ATLANTA — It was a sterling display from what amounted to the Baltimore Ravens’ junior varsity as they toppled the Atlanta Falcons’ starters.
There was a methodical, textbook opening drive spearheaded by precise passing from third-string quarterback John Beck who displayed impressive chemistry with wide receiver Demetrius Williams as well as a few timely runs.
The defensive reserves effectively stonewalled the Falcons, a playoff team last season, and star quarterback Matt Ryan. That included a sack from Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs in the first quarter during his first action since suffering a strained heel and Achilles’ tendon.
And the Ravens’ backups manufactured a 20-3 victory Thursday night at the Georgia Dome in the preseason finale as Beck completed 18 of 26 passes for 232 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 108.0 quarterback rating.
The Ravens finished the preseason a perfect 4-0 for the first time since the 2000 season, which they finished with a triumph in Super Bowl XXXV.
“Our goal was to play like Ravens," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think we are the best Ravens we could be right now. What that means or how good we are, we won’t know until the regular season starts. But this is where we want to be.”
Steve Hauschka may have locked up the kicking job by splitting the uprights on a 46-yard field goal with distance to spare with 1:14 remaining in the fourth quarter. He also connected on a 33-yard field goal earlier in the fourth quarter.
Hauschka hasn’t been officially anointed as the successor to Matt Stover yet, but appears to have done enough to earn the position.
“Coming out there and making that last kick was good,” Harbaugh said.
Shortly into the fourth quarter, Hauschka converted his long field goal right down the middle one week after missing a 27-yarder against the Carolina Panthers in his lone miss of the preseason.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost to hit that one going into the season,” Hauschka said. “I knew my job was probably riding on it.”
Afterward, Hauschka expressed confidence that he has done enough to earn the position.
“Yeah, I think I did what I needed to do out there,” Hauschka said. “I think I performed well, but it’s up to the coaches now.”
Added Suggs: “When you’ve got a guy who can kick a 46-yard field goal, you can win a lot of football games.”
Despite resting 20 of 22 starters to protect them from injury heading into the regular season, the Ravens acquitted themselves well as their reserves outscored the Falcons’ starters 7-3 by halftime.
Even without the presence of quarterback Joe Flacco and wide receiver Derrick Mason, the offense had rhythm with Beck on top of his game.
“John Beck played really well,” Harbaugh said. “John can throw the ball.”
Beck completed his first five passes for 50 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter, generating a 147.9 quarterback rating. During his opening series, Beck capped a 14-play, 91-yard march with a five-yard touchdown on a swing pass to rookie fullback Jason Cook.
“It was more than encouraging, it was exciting," Harbaugh said. "That group could play with and whip anybody in the league."
By halftime, Beck had completed 6 of 9 passes for 57 yards. The former Miami Dolphins second-round draft pick and BYU standout also turned in a 15-yard scramble.
“It’s been a while since I have been able to play a whole game,” Beck said. “I wanted to make the most of it. It was a lot of fun out there. It was good for me because now I have some things on film that I can look at and learn from.
Williams got the start with Kelley Washington being held out after apparently establishing himself as the third receiver. Williams also drew a 26-yard pass interference penalty on Chevis Jackon on the Ravens’ scoring drive.
On the touchdown drive, Williams caught three passes for 38 yards as he converted two third downs and got the Ravens deep into Atlanta territory with a 19-yard reception.
In the third quarter, Beck hit Williams for a 39-yard completion as Williams finished with four receptions for 77 yards.
“Demetrius made some good plays,” Harbaugh said. “The catch on the slant coming down kept that drive alive. Those are difficult plays to make."
Beck could have had significantly bigger numbers if not for the shaky hands of wide receiver Justin Harper.
Fighting to make the roster as the Ravens’ fifth wide receiver, the athletic former Virginia Tech player dropped a couple of deep passes as he attempted to cradle the football against his body. He also wasn’t physical on a catchable slant pass and was bullied in kick coverage.
“It was a tough night,” Harper said. “I’ve got to be able to make plays consistently and I didn’t do that. If they still want me on this team, that’s up to them. It’s out of my hands now.”
Meanwhile, reserve cornerback Frank Walker was beaten badly on a John Parker Wilson throw to Robert Ferguson. However, Ferguson couldn’t get his feet in bounds in the end zone as it was ruled an incompletion.
Walker also committed a pair of penalties in the second quarter on a single play. He was flagged for offsides with the Falcons declining that penalty and accepting his illegal hands to the face infraction. The Falcons failed to capitalize, though.
They didn’t score until there was 28 seconds remaining in the second quarter as Jason Elam booted a 45-yard field goal to complete a nine-play, 32-yard drive.
Rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb, in an extended audition, for kick return duties fumbled a punt in the second quarter. It was recovered, though, by Ravens linebacker Prescott Burgess.
In the third quarter, neither team scored as the Ravens outgained the Falcons offensively from a yardage standpoint of 88 to 69 yards.
And the defense held up despite middle linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata not being suited up.
Beck completed a crisp 47-yard strike to wide receiver Eron Riley in the fourth quarter down the right sideline.
A few plays later, Beck hit Riley for a 15-yard touchdown pass as Riley dragged a few Falcons into the end zone.
Now, the Ravens have some tough decisions to make as they’ll have to cut 22 players by Saturday’s league deadline to get down to the NFL regular-season roster limit of 53 players.
"It’s going to be extremely difficult to get down to 53," Harbaugh said. "We have a lot more than 53 really good players. That’s a tribute to the players, coaches and personnel staff. It’s going to be an interesting two days of conversation."
NOTES: Several players have been dealing with flu symptoms. … Rookie running back Cedric Peerman led the Ravens with 31 rushing yards on 10 carries followed by Beck’s 23 yards on four carries. Peerman also caught two passes for 23 yards. … Riley caught two passes for 62 yards. … Cornerback Evan Oglesby intercepted a pass, deflected three passes and registered four tackles, one for a loss. … Jameel McClain led the Ravens with five tackles. … Tavares Gooden notched his second sack of the preseason.