‘It wasn’t pretty,’ but a win is still mean­ing­ful

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - Mike Preston mike.preston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

There is more of a sense of re­lief than hap­pi­ness af­ter the Ravens beat the Buf­falo Bills, 13-7, in the 2016 sea­son opener Sun­day.

If there is truly a time when a “win is still a win,” re­gard­less of the qual­ity of play, it’s in the first game. Be­cause this vic­tory had the feel of a fifth pre­sea­son game. Ex­cept this time the starters played all four quar­ters. These games mean some­thing, even though there are still a lot of lin­ger­ing ques­tions about the Ravens.

“It felt great to get a win,” Ravens tight end Den­nis Pitta said. “It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t per­fect, but we did what we had to do to get the job done and it feels great to win that first one.”

If the Ravens had played this poorly in late Novem­ber or early De­cem­ber in the midst of a play­off race, alarms would have been set off. But it’s only the se­cond week of Septem­ber, and ev­ery­body gets a re­prieve. Sort of.

This isn’t time for gloom. That only hap­pens when a team loses the sea­son opener, and ev­ery­body is grumpy for an­other week. Ev­ery team looks ahead to its opener from the time the sea­son ends through the spring, NFL draft, var­i­ous mini-camps and the pre­sea­son.

Losers have to grudg­ingly work for an­other week. The Ravens can at least call them­selves a work in progress. Af­ter go­ing 5-11 last sea­son and miss­ing the play­offs for the se­cond time in three years, they needed a win, any win, to at least feel good about them­selves.

So it wasn’t as big a deal Sun­day that they had no con­sis­tency in the run­ning game, had sus­pect play-call­ing on of­fense and Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, taken down by the Bills’ Ron­ald Darby in the third quar­ter, not only looked rusty as ex­pected but also didn’t ac­cel­er­ate to es­cape pres­sure. couldn’t muster a con­stant pass rush. They won, and for the next 24 hours, that’s all that mat­ters.

“Our guys will go to work and will con­tinue to get bet­ter,” coach John Har­baugh said. “But the point of em­pha­sis is they did what the had to do to­day to get the job done and make the plays that they needed to be made in this game, and I’m proud of them for that.”

De­spite Har­baugh’s words, he knows bet­ter. The Ravens can get away with this type of per­for­mance against Buf­falo and maybe next week in Cleve­land, but not against bet­ter teams. He also knows that it’s bet­ter to teach his play­ers af­ter a sea­sonopen­ing win than af­ter a loss.

The big­gest prob­lem with Sun­day’s win is that no one knows for sure whether the Ravens are still that much bet­ter than last sea­son. They showed more speed on of­fense with wide re­ceivers Mike Wallace and Bre­shad Per­ri­man con­tribut­ing big plays down­field in the pass­ing game, and they have two promis­ing of­fen­sive line­men in rook­ies Ronnie Stan­ley and Alex Lewis.

On de­fense, the Ravens held Buf­falo to 160 yards of to­tal of­fense. The Ravens were faster and quicker than a year ago, and cor­ner­backs Jimmy Smith and Sha­reece Wright ac­tu­ally made plays.

If you lis­tened to some of the me­dia talk in the locker room, or Har­baugh at times, it was as if the Ravens were the 1985 Chicago Bears (mi­nus the pass rush). In all hon­esty, the Bills were as in­ept on of­fense as the Ravens were dom­i­nant on de­fense.

Buf­falo had just two pass­ing plays of over 15 yards. Ev­ery run­ning play ap­peared to be off tackle, and the Bills’ best strat­egy was hav­ing quar­ter­back Ty­rod Tay­lor scram­ble around. There were times when Tay­lor looked as if he had drawn up­plays in the dirt.

The Ravens, who had 308 to­tal yards, were just as bad at times on of­fense. They had sev­eral pres­nap penal­ties. There was very lit­tle rhythm in the pass­ing game, and the of­fen­sive line couldn’t get move­ment off the line in short-yardage sit­u­a­tions.

As ex­pected, quar­ter­back Joe Flacco showed rust. More dis­turb­ing was his lack of ac­cel­er­a­tion to es­cape pres­sure, and the play-call­ing of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marc Trest­man.

There were times when the Ravens should have been in a hurry-up of­fense and they were in­stead walk­ing to the line of scrim­mage. Why was Flacco show­ing play-ac­tion on a third-and-8 when ev­ery­one in the sta­dium knew he had to pass? Can they please toss that toss play, the one they ran about six times, out of the play­book for the next cou­ple of games? What’s up with the ca­dence is­sues? OK, OK. They won. Right? That’s the beauty of the first game. The prob­lems might be glar­ing, but at least there is time to im­prove. The Ravens were aware of their short­com­ings.

“We have to im­prove our pass­ing game, we­have­to­be­comem­o­re­pre­cise, pro­tec­tion­wise, tim­ing-wise, throw­ing- and catch­ing­wise, and we’re go­ing to,” Har­baugh said.

There is hope with the Ravens. It’s way too early to de­ter­mine how this sea­son will play out, but win­ning the first game al­ways gives a team con­fi­dence and gets a big ob­sta­cle out of the way.

Imag­ine if the Ravens had lost. It would have brought back thoughts of last year, when the Ravens didn’t earn their first win un­til Oc­to­ber. They don’t have to worry about that now.

They won the sea­son opener, and that’s all that counts.

LLOYD FOX/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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