It mirrored the trademark bullying performance from the Baltimore Ravens. Yet, this belt-whipping wasn’t inflicted entirely through the tradition of a punishing defense wearing out another opponent into submission.
A capitalistic offense made certain that the Houston Texans were absolutely finished off Sunday, demonstrating a killer instinct in the Ravens’ 41-13 victory at Reliant Stadium as they scored 22 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win their fourth consecutive game. This is the first time the Ravens have scored 40 points on the road since 1999.
"The offense is starting to develop that attitude of, ‘We’re not waiting on the defense,’" said wide receiver Derrick Mason, who gutted out a dislocated left shoulder to return in the second half. "We understand that the defense is going to do what they need to do, but we can’t wait on them. We’ve got to go out there and start scoring points."
And with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Ravens (6-3) are now tied for first place in the AFC North. The Steelers hold the tiebreaker by virtue of their overtime win over
The Ravens lassoed the Texans into a cowboy-sized knot of frustration, scoring a franchise-record of at least 27 points for the fourth game in a row and winning four games in a row for the first time in two seasons. With their sixth win, they have already eclipsed last year’s total.
It’s also the first time since the 2001 season that
Between the defense intercepting Texans quarterback Sage Rosenfels four times, including two interceptions from star middle linebacker Ray Lewis, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco calmly delivering two touchdown passes and running back Willis McGahee grinding out a season-high 112 rushing yards and two touchdowns, the Ravens had plenty of ammunition to leave the Texans riddled with bullets.
"You cut them once, and they keep fighting," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "You’ve got to keep cutting and keep their head under water.”
Whether it was Yamon Figurs’ blistering speed on a 43-yard bomb from Flacco to open the scoring, McGahee breaking tackles or, suddenly, tight end Todd Heap emerging again in the passing game with two touchdown catches, the Ravens had a convincing rebuttal to every argument.
Flacco was impressive again, completing 15 of 23 passes for 185 yards and no interceptions for a 118.9 quarterback rating.
The towering first-round draft pick hasn’t been intercepted in his past 111 passes, upgrading his ability to locate receivers and avoid sacks.
"He doesn’t get flustered," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of Flacco. "Momentum swings don’t affect him too much. He comes out and plays the next series and takes care of business. That’s the kind of person he is."
Flacco was precise on his throw to Figurs, a return specialist who hadn’t caught a touchdown since he was a
Figurs ran right under a looping spiral as the Ravens struck first on the scoreboard.
"Joe put the ball right on the money," Figurs said. "I saw the safety coming, but I was so wide open. It felt like it took forever to get there."
When the Texans threatened to tie the score after marching to the Ravens’ 11-yard line, Rosenfels’ pass intended for tight end Owen Daniels was intercepted in the end zone by leaping defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, all 6-foot-4, 345 pounds of him.
"It was real big, I was lucky to be in the right spot at the right time," said Ngata, who also cleared a path for McGahee as a blocking tight end on his first touchdown run and pressured Rosenfels into a Lewis interception. "They were driving the ball, and it killed their momentum."
Suggs’ bull-rushed offensive tackle Duane Brown so badly in the second quarter that the rookie tackled him to keep him from decking Rosenfels, and the obvious holding penalty resulted in a safety for the Ravens.
Later in the half, rookie kicker Steve Hauschka powered in a 54-yard field goal in relief of veteran Matt Stover.
The Ravens rebounded from Rosenfels’ 60-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Kevin Walter on a crossing pattern in the third quarter that closed the gap to 19-13 after Stover badly missed a 50-yard try that looked well out of his range.
Flacco responded immediately by leading a nine-play, 78-yard scoring drive that he capped with a one-yard touchdown pass to Heap, the former Pro Bowl selection’s first score since last season.
Heap sold that he was blocking, but stumbled when he got tangled up in the backfield. He rose to his feet quickly as Flacco retreated to buy him time and got him the football.
"I don’t think the play was quite like we wanted it to turn out, but we got it done and Joe stayed with me and we got to score," Heap said. "It was more just trying to get through the line of scrimmage. I don’t care how it works, as long as it works, and it was good."
Added Flacco: "He was really my only guy on the routes. I saw him slow down and was like, ‘Oh, no.’ I started backing up, trusting that he was going to come up. Then, he was wide open so it was pretty easy."
Following that touchdown and a two-point conversion pass to Mason, the Ravens were up 27-13 early in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens converted all four red-zone opportunities, generated 333 yards of total offense and controlled the time of possession for 36 minutes and 17 seconds as they rushed for 162 yards on 40 carries.
"At halftime, we talked about stepping up the intensity and being more physical," Heap said. "It’s good to be able to turn it on like that."
Defensively, the Ravens contained Texans star wide receiver Andre Johnson to seven catches, 66 yards and no scores. Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton’s long touchdown run was nullified due to a holding penalty, and he finished with seven yards on four carries.
"All championship defenses bend, but don’t break," Lewis said. "That’s the staple of this team right now. We’re rough."
After Lewis picked off Rosenfels again, backup quarterback Troy Smith got into the scoring act. The former Heisman Trophy winner lobbed a 14-yard touchdown pass to Heap to boost the lead to a commanding 34-13.
"We talk all the time about building an identity," Smith said. "Hopefully, this game is proof of that."
In his first game back from neck surgery, cornerback Samari Rolle intercepted Rosenfels. That turnover set up McGahee’s final score, his first multiple-touchdown game since joining the Ravens last year.
Originally scheduled for Sept. 14 and postponed because of the onslaught of Hurricane Ike, Sunday was supposed to be the Ravens’ bye. Instead, they put in some roadwork.
"They took our bye week, so we had to come out there and show ’em that they can throw obstacles at us and we’ll just try to overcome them," said McGahee, who closed out the game with a four-yard touchdown run "We’re trying to be in the playoffs this year."