Few picked the Ravens to beat the Houston Texans Sunday and no one predicted a Ravens blowout. Three weeks into the NFL season, the Ravens made a huge statement in a big game.
They are back.
Despite having six and sometimes seven new faces on defense and rebuilding a passing game, the Ravens officially served notice that they are a championship caliber team again with a 30-9 win.
No one in the organization has made reservations for the Super Bowl in New Jersey yet, but the way the Ravens beat the Texans was impressive.
They did it with a defense that hasn't allowed a touchdown in two straight games, a big play from special teams and an opportunistic offense which closed out the game in classic style.
The Ravens were successful last week against the Cleveland Browns , but those are the Browns. They get and deserve no respect. These were the Texans, one of the top three most balanced teams in the NFL along with the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers.
"You know, it's hard to put a timetable on that," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, when asked if the defense had come together sooner than expected. "We feel like we can be a great defense. We're still working towards that. We talked about that [Saturday night]. We do feel like we're as far along as we could possibly be right now with this group.
"I'd say on both sides of the ball, we are as far along as we can possibly be with the new group at this time."
Nearly three weeks ago, the Ravens got rolled against the Denver Broncos as Peyton Manning threw for seven touchdowns and 462 yards. But on Sunday, the Ravens controlled one of the top offenses in the NFL.
The Texans have more weapons then Denver. Houston has running backs Arian Foster and Ben Tate. The Texans have receivers Andre Johnson, DeAndre Hopkins and tight ends Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham. They've got quarterback Matt Schaub who has a strong will but a weak heart.
And all the Texans could muster was 264 yards of total offense and three field goals. They got shut out of the end zone as far as touchdowns and couldn't even muster a field goal in the second half.
"It's phenomenal, definitely something we work towards," said Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata of holding the Texans without a touchdown. "It's great that we were able to click the way we are and hopefully we'll continue to get better as a unit."
Ngata and his fellow linemen, like Marcus Spears and Arthur Jones, controlled the line of scrimmage, and the Ravens got two sacks from Ngata and Jones. But the biggest improvements this week came on the back end. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith, Lardarius Webb and safeties Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo knocked down passes and came up hard on running plays.
After weeks of needing GPS systems, the Ravens didn't have many communication failures. They were where they needed to be even linebacker Daryl Smith who stepped in front of a Schaub pass intended for Daniels and returned 37 yards for a touchdown.
"This is going to be one of the teams that when it comes down to the end of it _ the hunt, they're going to be in it," Ihedigbo said. "To be able to do that and accomplish that here in this stadium is awesome."
The Ravens strong defensive effort masked some offensive problems like the poor pass protection for quarterback Joe Flacco and the inconsistency again in the first half, but there were significant improvements. Flacco found some key third down targets in receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark.
Yes, a tight end that can catch.
"It's coming. It's definitely a battle but I like where we're at," said Clark of his chemistry with Flacco.
The Ravens also showed some killer instinct. Ahead 17-9 at the half, the Ravens opened the third quarter with a nine play, 80-yard touchdown drive. And they finished the Texans off with a running game that netted 61 yards in the second half and sucked the air out of Houston's defense.
There was one intangible, like the Ravens managing to survive in the first quarter despite only having the ball for 2:45. They committed several stupid penalties and started their first two possessions at their own 7 and 1 yard lines.
But good teams find ways to win, and one of those came on a 82-yard punt return for a touchdown by Tandon Doss. After the injury to Jacoby Jones following the season opener, the Ravens didn't have a return specialist. Now they have one who has delivered a big return in the past two games.
Besides Jones, the Ravens were also without injured starters including running back Ray Rice and defensive end/tackle Chris Canty. That made Sunday's win even more impressive.
"It's just Week 3, it's a long season," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs walking out of the locker room. "It's just another game."
No it wasn't. The Cleveland win was just another game. This victory was against Houston, a championship contender with the New England Patriots and Denver. Most thought the Ravens would be in that class at the end of the season but not this early.
They made a huge statement Sunday.
They're serious contenders again.