For the Ravens, there was really no alternative, not after trailing a one-win team by three scores on their home field, not after their offense played in the same woeful manner for the first 30 minutes that it did six days earlier in Jacksonville, Fla., and not after hearing it from their fans who rightfully expected better.
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The Ravens responded to the adversity in the best possible manner, scoring 24 second-half points and beating the Arizona Cardinals, 30-27, when Billy Cundiff booted a 25-yard field goal as time expired.
The emotion of the announced 71,022 went from anger and frustration to exhilaration as the Ravens, who trailed 24-3 with under four minutes left in the second quarter and 24-6 at halftime, completed their biggest comeback in team history to improve to 5-2 on the season.
"We woke up, plain and simple," said Anquan Boldin, whom coach John Harbaugh called the catalyst of the comeback after the wide receiver caught seven passes for 145 yards and drew a couple of key pass-interference penalties that led to touchdowns against his former team. "We know we played poor as an offense in the first half, and we felt like this team wasn't better than us, point-blank. Even though they were up 24-3, we felt like we were able to go out and put drives together and put points on the board."
Cundiff's decisive three points were set up by quarterback Joe Flacco's 36-yard pass down the right sideline to rookie Torrey Smith with just 48 seconds to play. Smith, who beat Richard Marshall, had bobbled a pass in the second quarter that Marshall intercepted, leading to Early Doucet's 10-yard touchdown catch and the Ravens' 21-point deficit.
The play represented redemption not only for Smith, but also for Flacco, who shook off a shaky first half and a consistent Cardinals pass rush to complete 31 of 51 passes for 336 yards. Operating in the no-huddle offense for the majority of the second half, Flacco directed scoring drives on four of the Ravens' seven second-half drives.
Running back Ray Rice ended three of those with touchdowns, getting in from the 1-yard line twice, and from the 3 once. Along with his career-high three touchdowns, Rice, who had only eight carries in the Ravens' dreadful 12-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Monday, rushed 18 times for 63 yards and caught seven passes for 36 yards.
It was his 3-yard touchdown run five seconds into the fourth quarter that gave the Ravens 24 unanswered points and a 27-24 lead. Jay Feely tied the game with a 45-yard field goal with six minutes remaining, but after getting the ball at midfield in Cardinals' territory with under a minute to go, the Ravens answered with the game-winning field goal.
"We just kept believing, kept believing," said Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who said that he had no problem with the booing from the home crowd. "They are the same fans that are going to switch around and start cheering as soon as we put some points on the board. And it happened.
"You have to truly respect them for saying, 'This ain't what we're used to,' and it's not. For us to come out and give the ball away and let a team get up on us, that's just not us. For them to show their displeasure, that's OK. We're man enough to come back and say, 'We know how to come back and get you back in the game.' That's to drive and create spots and put points on the board, and we did that."
Of the Cardinals' 27 points, two touchdowns came after they got the ball deep in Ravens' territory -- a fumble by Flacco gave them the ball at the 2, and an interception by Flacco gave them the ball at the 25 -- and another came on rookie Patrick Peterson's spectacular 82-yard punt return touchdown. Peterson broke five tackles on the play.
But after taking the 24-3 lead late in the third quarter, the Cardinals, who have now lost six straight games to fall to 1-6, managed only three points the rest of the game. Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb was just 10-of-21 with a touchdown and an interception, and he was sacked six times.
"I think a lot of us are in disbelief," said Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who caught three passes for 98 yards, including a 66-yard reception that led to a first-quarter field goal. "We knew we would have a fight on our hands in the second half. Everybody in the locker room believed we would win. Coming up short like this is getting frustrating and getting old."
That's how the Ravens' fans were feeling after watching the offense in the first half. Flacco, who wasn't afforded much time by his offensive line, had completed just 12 of his 23 passes. Things weren't as bad offensively as they were in Jacksonville, when the Ravens had only 16 net yards and no first downs, but they were getting there.
"I don't go to a lot of football games [but] I'd probably be wanting to boo if I was in the stands, too," said Flacco. "We weren't looking too good, and we weren't playing too well."
That changed when Flacco led the Ravens to a seven-play, 80-yard touchdown drive to start the second half. Rice's one-yard touchdown was set up by Boldin making a 37-yard catch to get the ball down to the Cardinals' 12, and then drawing a pass-interference call on A.J. Jefferson in the end zone.
Flacco was 5-for-5 for 64 yards on the drive, and then 6-for-8 for 87 yards on the next drive, which also ended with a touchdown run by Rice after a pass-interference call on Peterson against Boldin in the end zone. On the drive, Boldin was targeted seven times and caught four for 80 yards.
"The guy made plays," Harbaugh said of Boldin. "I think in some ways, it sparked everybody else. Then, you saw Dennis [Pitta] make a couple of catches, and Ed [Dickson] made a catch or two. It was Anquan that got us going from the jump."
On the next play from scrimmage after the Rice touchdown, linebacker Terrell Suggs pressured Kolb, who floated a pass that was intercepted by linebacker Jameel McClain. Three plays later, Rice was in the end zone and the Ravens' comeback was near complete.
"I don't ever want to come back from 21 points again," said Suggs, who had one sack and 13 tackles. "I didn't feel comfortable, but I had faith and I trusted. We thought that was the way we might have to [score defensively], but fortunately the offense came through."
And their reward is a rematch with the Pittsburgh Steelers -- who handled the New England Patriots Sunday -- next Sunday night. The Ravens, Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals are in a three-way tie for first place in the AFC North.
"I guarantee you that the whole NFL shuts down next week just for that game," Suggs said, "The whole world has been waiting to see it, so I'm just happy I am healthy enough to be a part of this game."