BALTIMORE — On the Buffalo Bills’ eighth possession of the first half Sunday, a first down seemed finally within grasp, if only because nothing else was. They trailed the Baltimore Ravens by 26 points, and they were 55 yards from the end zone, and they had five seconds to do something before entering halftime of a game that already was lost.
But the Bills could not get a first down. Or, rather, the Ravens would not let them. A pass from quarterback Nathan Peterman to tight end Jason Croom led him to the sideline, and Croom stepped out two yards short of the sticks, ushered there by linebacker Patrick Onwuasor. In the Ravens’ opening act of a crucial season, in securing the third-largest margin of victory in team history, they introduced a defense that was equally terrifying and historic.
In a 47-3 win at M&T Bank Stadium that featured the Joe Flacco of Ravens fans’ dreams, there was no more impressive performance than that by the Ravens’ defense. Especially in the first half: Baltimore held Buffalo to 33 total yards. Peterman turned in a microscopic 8.2 passer rating. Running back LeSean McCoy had three rushing yards. And the offense was held without a first down for the first time since 2001. The Ravens have allowed fewer yards in a first half only once; it was their Super Bowl XXXV team that did it in 2000.
Even more impressive, the Ravens did not let up. Peterman’s passer rating actually worsened upon his return to the field, ending up at 0.0 after he finished 5 for 18 for 24 yards with two interceptions. Bills running backs totaled 56 yards. And the offense was outgained 369-153, so thoroughly outclassed that Coach Sean McDermott called the unit’s discombobulation “a full, total team effort.”
“Whatever they threw at us, we [were] able to answer,” said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, one of five Ravens who finished with a sack. “We just executed on defense. It’s the first game. We did some good things.”
The closest Buffalo got to heating up were the bursts of flames that accompanied the Baltimore defense’s pregame introductions. The ensuing dominance was conventional — this was a healthy group playing at home and in weather that had many of the announced 70,591 in attendance swaddled in ponchos and raincoats — but their methods were in some ways atypical.
Slot cornerback Tavon Young had two sacks in the first quarter. With Jimmy Smith suspended, second-year rising star Marlon Humphrey and wily veteran Brandon Carr were the new lock-down cornerbacks. There were no early-season jitters from a unit that had folded late in its last meaningful appearance, a Week 17 loss last year to the Cincinnati Bengals that doomed the Ravens to their third straight postseason absence.
An airtight defense can get the Ravens to the playoffs, but the Flacco who showed up Sunday resembled the one who led the franchise to its last Super Bowl berth. He was the one who coaches and teammates, all preseason long, had said was capable of days like this.
The offense was not the picture of efficiency in Flacco’s hands — the Ravens had four three-and-outs over his two-plus quarters of work — but the passing game did not look like it had been pieced together over the offseason. Wide receivers Willie Snead IV (four catches for 49 yards), John Brown (three catches for 44 yards) and Michael Crabtree (three catches for 38 yards) all marked their regular season debuts for Baltimore with touchdowns.
“It’s a fun day,” said Flacco, who was 25-for-34 passing for 236 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions with a passer rating of 121.7 that was his highest since Week 6 of the 2014 season. “When everybody can get that feeling of being in the end zone and we’re all celebrating together, it’s a good feeling.”
The defense made so many plays, it was difficult to see that Buffalo hadn’t even gotten a first down until the first play from scrimmage of the second half. “We knew we kept getting off the field, obviously,” Eric Weddle said, but the Bills’ streak was otherwise lost on him and fellow safety Tony Jefferson.
“We’ve had some good [defensive performances] the last couple years,” Weddle said. “But it was just — all three phases were clicking.”
When the Bills finally scored with three minutes remaining in the third quarter, rookie linebacker Kenny Young said he was upset the shutout had been ruined.
His veteran teammates were more measured in their expectations. Suggs called it a “good start” but cautioned: “It’s never as good as you think it is. It’s never as bad as you think it is.” Flacco said the team should be excited but only for so long; it’s a short week, with just three days off between Sunday’s win and Thursday night’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals. And Jefferson, when asked to explain the team’s tempered optimism, recalled how a win’s promise can fade quickly.
“Last year, we had a shutout first game, too,” he said, referencing the Ravens’ 20-0 win in Week 1 over the host Bengals. “And we missed out on our goal of making the playoffs.
“So after tonight, this one’s over with. It’s on to Cincinnati.”
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