By Marc Narducci, The Philadelphia Inquirer –
BALTIMORE — In their first game, the Baltimore Ravens did nothing to quiet the Super Bowl talk that surrounded the team throughout the preseason.
With Joe Flacco leading a new big-play, up-tempo offense that often included no huddle, Baltimore opened with 44-13 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
Next up for the Ravens is Sunday’s matchup against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
It’s safe to say that if the Eagles have the same mistake-filled performance in their second game, the result won’t match the first. The Eagles survived five turnovers in beating Cleveland, 17-16.
Flacco showed poise, confidence, and that noted rifle arm as he began his fifth season with his fifth opening-day win.
Flacco completed 21 of 29 passes for 299 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions, and a 128.4 passer rating.
“Overall that tempo really helped us out because those guys can really get to the passer and create a lot of pressure,” Flacco said.
Flacco said he expects the Eagles to be a formidable challenge, regardless of their sluggish performance in the opener.
“We have to communicate better and make sure we get a lot of hard work in,” Flacco said. “This Philadelphia team came off big win, a tight game, a pretty crazy game, and it will be their home opener and they will be ready to go and it should be a lot of fun.”
Baltimore used to be known more for its defense, but it appears a transformation has taken place. Although the defense remains solid, it is not thought to be the shutdown unit of years past.
Middle linebacker Ray Lewis, now in his 17th season, still makes plays, just not as many as he used to. Meanwhile, the reigning NFL defensive player of the year, Terrell Suggs, is recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.
After the Bengals got to within 17-13 on Mike Nugent’s 19-yard field goal in the third quarter, the Ravens defense stiffened and Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton struggled. He ended the game with a 65.1 passer rating.
Unlike Cleveland, which had trouble running and passing the ball, the Eagles will face a Ravens offense that is proficient in both areas.
Two-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice (10 carries, 68 yards, two touchdowns) is a threat running or catching the ball.
“This was fun for me; I barely got hit tonight,” Rice said.
When Rice needs a breather, he is spelled by rookie Bernard Pierce, a former Temple star, who rushed for 19 yards on four carries.
Anquan Boldin, who caught a 34-yard touchdown pass in stride from Flacco in the second quarter, is known as one of the NFL’s more effective possession receivers, while fellow receiver Torrey Smith has speed to burn.
Baltimore’s tight ends also get involved. Dennis Pitta had five receptions for 73 yards, including a 10-yard touchdown reception.
When free safety Ed Reed scored on a 34-yard interception return, increasing the Ravens’ lead to 34-13 with 13 seconds left in the third quarter, the rout was on. That gave Reed 1,497 career interception return yards, surpassing Rod Woodson (1,483) for the most in NFL history.