Throughout most of the second half, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was on the sideline smiling, laughing, shaking hands, fist bumping and slapping high fives.
And then he laughed some more.
Few of the Ravens wanted to make a big deal out of the team’s 47-3 trouncing of the visiting Buffalo Bills in the season opener Sunday, but it is exactly what this team needed as far as building confidence and exciting a fan base that dwindled at the end of last season.
The Bills are the worst team in the NFL, and it is uncertain if they could beat Alabama, the No. 1 team in college football, but the Ravens did exactly what they needed to do against a crummy team.
They scored early and often. They were aggressive on defense from the opening whistle until the final whistle. They outplayed Buffalo in every phase and ground the Bills down until they were embarrassed, humiliated and humbled.
If you are a contending team, that’s what you do to mediocre or below-average teams. Crush them.
“Nobody is going into a Super Bowl, playoffs or anything right now after this game,” Ravens Pro Bowl rush linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “It’s never as good as you think it is and it is never as bad as you think it is. It’s just one game. There are 15 remaining.”
It’s understandable why Suggs would poo-poo the victory. If I was a Buffalo resident, I’d move after Sunday’s game. If I was a fan living anywhere near Buffalo, I’d move, too. The Bills were unprepared, outcoached and a sad excuse for a NFL team.
But after years of boring offensive football, the Ravens were entertaining Sunday. Flacco completed 25 of 34 passes for 236 yards and three touchdowns and finished with a quarterback rating of 121.7 despite playing only about two and a half quarters.
He got all three new receivers involved as Willie Snead IV, John Brown and Michael Crabtree each had a touchdown reception.
But here’s what was more important: Flacco moved well. He rolled to his right and threw back across the field to his left. He threw a lot of passes over the middle to his tight ends instead of dumping them off to his running backs.
“I thought Joe did a great job of distributing the football. A lot of different guys touched the ball, a lot of different guys scored,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I really thought a lot of different guys made key plays for us. You can’t hope for much more than that.”
Hope and optimism are key words in Baltimore this season. The Ravens have failed to go to the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, including three straight. In the past two, they have been one play away from the postseason late in the year but still came away disappointed.
Perhaps no team in the NFL was hurt more by players kneeling during the national anthem last season than the Ravens. According to one high-ranking team official, the Ravens worked hard during the offseason to get their ticket sales back to within two percentage points of the start off the 2017 season.
If they bombed Sunday, it would have elicited expressions of “Oh, here we go again.” For at least another week, the offseason buzz from a good draft and the addition of three new receivers will continue.
“Like I said, it’s fun day,” Flacco said. “When everybody can get that feeling of being in the end zone and we’re all celebrating together, it’s a good feeling.”
The Ravens were celebrating just as much on defense. This was the debut of new coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, and he stayed with the same philosophy he showed in the preseason. He brought pressure. He was relentless even until the end, blitzing rookie linebacker Kenny Young, who knocked the wind out of Buffalo rookie quarterback Josh Allen with about three minutes left in the game and the Ravens ahead 47-3.
Once the Ravens got the lead and stopped running back LeSean McCoy early in the game, they turned starting Buffalo quarterback Nathan Peterman into a human piñata. The Bills didn’t get their first first down until early in the third quarter.
The Ravens finished with six sacks and Buffalo ended the game with only 153 yards of total offense. The Ravens were so dominant that Young, from New Orleans, was absolutely giddy after the game.
“I was like a little kid,” said Young, who finished with four tackles and two quarterback hurries. “When Hurricane Katrina happened, I was in the yard. I didn’t know it was a hurricane. The sky was pink, the trees were tilting sideways. I was just having fun in the rain. That’s what tonight felt like.
“I guess it was because we were whopping [butt] so much that we could have fun and enjoy it in the rain. Rain, sleet, snow — whatever, it is outside — we’re going to have to go out there and play regardless of the circumstances of the weather.”
Okay, Young’s comparison is a stretch, but you get the picture. If the Ravens barely won, it still would have been a happy occasion because it’s a drag to lose the first game. A team works hard in the draft, through free agency and in camp, so losing the opener makes for a long week.
But a win, regardless of the score, makes Week 2 easier. It’s even better now because the Ravens blew out a team that only a year ago beat them out for the final spot in the AFC playoffs.
This franchise got a much needed shot in the arm Sunday. They played well and got a chance to rest their starters in the second half before a short week of preparation to face the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.
Except for Cleveland Browns knocking off the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, things couldn’t have gone better.