OWINGS MILLS — Joe Flacco kept hustling to the line of scrimmage, sizing up the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense before launching another spiral downfield.
When the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback wasn’t peppering the Chiefs’ porous secondary during a 38-24 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium for a career-high three touchdown passes, he was handing off to running backs Ray Rice and Willis McGahee for significant yardage.
After more than a decade of dormancy, the Ravens’ offense might be on the verge of gaining equal-partner status with their celebrated defensive colleagues.
The Ravens racked up a franchise-record 501 yards of total offense against Kansas City as Flacco established career highs with 26 completions, 43 attempts and 307 yards.
"It was a lot of fun," tight end Todd Heap said. “I think most of all, the fans appreciated it and enjoyed it. I think the thing that we enjoy most is winning the ballgame.”
The tradition in Baltimore has been built around a defense known for inflicting pain and punishment.
Now, a suddenly potent offense might be gaining an identity of its own defined by prolific yardage and points. At least for one game, albeit against a team with a suspect defense.
“That’s definitely the goal,” said Heap, who caught five passes for 74 yards and a touchdown. “We want to definitely put our offense on the map. Coming into this year, we set a lot of goals offensively.
“We’re doing everything we can to reach those goals. I think there were quite a few of them we were able to attain. Now, it’s a matter of going out and doing it week in and week out."
Between Flacco’s strong right arm, an improving young offensive line, receivers with something to prove and a running game that generated 198 yards and two touchdowns, the defense might not have to pitch shutouts any longer.
The NFL’s 28th-ranked passing attack from a year ago may exceed low expectations around the league following an offseason filled with criticism of its receiving corps.
“This is a new year, a new offense, a new mentality,” said wide receiver Mark Clayton, who caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Flacco. “Everything starts over. We are kind of reformed or remaking ourselves.”
The defense was well-rested against Kansas City as the Ravens controlled the clock for just under 40 minutes.
The Ravens set a franchise record with 32 first downs, converting 10 of 17 third-down opportunities and all four red-zone shots.
“Just to sit back and watch them, we have a heck of an offensive line right now, a young quarterback who’s really growing up and we have a three-headed monster at running back,” All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Anytime you’ve got that, you have a chance to really control the ball.”
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Ravens’ offensive development was Flacco’s command and aggressiveness.
He kept targeting the weak links in the Chiefs’ secondary, and he utilized a variety of targets as he connected with seven different receivers.
“As fast as he grows up is as fast as our team grow s up,” Lewis said.
Another encouraging sign about Flacco is how he was extremely productive despite a few erratic moments and an interception, rallying the team by engineering three scoring drives in the fourth quarter.
“I think there’s going to be many more of those to come,” Heap said. “We just saw the emergence, we just saw the beginning of what he’s capable of.”
Known for his stoic demeanor, Flacco displayed more emotion than usual. He actually shook his fist a few times to celebrate and seemed to crack a few smiles.
“Joe would be the first to tell you that there are so many that he wants back,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “He wants to complete every ball. There were probably five, six, seven balls in there that he had a chance.
“Believe it or not, Joe is an emotional guy. He’s a competitive guy. He’s edgy, and he likes to do well. So, we like that about him.”
The Ravens also installed two new players on the offensive line with center Matt Birk and rookie right offensive tackle Michael Oher playing their first regular-season games in Baltimore.
Flacco was only sacked one time.
“The defense appreciated the offense moving the ball and scoring points, keeping them off the field,” Harbaugh said. “The offense appreciated all of the three-and-outs. You get 90 plays on offense and you go 47 plays on defense, that’s what you’re looking for. That’s the type of game you want to put together.”
Between Rice rushing for 108 yards and Clayton and Heap each catching five passes and a touchdown, a dozen different players touched the football.
“Probably the most fun was spreading the ball around, seeing how many guys could touch the football," Heap said. "That way, the defense can’t key on anyone. They can’t sit back there and say, ‘They’re going to one of two guys.’ Sometimes, it’s been like that around here, but it’s not like that anymore."