Ravens’ Offense Finally Shows Up In Blowout Of Lions

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Ravens go to 7-5 with 44-20 win over Detroit.


M&T BANK STADIUM, BALTIMORE – Early Sunday morning, a demolition crew tried to implode the Pontiac Silverdome, the Detroit Lions’ former home. But a wiring problem left the 42-year-old structure standing. It’s a blunder that typifies a franchise that hasn’t won a championship in 60 years.

A few hours later, an incomplete Lions squad–heavy on offense, leaky on defense–ran into a Baltimore team that came together at precisely the right time.

For once, the Ravens’ offense–ranked at or near the bottom of most major categories all season long–complemented its usually-stout defense and stellar special teams in a resounding 44-20 win. It was the most points the Ravens (7-5) had scored since notching 48 at Tampa Bay in October 2014. Baltimore salted the game away with 24 points in the fourth quarter, tying a team record set in November 2008, against Philadelphia.

It’s Baltimore’s first three-game winning streak since the start of the 2016 campaign. At the very least, the Ravens’ win enabled them to hang on to a wild-card postseason spot with four games remaining. Baltimore entered the weekend as the sixth and final AFC playoff seed.

The Ravens gained the modest total of 370 total yards – a season-high – but averaged nearly six yards per play and showed good balance for a second straight week (27 runs, 36 passes).

The Ravens committed just two penalties, tallied a season-high five touchdowns, scored touchdowns on four of five red-zone trips, and converted five of 12 third-down plays.

“It’s more about what it does for the offense,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “When you score touchdowns, you can feel the energy in the stadium. A game like this can do a lot for our confidence.

Head coach John Harbaugh agreed, saying, “How the offense answered when the defense was on the ropes is what makes it such a team victory.”

As the crowd of 70,500 cheered lustily, the defense certainly did its part as well, contributing three more takeaways –including a game-clinching 45-yard interception runback by Eric Weddle–to boost their league-leading total to 29. The Ravens scored 21 points off those takeaways.

Perhaps most satisfying for the Ravens was the fact that the team managed to get a win over a team that had a first-string quarterback and prolific offense on the field. The same will apply next week when Baltimore travels to Pittsburgh to play the Steelers (Sunday, Dec. 10, 8:30 p.m.; WBAL-TV; WIYY-FM).

On the down-side, though, the day featured a costly injury. Cornerback Jimmy Smith, having what many believe is his best season, saw his balky Achilles tear late in the first half. The soreness in that tendon had slowed him all year, much as the same ailment had done to Seattle standout Richard Sherman, who finally tore his last month.

The Ravens, who haven’t had to put a player on season-ending injured reserve in two months, will likely have to do that with Jimmy Smith sometime this week.

That injury was significant because the Lions (6-6) took advantage in the second half, much in the same way the New York Giants’ Odell Beckham, Jr. did last season when Smith left the field due to an injury. Beckham recovered from a quiet first half to catch eight passes for 222 yards in a Giants’ win. This time, the beneficiary was the deep-threat and ex-division rival, Marvin Jones, who was covered by the first-round pick Marvin Humphrey.

Jones beat Humphrey for a 42-yard reception that set up Theo Riddick’s four-yard touchdown run. Teammate Golden Tate joined the fun with a 24-yard catch that preceded Tion Green’s six-yard score. Even with a blown conversion, the Ravens’ 20-0 halftime lead suddenly narrowed to 20-13.

All told, the Lions outgained the Ravens in the third quarter, 124-64, and stole the momentum. But Baltimore’s stellar performance on third-down plays led to a 23-yarder on third-and-7 to Chris Moore, which allowed Alex Collins to score from seven yards out to retain a two-score lead.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford (24-for-29, 292 yards, touchdown, interception, three sacks, 105.7 rating)–the first signal-caller in the top ten in passer rating the Ravens have faced all year–put together a career-high run of 20 straight completions. He capped it off by hitting TE Michael Roberts for just his second catch of the year for 24 yards to the Ravens’ 1. From there, backup linebacker Nick Bellore powered in for his first career score to, once again, bring the Lions to within seven, 27-20.

