Owings Mills, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens found a way to win when they didn’t play their best football.
That type of performance could go a long way in helping them rebound from a 5-11 finish in 2015.
While the re-tooled offense struggled to make big plays, the Ravens defense took over and shut down the Buffalo Bills in a 13-7 victory in the season opener. It was just the type of game Baltimore would have struggled to win last year.
“We didn’t make critical mistakes down the stretch,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We did not have critical penalties down the stretch. We played with discipline. We didn’t give up big plays on offense or defense.”
Buffalo’s running attack, which averaged a league-leading 152 yards per game last season, managed just 65 yards on 24 carries. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor completed just 15 of 22 passes for 111 yards against Baltimore’s revamped secondary led by Eric Weddle, who was signed in the offseason to provide more veteran leadership.
Last year, the Ravens repeatedly failed to come up with an important stop in the fourth quarter and lost nine games by eight points or fewer. This time, Baltimore the defense aggressively attacked the ball and held the Bills scoreless in the second half.
And when the game could have gone either way in the final quarter, the Ravens responded by not allowing a first down. A 37-yard field goal by Justin Tucker with 5:39 remaining sealed the win.
While Harbaugh said he does not put much thought into last season’s struggles, it is still on the minds of many players. Cornerback Jimmy Smith said he and his teammates felt a sense of urgency and wanted to set a positive tone moving forward.
“Everybody in here (had) been a part of last year, so we know that no matter what happens, the game always comes down to the last two minutes,” Smith said. “So, as a defense, when you’re in that position, you want to go out there and make a big play or stop them and make sure they don’t get behind you and score – in a tight game like that especially.”
The Ravens were also helped by several regular starters returning from season-ending injuries , including quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, receiver Steve Smith, tight end Dennis Pitta and linebacker Terrell Suggs. Each of the players had a key role in the win and none of them appeared to be hampered by last year’s ailments.
“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.”
For Harbaugh, the win didn’t have any special meaning except that the Ravens improved to 1-0. The focus has already turned to an important divisional game against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2.
“We just have to move into the next one,” Harbaugh said. “I was really happy we won. It was really important to win the game. Was it more important than any other year? I don’t know. I forgot.”