BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens opened the 2016 NFL season with a reunion of sorts.
Six players returning from injuries joined together to contribute to a team that went 5-11 last year — in part because of their absence.
Quarterback Joe Flacco (knee), running back Justin Forsett (broken arm), receiver Steve Smith (torn Achilles tendon), tight end Dennis Pitta (hip), wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee) and linebacker Terrell Suggs all played a role in the Ravens’ 13-7 victory over Buffalo on Sunday.
“It felt good seeing all those faces out there that we didn’t see at the end of the year last year,” Forsett said. “It was good to be back there with the boys.”
The most important contributor was Flacco, who had a run of 137 straight starts before tearing his ACL and MCL in a win over St. Louis last November. Following limited action in the preseason, the nine-year veteran looked sharp in going 23 for 34 for 258 yards against the Bills.
“It felt great, it has felt great,” Flacco said after the game. “I think it held up well. I was really happy with how it went.”
Smith intended to retire last season until his injury. Now, after skipping the preseason, he returned to grab a team-high five passes.
“I’m good, feeling real good,” he said after catching five passes for 19 yards.
Pitta hadn’t played in a regular season game since 2014 before catching three passes for 39 yards.
“I stayed healthy, which is important,” he said. “I am excited to keep it rolling.”
Perriman, out with a knee injury all of last year, had one catch for 35 yards in his belated NFL debut.
“Really a dream come true for me,” the team’s first round pick in 2015 said. “Words can’t really explain it all. I’m just very happy.”
Other things we learned from the Bills-Ravens opener:
TIGHT SPOT: Because the Ravens took away Buffalo’s deep game, quarterback Tyrod Taylor found it difficult to utilize his tight ends, especially Charles Clay — a frequent target over the middle during preseason. When Taylor scrambled, his tight ends were reduced to blockers instead of targets. Clay finished with three catches for 40 yards, but one of them was a 33-yard reception.
NEWCOMERS SHINE: Two of the Ravens’ free agent additions during the offseason contributed heavily to the victory. Safety Eric Weddle coordinated a backfield that limited the Bills to 111 yards passing, and wide receiver Mike Wallace caught a 66-yard touchdown to give Baltimore a 10-0 lead in the second quarter. “It was a really easy throw; nobody was back there,” Flacco said. “He did a great job beating the guy with his speed.”
SCRAMBLED PLANS: The loss of left tackle Cordy Glenn to an ankle injury early in the second quarter didn’t help matters any for a Buffalo offense that finished with only 160 yards. “It starts with protection,” coach Rex Ryan said. “We have the ability on the outside. At times, protection held extremely well. At other times, I thought they had outstanding push against us.”
STRINGING HIM ALONG: Though running back LeSean McCoy picked up 58 yards on 16 carries, Baltimore’s linebackers and defensive backs made it tough on him with their secondary pursuit. Several times, the Ravens were able to push McCoy laterally on a run, preventing him from turning the corner and making a big gain.
Buffalo converted only three of 13 third downs and averaged only 2.7 yards per rush.
“They really did well on third downs,” McCoy said. “I had a lousy day, especially in the first half, on third-down protection. They had a nice scheme going on that gave us some fits.”
GUTSY CALL: Ravens coach John Harbaugh took a field goal off the board after the Bills were called for “leverage,” a 15-yard penalty that gave Baltimore the ball on the Buffalo 13 with 7:38 remaining.