OWINGS MILLS – Kelley Washington pivoted upfield, bolting into the Denver Broncos’ secondary as he switched hands with the football.
The Baltimore Ravens’ wide receiver had delivered yet another clutch reception to convert on third down, celebrating the accomplishment with a few jaunty steps to the approval of the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium.
For the game, the Ravens converted 11 of 18 third downs for a 61 percent conversion rate. Conversely, the Broncos converted just 3 of 13 third downs for a 23 percent success rate.
“My point is that it’s the toughest down of the series,” Washington said. “If you can produce on that down, you can produce on every down. People already know you’re going to pass, so that says a lot about your play-calling.
“I take pride in going out there and being a big target who’s going to make plays. We gelled into a good chemistry out there.”
By virtue of Sunday’s efficient performance, which included a steady dose of the no-huddle offense to keep the Broncos off balance, the Ravens now rank third in the NFL in third-down efficiency.
The Ravens have converted 48.4 percent of their third downs on 46 of 95 attempts to rank behind the Indianapolis Colts (51.1 percent) and the Miami Dolphins (50.5 percent).
“We always have a focus on converting third downs and keeping drives going,” Flacco said. “There’s times where we’ve been a little inconsistent. We’ve had games where we’ve been really good and we’ve had games where we’ve been average, and it was good to see that we came out and played really well and kept those drives going.”
And the balance and versatility of the Ravens’ receivers have played a major role in keeping the chains moving.
Mason has caught 30 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns with Washington catching 24 passes for 325 yards and one touchdown operating out of the slot.
And former first-round draft pick Mark Clayton has caught 23 passes for 303 yards and two touchdowns.
A big key toward that success is how the Ravens haven’t been thrown for losses or committed many penalties on first and second downs.
“That was a huge part of the game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “If you can convert on third down and keep a defense on the field, you’re going to have a pretty good chance to be successful.
“It plays into points, it plays into time of possession, everything. We got a lot of third-and-reasonables. There have been very few third-and-longs all season.”
Against the Broncos, the Ravens were regularly in situations where they needed anywhere from one to seven yards.
For the season, the Ravens rank seventh in total offense (378.7 yards) with the 10th-ranked running game (124.9) and passing game (253.9).
That has also translated into the NFL’s fourth-ranked scoring offense, averaging 28.4 points per contest.
A lot of that production links back to the receivers’ crisp pass patterns on third downs as well as the versatility of running back Ray Rice, the Ravens’ leading receiver with 38 receptions.
“The majority of the time is just keeping it third-and-manageable,” Mason said. “You can call a world of plays when it’s third-and-two or third-and-seven. When it’s third-and-15, third-and-20, there aren’t too many plays you can call. I think our big plus is what Kelley has been able to do in the slot and Ray Rice what he’s been able to do coming out of the backfield.
“It takes a lot of pressure off of the guys outside. So, they don’t have enough guys to cover the guys that we have running routes. I think that’s why we’ve been so successful on at third downs. Ultimately, third downs, if you capitalize on them, you win games.”
NOTE: The Cincinnati Bengals still have roughly 4,000 tickets available for Sunday’s game and are in danger of facing a blackout on local television.