by Stephen R Stone
AFC North champion analyst (@SRStoneSports)
When Billy Cundiff’s kick fell victim to the Foxboro winds last January, Baltimore’s championship window to win got a little bit tighter. Now we’re entering year five of the Joe Flacco/John Harbaugh era. That’s a lifetime in today’s NFL, especially considering Baltimore has yet to make the Super Bowl under the current regime.
Given the state of its stars, you have to believe this year is the Ravens’ last rodeo. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin are in various stages of the post-prime phase of their respective careers. Even Ray Rice will soon be approaching a similar age in running back years. Flacco is a free agent next offseason and, if the team doesn’t win this year, what’s to stop him from leaving for a franchise with a younger supporting cast?
But, even though the pressure to win is tremendous, the Ravens are well-coached and poised to give it one more shot. They are off to as a good a start as one could hope, making a statement against their divisional rivals, winning 44-13 over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here are five Cold, Hard Football Facts from Baltimore's dominant Monday Night victory:
1. Joe Flacco is Mr. Week one:
Yesterday’s Packers loss, coupled with tonight’s Ravens win, means that Flacco is now the active leader in week one victories to start a career. Not only is the Ravens quarterback 5-0 in his career during kickoff weekend, he’s put up some impressive numbers.
In five games, Flacco has averaged 241.4 yards per game, tossed eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. Project that over the course of a full season and Flacco’s numbers are 3,862 yards, 26 touchdowns and 7 interceptions - which would be by far the best year of his career.
2. Flacco is a winner:
Flacco has played 65 regular season games in the NFL. He has won 45 of them. By earning his 45th career victory tonight, he tied Drew Brees for the most wins since the start of the 2008 season.
Aaron Rodgers hasn't won as many games in the last four plus years. Neither has Eli Manning, Tom Brady or Peyton Manning. Admittedly, Flacco’s placement on the list is skewed by Brady and Manning each missing a full season in the recorded time frame, but you can’t discount Flacco’s ability to win.
3. Ray Lewis: Tackling machine at any age
Every year, there’s a few things that let you know football is definitely back: We ask if this is the Cowboys’ year, we question at least one decision made by Andy Reid or Norv Turner and we see Ray Lewis give that look. Every year during week one’s national anthem, the camera cuts to Lewis, standing there rocking back and forth and holding his shoulder pads, tears in his eyes, looking like he’s ready to rip someone’s head off. He had that look in 1996. He had that look tonight. It will never go away.
Tonight, Lewis backed up his pre-game look and recorded 14 tackles. This ties him with AJ Hawk for the most of the weekend. Should he continue his pace and lead the league in tackles at the age of 37, he’ll be the oldest player in NFL history to lead the league in that category.
4. Cincinnati’s playoff hangover woes continue
In my seasonal preview column, I mentioned that the Bengals have failed to return to the postseason in their last six seasons following a playoff berth. If you look at the week one results in each respective season, you can see why. You would think that a playoff team would come out strong the following year, trying to prove that last year’s success wasn’t a fluke. Not the Bengals.
In the teams’ last six week one games following a playoff season, the Bengals are 1-5 and have been outscored 174-98. Take away their anomaly - a 23-10 win over Kansas City in 2006 - and Cincinnati has been outscored 164-75 in five losses. That’s like losing each game 33-15. So much for living up to heightened expectations.
5. The Ravens offense blew up
Baltimore has lived and died by the strength of its defense for what feels like 1,000 years. But if the Ravens are to realize their potential this year, the team will need an offense to complement its championship defensive unit. If they get more games like tonight, that will happen.
The Ravens exploded for 7.4 yards per play, a number that surpassed any mark reached last season. Flacco averaged 10.3 yards per attempt and Ray Rice ran for 6.8 yards per carry. The 44 points scored were the second highest of the Flacco/Harbaugh era.