When wide receiver John Brown was making big plays nearly every day in training camp, there was still the caveat that it was just practice. Wait till the games before buying the hype.
Well, in two games, including Thursday night’s prime-time battle in Cincinnati, Brown has shown the nation that he is legit.
Brown hauled in four catches for 92 yards against the Bengals. His night included a 45-yard gain that defied logic and a spectacular 21-yard touchdown that pulled the Ravens to just five points behind in the fourth quarter. He also drew a 30-yard penalty that set up a touchdown.
Through two weeks, Brown leads the Ravens with 136 yards and two touchdown grabs. He's averaging the fifth-most yards per catch (19.4) among NFL wide receivers.
Even though the Ravens suffered a disappointing 34-23 loss in Cincinnati, the connection between quarterback Joe Flacco and Brown portends good things down the road.
“I’m just thankful for Joe trusting me,” Brown said. “Throwing that ball in there and trusting me to come down and make the catch.”
Brown’s 45-yard catch in the second quarter awakened the Ravens offense. Facing a third-and-15, Flacco launched the ball down the middle of the field and Brown hauled it in between a pair of Bengals defenders. Safety Jessie Bates had just as much of a chance of coming down with the ball as Brown, but the wide receiver wrestled it away.
“It was just right down the seam,” Brown said. “Joe put it in the area to protect me and I just came down with the catch.”
After Brown made the catch, he screamed at the Ravens sideline, as if to get his teammates going.
“Seeing a couple of guys making plays and fighting let us know it’s not over,” Brown said. “That’s what kept me going.”
Brown wasn’t done. His speed continued to put pressure on the Bengals secondary and led to a key penalty that set up tight end Mark Andrews’ 1-yard touchdown catch.
In the fourth quarter, Brown showed that it’s not just speed, but that he can make contested catches. Flacco lobbed a ball to the end zone and Brown went overtop Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick and tapped his toes for a spectacular 21-yard score.
“I just made a move at the line and Joe made a great throw where I can only get the ball. The defensive back never looked back, so I just focused on the ball.”
The Ravens have spread the ball pretty evenly among their three new wide receivers thus far. Michael Crabtree has 16 targets and Brown and Willie Snead IV have 14 each. Snead leads the trio in catches (nine), with Crabtree (eight) and Brown (seven) to follow. But Brown’s 19.4-yard average blows away his peers.