It was only one drive, lasting 10 plays and just under five minutes. But it was just what quarterback Joe Flacco and the first-team offense needed to kick off the preseason.
Flacco drove the offense down the field for a touchdown in his only series and spent the rest of the night on the sidelines watching the Ravens beat the San Francisco 49ers, 23-3, in front of an announced 70,529 at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday night.
With so much attention being paid to how he is picking up new coordinator Gary Kubiak's offense, Flacco went 4-for-5 for 52 yards and emphatically pumped his fist when running back Bernard Pierce barreled in for a 2-yard touchdown run.
On the 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive, Flacco looked comfortable and decisive, two words rarely used to describe him last season when he set a franchise-record with 22 interceptions and was sacked 48 times.
Facing a 49ers' defense that was without several of its top performers, Flacco hit four different receivers for his completions, finding tight end Dennis Pitta for 14 yards and wide receiver Jacoby Jones for 12 on a third-and-5. He then found fullback Kyle Juszczyk for 17 yards and Steve Smith for 9 to set up first-and-goal.
The Ravens were certainly not going to show everything in their first preseason game but there were enough elements of a Kubiak-led offense on display. There were play-action passes, receivers working in the middle of the field and the 14-yard completion to Pitta was on a wide receiver screen.
There was also an effort to establish the run game and achieve a balanced offense. The first drive was split evenly with five passes and five runs, and those carries went for a respectable 26 yards. Ray Rice, who was cheered loudly when he was introduced at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since an offseason altercation with his then-fiancee resulted in an arrest and a felony aggravated assault charge, had three of those rushes for 17 yards.
Pierce also carried twice for 9 yards, including the 2-yard touchdown. Other than one incompletion to Torrey Smith and the short touchdown run by Pierce, the Ravens got at least 5 yards on every other play on the drive.
Predictably, the second-team offense, led by quarterback Tyrod Taylor, was not as sharp. Still, after taking over for Flacco, Taylor directed a 13-play, 57-yard drive that culminated with a 42-yard field goal by Justin Tucker, who gave the Ravens a 10-3 lead. The big play on that drive was Taylor's 27-yard scramble.
Taylor led another just before halftime as Tucker's 27-yard field goal sent the Ravens into intermission with a 13-3 lead.
It was a solid first-half performance but hardly a flawless one. The second-team offense line struggled a bit, leading to two first-half sacks of Taylor. Pierce fumbled one ball, though he was fortunate to recover it. Veteran back Justin Forsett, who could play a role in the Ravens' run game early with Rice serving a two-game NFL suspension, lost a fumble.
The first-team defense kept the 49ers out of the end zone but they looked vulnerable on the first drive with San Francisco going 66 yards on seven plays and taking a 3-0 lead on Phil Dawson's 25-yard field goal.
Quarterback Colin Kaepernick hit Vance McDonald for a 17-yard completion but the rest of the drive was all runs and the Ravens struggled to set the edge and stop them. Rookie back Carlos Hyde had three carries for 34 yards to set up a first-and-goal situation. The 49ers, who held out starting running back Frank Gore, were then stopped on back-to-back plays, settling for the field goal.
It was the first meeting for the two teams since they met in Super Bowl XLVII about 18 months ago. The stage was significantly different Thursday.
Players chatted on the field before the game with 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin, who was an integral part of the Ravens for their 34-31 victory in New Orleans, attracting a crowd of Ravens. John Harbaugh and his brother Jim, the head coach of the 49ers, spent time near midfield in conversation. Their father, Jack, also was on the sideline both before and during the game.
The Harbaugh family will have plenty of more opportunities to catch up. The 49ers stayed in town after the game and will have joint practices with the Ravens from Saturday to Monday at the Under Armour Performance Center.
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