It’s been a few weeks since I’ve done this because of some late games, but boy did I pick a good one to get back at it.
In a competitive battle between brothers, division leaders, and conference elites, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers 16-6 in the Ravens’ first ever contest on Thanksgiving night.
While saying the Ravens defense was the star of the game may be obvious, there is no where else to show praise.
The defense sacked Niners quarterback Alex Smith nine times, and with a second half lead (albeit 6-3 at the half; 13-6 in the fourth quarter), they forced the game into Smith’s hands.
It is another defining win the Ravens can put on their resume as Baltimore pulls away in the AFC North from the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in the last few weeks, and with the win, you can definitely feel confident in saying the Ravens are the best team in the AFC right now.
Joe Flacco didn’t have the blowout numbers that he’s had in several games this year. Despite going up a sometimes suspect 49ers passing defense this year, the 49ers had some players in their defensive backfield in corner back Carlos Rodgers and Donte Whitner at the safety position able to make some plays.
Flacco finished 15-of-23 for 151 yards and one TD-the go-ahead pass to tight end Dennis Pitta with 7:34 in the fourth quarter that put the Ravens up 13-6.
Of those completions, 12 of them came on third-down conversions.Four of them came on the drive cultivating in Pitta’s score.
He did throw an early interception to 49ers CB Tarell Brown with 6:15 left in the second quarter shadowing WR Torrey Smith, but the officials ruled that Brown shaded Smith so much, he interfered with his ability to come down with the ball.
The flag led to a 50-yard gain for the Ravens offense, bringing the ball to the San Francisco 35-yard line. The ball was placed down near the goal line, but couldn’t punch it in-instead settling for three points to go up 6-3 at the half.
Several Ravens we talked to over the last several weeks have emphasized the importance of giving up personal success for a Ravens win, and Joe Flacco I’m sure would say the same.
This is another position where the stats will not tell the true story of the game.
The 49ers came in as one of the league’s best against the run, having not allowed a rushing touchdown in the team’s first 10 games of the year.
Much like Ravens teams of the past, Patrick Willis and the 49ers defense had gone 32 straight games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.
But the Ravens didn’t allow that threat to make them one-sided.
They kept themselves honest running the football 21 times with Ray Rice, and Vonta Leach can definitely put himself in position to ask for a game-ball for his help in both pass and run blocking.
You can really only fault Rice for not cutting the ball up the field at the one-yard line on the 2nd and GL with four minutes in the first half.
Rice lost four yards on the play, and the Ravens missed out on the opportunity to draw first blood on the 49ers unblemished record when it came to allowing touchdowns on the ground.
Other than Dennis Pitta’s score and Anquan Boldin continuing his success against an old NFC West rival, the receiving corps was relatively quiet.
Torrey Smith finished with two catches for 23 yards, and drew the 50-yard pass interference call that led to a Ravens field goal.
Lee Evans made his first catch since Week 2 of the regular season against the 49ers, but on his one catch, he fought through a tackle for four yards to get a first down out of it, drawing praise from John Harbaugh post game.
But that being said-what Boldin and Pitta did on third down is the story of the night for the Ravens offense.
To have themselves backed up with a long distance to maintain the drive, the Ravens executed every opportunity to perfection.
The Ravens’ offensive line certainly had its hands full going into Thursday night having to stop a defensive player of the year candidate in DE Justin Smith-a man Baltimore knew all too well from his time with the Cincinnati Bengals earlier in his career.
Smith had made several game-saving plays the last several weeks, and with that, tackles Michael Oher and Bryant McKinnie appeared as if they might have needed help against the pass rusher.
Smith beat McKinnie early Thursday for a quarterback hit/pressure, but after that, Vonta Leach and the backfield did an excellent job in helping the front five in pass protection.
Center Matt Birk-who a month ago was determined to be washed up and needed to be replaced by Andre Gurode-had maybe the best game of the season against 6’2 330-lb NT Isaac Sopoaga.
The Ravens offensive line didn’t allow a sack to the 49ers and allowed Ray Rice to do enough in the running game to keep San Francisco’s defense honest.
In 2010, the Ravens had 27 total sacks as a team.
Against the 49ers, they earned one third of that total (9) against Alex Smith alone.
Three Ravens finished with two or more sacks including Cory Redding (2.5), Haloti Ngata (2), and Terrell Suggs (3).
Pass rushers Pernell McPhee and Paul Kruger did not earn sacks themselves, but they were key as well in getting pressure on Alex Smith flushing him out of the pocket and into the arms of another defender.
And on top of a dominating pass rush, lineman Terrence Cody and Brandon McKinney also did their part in stopping running back Frank Gore, who finished with just 39 yards on 14 carries.
Even more crucial to point out was that the Ravens really weren’t overloading San Francisco with elaborate blitzes or stunts.
Much like Haloti Ngata on guard Mike Iupati, it was the man in front of them just getting beat over and over again.
Another good performance from this group without the presence of Ray Lewis in the lineup, who of course missed his second straight game with a foot injury.
Brendon Ayanbadejo and Jameel McClain played admirably in place of Lewis, but let’s hope this isn’t a permanent substitution lest it become a problem.
Many thought that fellow linebacker Dannell Ellerbe would suit up alongside McClain in the middle, but he too was inactive Thursday night. In his place was longtime special teamer Albert McClellan, who played okay but was a liability in coverage when it came to covering the speedy Niners’ receiving corps.
Credit Jarret Johnson with another steady game as well for the veteran in keeping contain on Gore.
This unit didn’t have to do too much later in the game with Alex Smith’s eyes gradually looking toward the opposing pass rush Thursday.
However, they did remain honest to themselves and didn’t take the night off despite the success up front.
Lardarius Webb made it two straight games with an interception, taking a pass away from Braylon Edwards-a receiver who has owned Baltimore in his career when he was with the Cleveland Browns.
Bernard Pollard led all Ravens in tackles with eight from the safety spot, and was all over the field.
Ed Reed nearly made his second straight game with a pick, and Cary Williams rebounded after struggling early in the game against the speedy Ted Ginn.
On the 49ers’ drive to start the second quarter trailing 3-0, Smith found Ginn for what appeared to be a 75-yard score beating the likes of Williams.
But the play was nullified by an illegal chop block on Frank Gore on Bernard Pollard in the backfield.
Those points taken off the board, combined with Webb’s pick in the end zone-kept the 49ers behind and without the ability to control the clock throughout the game.
It forced Alex Smith to go to the air early, and that’s where the Ravens wanted him.
Billy Cundiff continues to rebound from a tough stretch of games for him, as he went 3-for-3 against the Niners in a defensive struggle where field position and converting points on long drives is key.
Sam Koch dropped two of his four punts inside the 20 and David Reed and Tom Zbikowski both played decent enough in their roles as gunners and kick returners respectively.
Like my analysis? Disagree? Call into “The Reality Check” with Glenn Clark Friday afternoon to share your thoughts! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!