Five thoughts on the Ravens' 47-3 win over the Buffalo Bills Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
What a day of extremes. The weather was brutal, a hard rain falling almost nonstop. Honestly, I can't remember many games at M&T Bank Stadium that were soggier. But as bad as the weather was, the Ravens were that good. Maybe not literally perfect, but when you take a 26-0 lead into halftime of your season opener without having allowed a first down, it's a really, really good day. Ineptitude on the part of the Bills also contributed to the mismatch, no doubt; there's no other description for a team that opens the season with a half in which it generates 33 yards of offense and 71 yards in penalties before things really start going downhill. But the Bills, coming off a playoff season, are supposed to have a decent defense, and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco shredded it, in the process giving each of his new veteran receivers a chance to make big plays. Bottom line, the Ravens couldn't have scripted a more positive opening day in terms of winning, avoiding major injuries and bolstering the confidence of both the offense and defense.
There was really only one lingering question about Flacco as the new season began: Could he take his consistently excellent practice-field performances of recent months and turn them into excellent play once the bright lights of the regular season were on? Those who know him and the organization's top decision-makers all firmly believed the answer would be yes, and indeed, it was evident from the first plays of this game that Flacco has brought his "A" game into this season (along with his best health in years, not coincidentally). He was mobile, decisive and accurate while completing 25 of 34 pass attempts for 236 yards and three touchdowns. The Ravens' running game never got going until garbage time, but the imbalance didn't matter because Flacco was so sharp. Equally important was what his performance didn't contain – the interceptions that have come too frequently for anyone's liking in recent years. Sure, things are bound to get tougher starting Thursday night in Cincinnati, but if the old axiom is true about the Ravens going as Flacco can take them, it's hard not to be optimistic.
What the Ravens' defense did to the Bills' offense was almost something out of professional wrestling, i.e., a cartoonish mauling in which heads rolled (not literally) as an agitated crowd lusted for more. The Bills' quarterback, Nathan Peterman, was coming off an excellent preseason, but he was making just his third NFL start, and it was quickly evident he was no match for the Ravens in a regular season setting. The Bills hoped to establish a short passing game and running back LeSean McCoy on the ground, but the Ravens' Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Brent Urban didn't budge inside and McCoy rushed for just 22 yards. As for the short passing game, new Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale cut it off with an aggressive blueprint that submerged Peterman until he finally was taken out in the third quarter. "Wink called a great game; whatever they threw at us, we answered," Terrell Suggs said.
The Ravens wasted no time getting Lamar Jackson involved, lining him up at receiver, running back and quarterback in the first quarter alone. Head Coach John Harbaugh made it clear after the game that as much as the Ravens want opponents guessing during the week how Jackson might be used, what they really want from him is playmaking on Sundays. He was a decoy as often as not on his "package" plays and the Bills kept him from breaking loose, but between those plays and a reverse to receiver John Brown, the tone was set for the offense: its days of being predictable are over. Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg went more vanilla once the Ravens were in control, which was understandable. But let no one doubt anymore whether Jackson is going to be right in the middle of things on a weekly basis. He is.
Short takes: Running back Alex Collins didn't have the debut he wanted, rushing for 13 yards on seven carries and losing a fumble. Though he did score the season's first touchdown. Buck Allen took his place for two series following the miscue and Kenneth Dixon carried the load in the second half … Sam Koch's first punt of the year was a classic, a 63-yarder into the rain that pinned the returner along the sideline, flipped the field and set up the Ravens' second touchdown … The surest sign things might be different on offense this year came early: After a botched handoff and penalty appeared to scuttle the Ravens' opening drive, Flacco tossed a 29-yard completion to Brown to earn a first down and set up a touchdown. "Huge," Flacco called it. "Without that play, we might not set the tone the way we did." … Rookie Janarion Grant showed off his explosiveness on a 51-yard punt return but also fumbled a punt, the ultimate no-no. But the ball rolled out of bounds and I'm guessing Grant gets a pass because it was raining especially hard at the moment … Harbaugh called it "a blessing" that the Ravens were so far ahead that their starters sat out most of the second half. They play again Thursday night.
Check out all the action from the Ravens' regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.