Justin Tucker’s 51-yard field goal pushed the lead back to ten before Humphrey regrouped and intercepted an overthrown Stafford pass with just over six minutes remaining. Stafford injured his hand on the play and had to leave the game.

Later, Alex Collins (75 yards, 15 carries, two touchdowns) scored from six yards out to basically ice the game, but Weddle contributed his touchdown a few minutes later.

The Ravens’ finish was as strong as their start. Baltimore took chances downfield and unleashed their opportunistic defense on the Lions.

As a result, the Ravens ran up a big halftime lead by scoring 20 or more first-half points for only the third time all season.

The Ravens are now 7-0 when leading at the half and they’re 6-1 when they score first.

Quarterback Joe Flacco (23-for-36, season-high 269 yards, two touchdowns, 105 rating), whose 192-yard first half was his biggest of the year, completed consecutive passes to wideout Jeremy Maclin (41 yards, four catches) and TE Nick Boyle (21 yards) that led to Justin Tucker’s game-opening 38-yard field goal.

The Lions didn’t want to allow another touchdown at that point. They had already fallen behind by ten or more points in seven of their first 11 games. But not even kicker Matt Prater, who had hit all 17 field-goal tries inside 50 yards, could make things better. He hooked a 43-yarder wide left.

Flacco seized the opportunity on the very next play, finding Mike Wallace on a deep crossing route for 66 yards to the Lions’ 1. The ace wideout beat safety, Glover Quin.

It was the Ravens’ longest play of the year. Wallace has the team’s four longest catches of 2017 and had all five of his receptions for 116 yards in the first half alone. He’s also the only player in the league to have multiple first halves of 100 receiving yards or more this season.

On the next play, a coverage error left TE Ben Watson – one of ten different receivers Flacco found early in the game – alone in the corner of the end zone, and the Ravens had a 10-0 lead.

The defense took over on the Lions’ next possession.

A safety blitz freed up Weddle, who hit Stafford from behind and caused the ball to pop into the air. Defensive tackle Willie Henry scooped it up and ran it to the Lions’ 35. Lions’ right tackle and ex-Raven Rick Wagner was hurt on the play and had to be carted off the field.

The Ravens turned that takeaway into points. The converted fullback, Patrick Ricard, caught a three-yard touchdown pass from Flacco, who had a second touchdown pass in a game for only the third time this year.

Flacco averaged about 11 yards per completion in the first half, three more than his season rate. He did that by stretching the field and finding unconventional targets like Ricard, who caught his first career touchdown on his second career catch.

The first-half coup de grace was when Flacco found Maclin with a 17-yard pass on third-and-5, progress for an offense that was the league’s second-worst on third-down conversions entering the week. It set up another Tucker field goal and a 20-0 intermission advantage.

The Lions fought back. But, in the end, they were about as explosive as the crew that tried to blow up the Silverdome.

The Lions could only put up an incomplete effort against a Ravens squad that was shockingly complete.

 

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About Joe Platania

Veteran beat writer, Joe Platania, is entering his 39th year in Baltimore media. He covers sports with insight, humor, and prescient eye. A former longtime member in good standing of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association and the Pro Football Writers of America, Platania manned the CFL Stallions beat for The Avenue Newspaper Group of Essex (1994 and ’95) and the Ravens beat since the team’s inception — one of only three local writers to do so — for PressBox, The Avenue, and other local publications and radio stations. A sought-after contributor and host on talk radio and TV, he often appears on “Inside PressBox” (10:30 a.m. Sundays) and he can be heard at 10 a.m. Saturdays on the “Purple Pride Report,” WQLL-AM (1370). He has also appeared on WMAR-TV’s “Good Morning Maryland” (2009), Comcast SportsNet’s “Washington Post Live” (2004-06), and WJZ-TV’s “Football Talk” postgame show — with legend Marty Bass (2002-04). Platania is the only sports journalist in Maryland history to have been a finalist for both the annual Sportscaster of the Year award (1998, which he won) and Sportswriter of the Year (2010). He is also a four-time Maryland-Delaware-District of Columbia Press Association award winner. Platania is a graduate of St. Joseph’s (Cockeysville), Calvert Hall College High School, and Towson University, where he earned a degree in Mass Communications. He lives in Cockeysville, MD.



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