(Sports Network) - Defense had been carrying the Baltimore Ravens over the
first two weeks of this NFL season. On Sunday, it was the offense's turn to
show the way.
Baltimore survived an uncharacteristic off day from its stingy stop unit in
its Week 3 clash with division-rival Cleveland, instead relying on a vastly-
improved performance on the other side of the ball to earn a hard-fought 24-17
victory in its 2010 home opener.
A defense that didn't surrender a touchdown in either of the opening two games
had its difficulties dealing with the physical Browns, who rode burly running
back Peyton Hillis to a team total of 173 rushing yards and claimed a 17-14
lead early in the fourth quarter with a six-play, 81-yard drive capped by a
short scoring pass from fill-in quarterback Seneca Wallace. However, a bounce-
back outing from Joe Flacco and a dazzling home debut from offseason pickup
Anquan Boldin enabled the Ravens to overcome those obstacles and deliver a
much-needed win over their determined opponent.
After enduring one of the worst games of his three-year pro career in last
week's 15-10 loss at fellow AFC North member Cincinnati, Flacco displayed both
a short memory and an accurate arm against the Browns. The unflappable 25-
year-old hit on 22-of-31 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns, the last
being a go-ahead 27-yard bullet to Boldin with 9:13 left to play.
Flacco threw four interceptions and completed only 17-of-39 throws in the Week
2 setback to the Bengals, but his presence and decision-making were both
noticeably better this time around.
"He's the kind of guy you want playing quarterback for you," said Ravens head
coach John Harbaugh. "I don't think there's a guy in the building that doubted
that for one second. Not Joe, not [offensive coordinator] Cam [Cameron], not
one of our players, not me."
Flacco was certainly helped out by a dominant showing from Boldin, acquired in
a trade with Arizona back in March to provide a bona fide No. 1 target to a
revamped receiving corps. The three-time Pro Bowl selection burned the Browns
for 142 yards on eight catches and was on the other end of all three of his new
triggerman's touchdown strikes.
Baltimore compiled 365 total yards in addition to its 24-point outburst, which
exceeded the team's combined scoring sum over the previous two weeks. More
importantly, the Ravens did not turn the ball over once after committing seven
giveaways in season-opening tilts with the Bengals and New York Jets.
"I think this week everybody had a different mentality going into the game,"
said Boldin. "Everybody took it personal, especially this offense with the
performance that we had last week. As an offense, we wanted to put our best
It didn't all go to plan for the offense, however. Standout running back Ray
Rice sat out the final two drives after sustaining a deep bruise to one of his
knees, an injury that could keep him out for this Sunday's pivotal showdown
with the unbeaten and AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
STEELERS: Pittsburgh again won't have top quarterback Ben Roethlisberger
available for this weekend's tussle with the Ravens, but it so far hasn't
mattered who's taken snaps under center when the Steelers have taken the
The team dusted off seldom-used veteran Charlie Batch for Sunday's road
matchup with surprising Tampa Bay, with the 12th-year pro making head coach
Mike Tomlin's decision a wise one by making a sound contribution to the
Steelers' 38-13 rout of the then-unbeaten Buccaneers.
Making his first start since the 2007 regular-season finale and only his fifth
since 2002, Batch showed only glimpses of rust in leading the offense to its
best output of the young season. The 35-year-old directed touchdown drives on
four straight first-half possessions to help Pittsburgh take a commanding 28-6
lead into the locker room, and finished with 186 yards on an efficient 12-
Batch wasn't just a caretaker, either. He matched a career-best with three
touchdown passes, two of which came on deep balls to wide receiver Mike
Wallace as part of a 100-yard effort from the second-year speedster.
"For me, the one thing I didn't want to do was to come out here and be that
weak link," said Batch, who entered training camp fourth on the depth chart
behind Roethlisberger, journeyman Byron Leftwich and youngster Dennis Dixon.
"I wanted to go out here and provide a spark and put this team in the end
Pittsburgh had produced just one offensive touchdown in its first two games,
both of which were started by the now-injured Dixon after Leftwich sprained a
knee during the final week of the preseason. Though Leftwich is now healthy,
Tomlin revealed in his Tuesday press conference that Batch will start against
Baltimore as Roethlisberger serves the final test of his four-game suspension
for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
"We have a great deal of trust in all of our men, but particularly Charlie,"
said Tomlin after Sunday's win. "He is a veteran guy. He's not careless with
Batch, who did throw a pair of interceptions in the victory, was backed up by
the strong running of top back Rashard Mendenhall and by a defense that was
its usual ferocious self on Sunday. The group came through with four sacks and
a pair of turnovers, including an interception by Brett Keisel that the
unheralded end returned 79 yards for a touchdown for Pittsburgh's final
Mendenhall ripped off 143 yards and a score on only 19 carries against the
Bucs, and the 2008 first-round choice presently stands fourth in the league
with 332 rushing yards through the first three weeks.
