BALTIMORE — Watching the Ravens veterans celebrate from the sideline in the closing seconds told the story of the preseason opener.
Of course, we know Bryn Renner’s touchdown run with two seconds remaining to give Baltimore a 30-27 comeback win was a fun moment but inconsequential to the fate of the 2015 season. If we’re being honest, most of what we saw on Thursday will have no bearing on the future.
But that sideline scene reflected the Ravens being able to come away from their first preseason game with a good feeling, and that’s all that matters with still a month remaining until they kick it off for real in Denver on Sept. 13. Head coach John Harbaugh knows his team has much of work to do between now and then, but that’s no different than any other team in the NFL with Super Bowl aspirations.
In their first and only drive of the night, Joe Flacco and the starting offense orchestrated a masterful 16-play, 80-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 1-yard touchdown run by backup running back Lorenzo Taliaferro on fourth-and-goal. It was success in a short-yardage situation, an area in which an otherwise-stout offensive line struggled at times a year ago.
“In the first preseason game, you always feel a few nerves,” said Flacco, who completed five of six passes for 33 yards and added a 17-yard run on his only drive of the night. “You really want to do well, because you’re not playing that many reps and you need to make the most of them. It was a great way for us to start off the game.”
It was a good beginning for the starting unit under new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, but that’s all it was. The passing game remains a work in progress with rookie first-round receiver and vertical threat Breshad Perriman still sidelined with a knee injury and a young group of tight ends still finding their way in the offense, but the presence of a franchise quarterback and a healthy offensive line instantly puts the Ravens in promising position at this early stage.
A starting defense playing without cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb and defensive linemen Timmy Jernigan and Chris Canty wasn’t tested by a Drew Brees-less New Orleans offense as the Ravens forced two three-and-outs before many starters gave way to backups in the second quarter.
The defensive standout of the night was rookie defensive tackle Carl Davis, who nearly played the entire game and offered plenty of reasons why the Ravens were excited to nab him in the third round of this year’s draft. Davis finished with three tackles (one for a loss), a quarterback hit, and a batted pass at the line of scrimmage before being succumbing to mild leg cramps in the fourth quarter.
“It’s hard to start the season any better than that,” said linebacker Terrell Suggs about the starting defense. “The only thing we could have done better is to have some turnovers. Having two three-and-outs from the [starters], I think we can live with that. We didn’t have a lot of our starters in, so this is a good thing to build on.”
For all intents and purposes, the night could have concluded at the end of the first quarter for the Ravens as they enjoyed a 14-0 lead — backup quarterback Matt Schaub connected with second-year receiver Michael Campanaro on a 45-yard touchdown for the second score — and held the Saints to just 11 total yards in the first 15 minutes of play.
The rest of the evening didn’t go as smoothly as the second and third defensive units offered little resistance against the New Orleans backups. On the offensive side of the ball, a young group of receivers jockeying for roster spots behind Steve Smith, Kamar Aiken, Perriman, and Marlon Brown didn’t do much to distinguish themselves beyond Campanaro’s touchdown catch.
But the Ravens could rest easy in escaping the preseason opener without any catastrophic injuries to their most important players. Harbaugh did not provide injury updates on cornerback and return man Asa Jackson or outside linebacker Steven Means after the game, but he did announce that reserve tight end Allen Reisner suffered a lower leg fracture, an unfortunate outcome for someone who was a long shot to make the 53-man roster.
Ultimately, we know health is the most critical storyline on which to dwell this time of year.
So, if you can come away with that and strong play from your starters in the first preseason game, you can feel good about yourselves — regardless of the final score — before immediately getting back to work.
Because it will mostly be forgotten in the coming days anyway.