BALTIMORE – Sleepwalking through another dreadful first half, the Baltimore Ravens didn’t awaken from their slumber until after an emotional halftime.
Triggering scorn and disdain from their booing fans as they trudged into the locker room one week after an embarrassing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Ravens got their act together.
Energized by a resurgent offense that featured the no-huddle and the shotgun formation in the second half, the Ravens overcame a three-touchdown deficit in the first half to manufacture a 30-27 comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday before 71,022 at M&T Bank Stadium.
It’s the biggest comeback in franchise history as the Ravens (5-2) scored 24 points in the second half before the Cardinals (1-6) answered midway through the fourth quarter.
The Ravens’ biggest prior comeback was against the Tennessee Titans five years ago as they erased a 19-point lead.
"We woke up, plain and simple," said wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who sparked the Ravens with a game-high seven receptions for 145 yards against his old football team. "Our offense came out flat. We know we played poor as an offense in the first half, and we felt like this team wasn’t better than us, point-blank. We just woke up in the second half. Still had a bitter taste in our mouth from last week, so we wanted to come out and rectify that."
Capped by a 25-yard field goal from Billy Cundiff to win the game as the fourth quarter expired, the Ravens’ offense held up its end of the bargain in the second half. The Ravens finished with 405 yards of total offense after generating only 156 yards in the first half.
Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 31 of 51 passes for 336 yards, doing the majority of his damage after a quiet first half where he struggled markedly one week after one of the worst games of his career. In the first half, Flacco completed only 12 of 23 passes for 98 yards and an interception.
His 36-yard lob to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith positioned Cundiff for the game-winning kick.
"I’m just proud of our guys, it’s pretty special," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You’re going to keep fighting. If you watch around this league, you can come back and win. You’re really thinking about how we’re going to get this thing straightened out. What can we do? What are we able to do. What plays can we run? That’s the kind of conversation we have.
"I think we’ve had some adversity. If you look back, we’ve had some tough games and I think our guys have always responded. That’s the kind of guys we have. That’s the kind of team we’ve build. The men that are in that room are there for a reason."
Flacco completed all five of his passes for 64 yards on the Ravens’ opening drive of the second half to set up the first of running back Ray Rice’s career-high three touchdown runs.
After falling behind 24-6 at halftime as Flacco was intercepted once and lost a fumble and the punt team surrendered an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown to rookie Patrick Peterson, the Ravens came out firing in the second half.
Not before being greeted by boos as they entered the field in the third quarter.
"I’d probably be wanting to boo if I was in the stands, too," Flacco said. "We weren’t looking too good, and we weren’t playing too well. I think they have the right to be a little bit upset about how we were playing.
"When we were playing well, they came back to cheering us. You can deal with a little boos every now and then, especially when you come back to win the game."
It was Flacco who was one of the offensive players who delivered a halftime speech. And he directed scoring drives on four of the Ravens’ seven second-half possessions.
"I didn’t hear it, but if he did do it, that’s great," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said regarding Flacco’s halftime remarks. "I was too busy getting hammered myself. The first half was on all of us. I don’t ever want to come back from 21 points again.
"I didn’t feel comfortable, but I had faith and I trusted. If we had to, we were going to have to score on defense. We thought that was the way we might have to do it, but fortunately the offense came through."
The Ravens marched 80 yards on seven plays on the first drive of the third quarter, a drive keyed by a 37-yard completion to Boldin and a subsequent pass interference on Cardinals cornerback A.J. Jefferson while guarding Boldin.
"Anquan Boldin is a star," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. "Always has been."
On the ensuing play, Rice busted into the end zone untouched from one yard out to close the gap to 24-13.
Boldin was a pivotal presence in the second half, schooling Cardinals cornerbacks Peterson and Jefferson with his superior route-running skills. He drew two pass interference penalties that led to touchdowns from Rice.
"Anquan was definitely the catalyst in the whole thing," Harbaugh said. "They had his arm pinned down once or twice, and he still made catches. It was Anquan that got us going from the jump."
In the third quarter, Boldin dominated the Cardinals’ secondary.
The former Pro Bowl selection hauled in receptions from 23, 9, 27 and 21 yards and drew a critical defensive pass interference penalty before Rice plunged into the end zone from one yard out to bring the Ravens to within four points.
After the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, Flacco completed 6 of 8 passes for 87 yards. He went to Boldin seven times, completing four passes to him for 80 yards.
"We felt like they had young corners, and that’s one of the things we felt like we could take advantage of," Boldin said. "That’s one of the reasons I was brought here. Joe was able to put the ball in the right place, and I was able to make a play on it."
The Ravens’ 24-point outburst leapfrogged them in front of the Cardinals with a 27-24 lead on Rice’s third touchdown run on the first play of the fourth quarter.
That score followed an interception by inside linebacker Jameel McClain, who benefited from Suggs crashing into Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb to affect the throw.
"The ball went up in the air, and all I had to do was catch it," McClain said. "We knew we had to get after them, and that’s exactly what we did. I felt like the way we came out at halftime is what turned it around."
Although the Cardinals would tie the game on a 45-yard Jay Feely field goal with 8:55 remaining, the Ravens managed to pull it out with a quick drive in the last minute.
After a day where his timing was off on deep throws to Smith, Flacco finally found him behind cornerback Richard Marshall at the five-yard line to get Cundiff ready for his deciding field goal.
By then, the fans’ boos had long turned to cheers.
"We just kept believing, kept believing," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "They are the same fans that are going to switch around and start cheering as soon as we put some points on the board. And it happened. You have to truly respect them for saying, ‘This ain’t what we’re used to,’ and it’s not.
"For us to come out and give the ball away and let a team get up on us, that’s just not us. For them to show their displeasure, that’s OK. We’re man enough to come back and say, ‘We know how to come back and get you back in the game.’ That’s to drive and create spots and put points on the board, and we did that."
The Ravens also utilized Rice more this game after he rushed for a season-low 28 yards on eight carries during a loss to the Jaguars. This time, he rushed for 63 yards on 18 carries and also caught seven passes for 36 yards.
"Honestly, I don’t worry about my involvement in this offense," Rice said. "I know that I’m a playmaker, and I know that I’m going to touch the ball a certain amount of times as the flow of the game goes. When my number is called, I’ll be ready."
The Ravens endured a disastrous five minutes in the second quarter where Flacco fumbled on an O’Brien Schofield sack to lead to a Beanie Wells touchdown dive.
Then, Peterson broke five tackles in the open field on his electrifying touchdown return.
And an accurate Flacco throw bounced off Smith’s pads for a Marshall interception that led to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Kolb to Early Doucet to stake the Cardinals to a 24-3 lead late in the second quarter.
"When you hear the boos you know where it’s coming from," Rice said. "It’s not like they don’t want us to do well. It was tough. At the same time, we held our head high and the boos turned into cheers in the second half."
Defensively, the Ravens sacked Kolb six times and limited him to 10 of 21 passing for one touchdown and an interception.
Now, the Ravens will launch preparations today for an AFC North showdown next Sunday night at Heinz Field against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers (6-2) will be looking to exact revenge on the Ravens after being trounced 35-7 by Baltimore to open the season.
"I guarantee you that the whole NFL shuts down next week just for that game," Suggs said. "The whole world has been waiting to see it, so I’m just happy I am healthy enough to be a part of this game. I get to go into Heinz Field and be the bad guy."