BENGALS: It was hardly a thing of beauty, but the Cincinnati Bengals were able
to keep pace with Baltimore and remain within striking distance of the 3-0
Steelers in the division standings following Sunday's 20-7 decision over the
winless Carolina Panthers at a soggy Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
The Bengals were able to halt a five-game road losing streak by having their
way with a punchless and mistake-prone Panthers bunch that had rookie Jimmy
Clausen making his first NFL start at quarterback. Carolina was held to 267
yards by Cincinnati's sturdy defense and converted just 2-of-11 third-down
opportunities, while turning the ball over four times.
Despite the Panthers' inability to mount a sustained attack, the Bengals
carried only a three-point lead into the fourth quarter due to their own
offensive limitations and failure to take advantage of opportunities.
Cincinnati didn't convert any of its first three takeaways into points and
badly mismanaged their final drive of the opening half, with time expiring as
the team moved down to their opponents' five-yard line.
"We have a hard time making it easy," head coach Marvin Lewis admitted
Of perhaps greater concern to the Bengals was a second straight shaky
performance out of quarterback Carson Palmer. The battle-tested veteran looked
more like a player of Clausen's experience level on the afternoon, missing
several open targets and making an alarming amount of head-scratching decisions
with the football in overseeing an offense that stalled for a good portion of
Palmer made good on just 19-of-37 throws for 195 yards and a touchdown while
being intercepted twice, though there were a few other passes that went in and
out of defenders' hands. The former Heisman Trophy winner also wasn't sharp in
the Bengals' Week 2 verdict over Baltimore, completing under half of his
attempts and finishing with a modest 167 yards.
Over Cincinnati's first three games, Palmer has a pedestrian 71.3 passer
rating and a 56.6 percent completion rate, numbers strikingly similar to his
injury-riddled 2008 campaign in which the Bengals won just four times.
While Lewis acknowledged the offense's need for better execution in his Monday
presser, he didn't seem overly worried by Palmer's early struggles.
"I think he does a good job of directing us," said Lewis of his quarterback.
"He's been a good leader. When he has opportunities to throw the football and
deliver the ball, he does an excellent job. [Sunday] he had some guys not
quite do the things he needs them to do right. It all reflects back on the
Cincinnati will set its sights on a second straight road triumph when the
reigning AFC North champions visit 0-3 Cleveland this Sunday. The Bengals will
be entering the latest Battle of Ohio having won eight consecutive times
against division members.
BROWNS: Even after being handed a third straight close loss to begin the
season, there were a number of positives that came out the Browns' seven-point
defeat to 2009 playoff-participant Baltimore.
The most notable bright spot was the play of Hillis, a former fullback in
Denver acquired as part of the trade that sent one-time starting quarterback
Brady Quinn to the Broncos in March. The versatile 24-year-old shattered his
previous personal bests by amassing 144 yards on 22 attempts against the
Ravens' formidable defense, while adding another 36 yards on a team-best seven
Hillis also scored a touchdown for a third straight week and is averaging an
impressive 5.6 yards per carry through his first three games as a Brown. The
third-year pro also tops the club with 14 catches out of the backfield.
"I guess he's a guy you have to see in person to appreciate him," Ravens head
coach John Harbaugh said of Hillis. "He is physical. I mean, this guy is hard
to bring down. And he's a guy we're going to have to contend with for a long
time in this division."
Wallace also acquitted himself well in his second start in place of an ailing
Jake Delhomme at quarterback. The athletic ex-Seahawk completed 18-of-24
passes for 141 yards in Cleveland's run-oriented approach and did not have a
With Delhomme still a question mark due to a high ankle sprain the offseason
pickup suffered in the Browns' Week 1 loss at Tampa Bay, Wallace could find
himself directing the offense once more in this Sunday's visit to Cincinnati.
Cleveland's three losses have come by a total of 12 points, and the
competition the team has faced doesn't seem nearly as suspect as initially
believed. Tampa Bay and Kansas City, two last-place finishers from a year ago
that edged the Browns in the opening two weeks, are a combined 5-1 in the
"We're very close," said Wallace after Sunday's game. "It's going to take time.
We've still got a lot of new faces on this team and we just can't press. We
just [have to] continue to keep working each week and it'll work its way out."
A little better health could help the Browns get over the hump as well. In
addition to Delhomme, Cleveland was without its best two pass rushers, outside
linebacker Marcus Benard and defensive lineman Shaun Rogers, for the Baltimore
game because of ankle problems, while starting inside linebacker D'Qwell
Jackson had to be placed on injured reserve last week after developing a
setback in his recovery from a torn pectoral muscle.
With Benard and the space-eating Rogers both not present, the Browns did not
have a sack against the Ravens and were shredded by the Flacco/Boldin combo.
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