BALTIMORE — Ray Rice scampered out of the backfield, eluding defenders with his superior quickness.
In particular, the Baltimore Ravens’ second-year running back’s 34-yard catch-and-run drew raucous applause during a 23-0 victory over the Washington Redskins to launch the preseason on Thursday night before 70,723 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Not to be outdone as he tries to regain his job from Rice, former Pro Bowl runner Willis McGahee grinded out yards with power and displayed some of his old ability to cut and deliver a few stiff-arms
"We finally got to hit a different color jersey," said Rice, who caught three passes for 38 yards and rushed for 22 yards on five carries as McGahee rumbled for 26 yards on four carries. "Just being at game speed against another team, trying to get a win, that’s what’s so exciting.
"I think it was all confidence. Washington has one of the best defenses in the league. Now, it’s no knock on them, but we see the best defense every day in practice. It would be like a slap in the face to our defense if we didn’t come out here and move the ball."
Meanwhile, quarterback Joe Flacco efficiently managed the offense, engineering two scoring drives by connecting with a wide variety of targets. He completed 9 of 15 passes of 103 yards to generate an 80.7 quarterback rating in just over one quarter of play, converting half of his third-down attempts for first downs.
Flacco wasn’t sacked and was rarely pressured despite the absence of left offensive tackle Jared Gaither due to a trapezius injury with Oniel Cousins starting in his place.
"As an offense, everything felt good," Flacco said. "I was happy with the way our receivers and running backs were moving. Our line did a heck of a job for being their first time out there.
"I didn’t have to do anything but sit back in the pocket and make the throws. I think this was a pretty good first outing. We’ll go back and look at the film and see what we have to clean up now
Penalties and dropped passes also affected the Ravens’ drives as the first-string offense was unable to finish what it started.
"The three penalties in the first half hurt us," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "We can correct those. We held the ball and moved the ball early, but we have to score touchdowns, not field goals. Ball security was very good, and we’ve worked hard on that."
Steve Hauschka, who handled the kicking duties in the first half, connected on a 21-yard field goal for the Ravens’ first points after a 13-play, 67-yard drive that ran 8 minutes and 45 seconds off the clock.
Flacco’s pass to open wide receiver Derrick Mason was deflected by Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall in the end zone.
Then, Hauschka capped a 14-play, 71-yard drive with a 37-yard field goal to open a 6-0 lead. Marcus Smith dropped an accurate pass from Flacco during that march.
Wide receiver Kelley Washington, who was signed following a minicamp tryout, caught passes from Flacco from 15 and 16 yards. And he celebrated those receptions with gusto.
"We put in so much work that when you get out here in a game and in front of the crowd, it spills out," Washington said. "I’m an emotional player. I like to please the crowd and get the team into it. They like what I do when I get up and show a first down. It’s all about the excitement."
Wide receiver Justin Harper, who’s vying for playing time and a roster spot through his eye-opening training camp, generated some excitement.
He redeemed himself after two dropped passes by dashing past former University of Maryland cornerback Kevin Barnes on a fade route for a 19-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Troy Smith in the corner of the end zone.
The score was set up by strong safety Tom Zbikowski stripping the football from tight end Fred Davis with defensive lineman Dwan Edwards recovering the fumble.
"That’s the way to finish a half, get the turnover and then a touchdown," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "How about that? The last drive is a pressure situation, and we practice it all the time.
"Troy executed it well. I’m happy for him and real happy for Harp, who came back to score the touchdown."
In the first half, the NFL’s second-ranked defense from last season allowed the Redskins to produce just 132 net yards and 24 rushing yards.
"I don’t think we’ve skipped a beat," said nose guard Kelly Gregg, who looked sharp in his first game back since undergoing microfracture knee surgery last year and missing an entire season. "The goal is to always get off the field as fast as possible."
The Redskins went 1 for 6 on third-down conversions in the first half.
"We were flying around just like we’ve been doing all camp, and it showed," said strong safety Dawan Landry, who played in his first game since offseason neck surgery.
In the second half, Ravens second-round defensive end-outside linebacker Paul Kruger sacked Redskins quarterback Colt Brennan after bull-rushing his way into the backfield.
Starting in place of Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs due to a heel injury, Kruger was summoned to the sideline by Suggs for some enthusiastic congratulations.
"He’s an extravagant guy," Kruger said of Suggs. "He kind of does what he wants. You just go with it. I look up to him a lot, so he helps me develop."
Rookie running back Cedric Peerman, the team’s sixth-round draft pick from Virginia, rushed for a seven-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter following wide receiver Jayson Foster’s 64-yard reception over the middle.
Smith played the most out of all of the quarterbacks and was alternately erratic and exciting as the former Heisman Trophy winner completed 14 of 30 passes for 200 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens spread the football around as a dozen different receivers, running backs and tight ends caught passes in the first half.
"It’s been drilled into our heads to spread the ball around, to not have tunnel vision," Smith said.
Rookie kicker Graham Gano’s 28-yard field goal attempt struck the right upright as time expired in the fourth quarter. The kick’s timing was affected by a high snap.
"We found out we have to do better at knocking it through the uprights when we get a high snap," Harbaugh said. "It’s on the snapper, but it’s on the kicker to find a way to knock it through."
NOTES: Running back Matt Lawrence led the Ravens with 36 yards on nine carries. … Derrick Martin, who’s battling to make the team as a reserve safety, intercepted a Colt Brennan pass. … Tight end L.J. Smith caught a 35-yard pass in his first game with the Ravens. Smith has been battling a hamstring injury. … Following the shutout, middle linebacker Ray Lewis presented the game ball to new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. "That’s an impressive thing," Harbaugh said. "I don’t know how he’s going to do it, but he’s going to divide it up for every one of the 80 guys on the team. It was kind of neat to see."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.