing from their second and third teamers.
Third-year wide receiver LaQuan Williams had perhaps the best performance of the night. He pounced on a blocked punt for a touchdown just before halftime, and then scored on a 21-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Williams also recovered another muffed punt and finished the day with 2 two catches for 32 yards and the two touchdowns.
"LaQuan played really well," Harbaugh said. "It's good to see him step up and make plays."
Quarterback Tyrod Taylor played the bulk of the contest, and he finished the game 13-of-23 passing for 154 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens also used him on some option plays, and he had five carries for 27 yards.
Pierce had one of the game's biggest highlights, scoring on a 20-yard touchdown run down the sideline. Pierce bounced the run to the outside, stiff-armed a defender to avoid a tackle and then beat the safety to the end zone. The second quarter touchdown came when most of the Buccaneers' starters were still in the game.
Pierce came up gimpy after the touchdown and limped over to the sidelines under his own power. The other notable injury came in the second half when wide receiver Deonte Thompson came up limping after a catch and he went over to the sidelines to get looked at by the training staff. Neither player returned to the game after those plays and they did not speak with reporters in the locker room.
Harbaugh did not provide any specifics on player injuries.
The special teams also played "exceptionally well," Harbaugh said, as the group blocked one punt and recovered a muffed punt. Kicker Justin Tucker drilled all three of his field goals, including a 57 yarder.
Overall, there was "a little bit of everything in that game," Harbaugh said. There were 14 penalties and six turnovers, and the Ravens are heading back to Baltimore with plenty of fine tuning to work on now.
"You don't want to play too much, but you have to get that dust off and get your eyes right," Suggs said. "It was good being back out here with the boys."