ST. LOUIS (AP) — The preseason finale showed the Baltimore Ravens’ opponents nothing.
Coach John Harbaugh used none of his starters, and even let Joe Flacco and Ray Rice skip the trip for a 24-21 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Thursday night.
The Super Bowl champions were already in regular-season mode, leaving plenty of playing time for hopefuls fighting for roster spots. Rams coach Jeff Fisher used a handful of his first-stringers, including both first-round picks, but none of them for too long. He told everybody else two hours before game-time that they’d be getting the night off.
Typically, Fisher has given everyone playing time in Week 4, but he noted it’s a “new world.”
They were looking ahead, too.
“It feels pretty good for it to be over with. They (preseason games) don’t really count,” said cornerback Janoris Jenkins, who saw limited action. “It all counts now, so you got to be ready to roll.”
The Ravens (2-2) open the NFL season on Thursday night at Denver, while the Rams (1-3) will be at home next Sunday against Arizona.
Here are five things we know about the Rams from the preseason:
FISHER’S GUYS: Entering Fisher’s second season, the Rams’ roster overhaul has been drastic. There’s about a dozen holdovers from failed regimes, and it’ll again be one of the NFL’s youngest teams. A few players have been simply too good to show the door: middle linebacker James Laurinaitis, defensive end Chris Long and quarterback Sam Bradford.
WIN NOW: Expectations are increased after the additions of free agents Jared Cook and Jake Long and what appears to be a strong draft class. The NFC West is stacked but the Rams were 4-1-1 in the division, and Bradford could be ready to make a leap in his second season with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. “I think obviously we are much improved at the skill position group just in the sense that we’ve got a lot more speed,” Bradford said.
BRADFORD’S BACKUP: Both players seeking the Rams’ second-string quarterback job played well in the finale. Veteran Kellen Clemens played his strongest game despite breaking his nose, and second-year player Austin Davis threw two touchdown passes, one for the go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter. Fisher wasn’t tipping his hand, but joked that Clemens “was a little worried about his modeling career after football.”
KID STUFF: The Robert Griffin III trade keeps paying off. Surplus picks from the deal with Washington emboldened general manager to trade up for wide receiver Tavon Austin this year. Austin and fellow first-rounder Alec Ogletree will start, two rookies started on defense last year and they’ve still got the Redskins’ 2014 first-rounder in their pocket.
VANDY DANDY: Rams fifth-rounder Zac Stacy bid to nail down the backup running back job, showing grit on a 1-yard scoring run. St. Louis traded its last two draft picks to get Stacy, the Vanderbilt career leading rusher. Isaiah Pead is suspended for Week 1 and didn’t help himself when he fumbled the opening kickoff, his second giveaway of the preseason.
And five things we know about the Ravens:
CHAMPS RE-MADE: The Ravens had more than their share of comings and goings in the offseason, saying goodbye to starters Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams, and hello to Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, Daryl Smith and Michael Huff.
FLACCO’S CHALLENGE: Joe Flacco has a new six-year, $120.6 million contract but must adjust to losing two of his favorite targets. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded after refusing to take a pay cut and tight end Dennis Pitta could be out for the year with a dislocated and fractured hip.
NICE SHOW: Ravens first-round pick Matt Elam, second on the depth chart behind James Ihedigbo, has had a strong preseason and was among the early standouts in the finale with a fumble recovery and four tackles in the first quarter. It’s expected he’ll quickly become part of the rotation in a new-look secondary.
REPLACING RAY: For the first time in their 18-year existence, Lewis isn’t manning middle linebacker. Daryl Smith, who signed a free agent deal in June, is the veteran replacement. He’s a sure tackler entering his 10th season and could help provide some of the veteran presence the Ravens lost.
LAST LINE: The second-largest challenge for the Ravens is moving on without Reed on the back end. Free agent pickup Michael Huff, who played every game for Oakland last year, will take on that unenviable task.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)