And just when it seemed like it couldn’t get any worse for the hapless and defenseless Oakland Raiders, the Ravens’ Jacoby Jones took a kickoff 5 yards deep in the end zone and both he — and his lead blocker Anthony Allen — sprinted down the right sideline with nary an opposing player in sight.
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The Steelers still have to face the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night, but the Ravens know they’ll go into next week’s game — the first of two matchups against their rival in a three-week span — with sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
“This is Ravens football. That was as close to 60 minutes as a team that we’ve played all year long,” said safety Bernard Pollard, who led a defense that forced two of the Raiders’ three turnovers, and sacked Carson Palmer three times. “I just really believe that we have to continue this. We have to continue to stack these weeks.”
In winning for the 15th consecutive time at home and improving to 7-2 for the first time in the John Harbaugh era and the second time in franchise history, the Ravens had a 10-point lead at the end of the first quarter, a 27-10 advantage at halftime and a 48-17 spread following the third quarter. The 48 points, achieved when Koch ran in the fake field goal and then celebrated with an emphatic spike, tied the record for the most points in franchise history and there was still more than 20 minutes to play.
Jones then set the record about eight minutes later when he became the first Raven in team history to have two kickoff return touchdowns both for a season and for a career. He celebrated the score with a dance in the back of the end zone. He may have exerted more energy on the dance than on the touchdown because once he broke free from the initial wave, Jones wasn’t touched. Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski pulled up as Jones sprinted by, knowing that he had no chance to catch him.
“I was surprised that it got that way early, but obviously they’re banged up and we wanted to come out there and try to get a win,” said Rice who had 35 yards rushing and 33 yards receiving. “But to score 55 and everybody’s involved, it felt pretty good.”
Shrugging off consecutive subpar performances on the road, Flacco completed 21-of-33 passes for 341 yards, three touchdowns and one interception before giving way to backup Tyrod Taylor early in the fourth quarter. Smith caught just two passes, but both went for touchdowns — the 47-yarder on just the third play of the third quarter, and a 20-yarder about four minutes later on the next play after the Raiders fumbled a punt.
Tight end Dennis Pitta, silent the past couple of weeks, returned as a major part of the game plan, catching five balls for 67 yards and a touchdown. On several of his catches, he ran unopposed down the middle of the field. It was that kind of day for the Raiders who have now surrendered 97 points in their past two games.
“Obviously, we had success. We ran the game plan and it worked well,” Flacco said. “We scored points early and continued to score them.”
The Ravens rolled up 419 yards of total offense, committed just one turnover and a season-low four penalties and punted just twice in the first three quarters. Because of the big lead, the Ravens never did have to play Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee/shoulder) and second-year cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin) despite both being active.
They also were able to rest several starters, including Rice and safety Ed Reed who sustained a shoulder stinger in missing the tackle that led to a 55-yard touchdown catch from former McDonogh and University of Maryland standout Darrius Heyward-Bey late in the second quarter. Palmer, who threw for 368 yards, also hit Denarius Moore for a 30-yard score early in the third.
“All three phases played exceptionally well,” Harbaugh said. “I thought we started fast. We finished well, and we played pretty good in between, which we haven’t always done. So that’s a good step in the right direction. … To single one guy out would be probably doing a disservice to the whole team. I thought it was a great team victory.”
Harbaugh praised all three of his units, specifically mentioning how his defense batted down six Palmer passes and citing his special teams for the two touchdowns and the one caused turnover. When the Ravens opted to fake the field goal, they had the ball at the Raiders’ 7 and led 41-17. Afterward, Harbaugh offered no apologies saying the Ravens took the opportunity that they were given, and Raiders first-year Dennis Allen didn’t want one. He had too much else to be ticked off about after a performance that he called “unacceptable.”
“It’s our job to go out and stop them,” he said when asked if he was bothered by the fake field goal.
The Ravens know that they’ll get much more resistance next week against a Steelers’ defense that is ranked first in the NFL. At least in theory, Sunday’s performance gave the Ravens some momentum and provided a boost for an offense that had sputtered recently. However, a number of Ravens shot down the notion.
“I don’t know if we needed it. We just need to win every week,” veteran center Matt Birk said. “The important thing is that we won and played well. The gaudy numbers and all that, that’s fine. The most important thing is we won. We’re probably not as good as the score showed today and we understand that.”
They also understand what lies ahead, a challenge cornerback Cary Williams summed up succinctly by saying, “We understand what [the Steelers are] going to bring to the table. We don’t like them, they don’t like us. It’s going to be hell out there.”