The Baltimore Ravens found a different way to win, and did so in record-setting fashion.
Long known for their punishing defense and relentless ground game, the Ravens went airborne to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 38-24 on Sunday.
Joe Flacco went 26 for 43 for 307 yards and three touchdowns, all career highs. He was the focal point of an attack that amassed a franchise-record 501 yards and helped ruin the NFL head coaching debut of Todd Haley.
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Now in his second season, Flacco threw as many as 30 passes in only four games last year — each time in a losing cause.
Given the opportunity from the outset to throw the ball instead of handing it off, Flacco couldn’t contain his delight.
“It’s awesome. It’s so much fun,” he said. “As a quarterback, that’s what you want to do.”
It may not have been an isolated opportunity, either.
“We’re going to throw more if it helps us win games,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think that we will be capable of throwing the ball more ways than we did last year. We have really good players that can make plays.”
Such as Mark Clayton, who had five catches for 77 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown grab with 2:06 left that gave Baltimore a 31-24 lead.
Willis McGahee scored from the 1 with 31 seconds remaining to clinch it.
Another surprising aspect of the game was Kansas City’s ability to keep it close despite playing without Matt Cassel, whose sprained left knee did not heal enough to enable him to make his Chiefs debut.
That left the quarterbacking responsibilities to Brodie Croyle and Tyler Thigpen, who entered with a collective 1-18 record as NFL starters. The Chiefs didn’t get their initial first down until deep into the second quarter, but used a blocked punt and a long interception return to keep it close until their offense finally got rolling.
Croyle played all but one series and went 16 for 24 for 177 yards and two touchdowns.
Asked to assess his performance, Croyle said, “Play well, don’t play well — if you don’t win, you still have the same feeling and that’s where I’m at.”
Haley added: “I thought Brodie Croyle gave us a chance to win today and that’s all I’ll ever ask my quarterback to do.”
Larry Johnson, the last player to run for 100 yards against the Ravens (in December 2006), finished with 20 yards on 11 carries.
That, and the Ravens’ air show, contributed to Baltimore nearly doubling Kansas City’s time of possession.
“I got to give credit to Baltimore. They were a throwing machine today,” Haley said. “They threw the ball probably a lot more than we anticipated.”
The Chiefs couldn’t contain Clayton or tight end Todd Heap, who had five catches for 74 yards. He made four first downs, scored a touchdown and relished being part of an offense that seemingly moved at will.
“It was fun. We haven’t done that too many times around here, ever,” Heap said.
Baltimore, which led the AFC in rushing last season, didn’t entirely abandon the usual script. Ray Rice ran for 108 yards, McGahee added 44 and the Ravens finished with 198 yards rushing.
Down 14-10 late in the third quarter, the Ravens regained the lead with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Heap, who caught the ball around the 3 and bulled into the end zone.
Croyle then connected with Mark Bradley for a 50-yard completion — the longest of the quarterback’s career — to set up a 53-yard field goal by Ryan Succop, the last player chosen in the 2009 draft.
After Baltimore took a 24-17 lead on a 1-yard run by Le’Ron McClain with 8:10 remaining, Croyle answered with a touchdown pass to Sean Ryan.
Despite amassing a 215-56 advantage in total yardage, the Ravens led only 10-7 at halftime.
Kansas City’s first touchdown of the season came on a blocked punt by Jon McGraw that he recovered in the end zone. The Chiefs went up 14-10 in the third quarter when Derrick Johnson returned an interception 70 yards to set up Croyle’s TD pass to Dwayne Bowe.
A moment of silence was held for former Ravens quarterback Steve McNair before the national anthem.
Croyle is 0-9 as a starter, but his two passing TDs matched his career high.
Baltimore’s Jarret Johnson had a career-high two sacks.