OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — With so many new faces on the roster, the Baltimore Ravens figured it would take some time before the team started playing as a cohesive unit.
The transformation is right on schedule, even though the final product isn’t close to being in place.
After losing 49-27 at Denver in the season opener, the defending Super Bowl champions have since defeated Cleveland and Houston behind a defense that hasn’t yielded a touchdown over a span of eight quarters.
Beating Cleveland 14-6 at home is not a noteworthy accomplishment, by Baltimore standards. But a 30-9 rout of Houston, which came to town unbeaten, was pretty darn impressive. It was also an indication of just how far the retooled Ravens have come since that debacle against the Broncos.
“We’ve really made as much progress as we could make,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “Not 100 percent across the board, but we’re on our way.”
After winning the Super Bowl, general manager Ozzie Newsome shuffled their roster as if rebuilding a 2-14 team. Newcomers on the defense include Daryl Smith, Chris Canty, Elvis Dumervil, Marcus Spears, Michael Huff and top draft pick Matt Elam.
The offense is different, too. Gino Gradkowski took over for the retired Matt Birk at center, and quarterback Joe Flacco now has tight end Dallas Clark and wide receiver Brandon Stokley as prospective targets.
That, to a degree, explains why things were a little rocky in the opener. From the beginning, however, the Ravens have been dedicated to making this work.
“Our attitude is as good as I’ve ever been around, as a football team and individually across the board,” Harbaugh said. “And our work ethic is as good as any I’ve been around. I’d proud of these guys, the way they’ve worked and the way they’ve approached the job.”
The Ravens next face the Buffalo Bills (1-2) on the road Sunday. If all goes as planned, Baltimore (2-1) will be seven days closer to completing the meshing process.
“Each week, we want to concentrate on getting better, and that’s what we’ve been doing,” said Smith, who returned an interception for a touchdown against the Texans. “And each week, we’ll grow together, we’ll gain more chemistry, we’ll learn to trust each other more. I think we’ve done that the last two weeks.”
Ditto for the offense. Although the Ravens scored only one touchdown offensively, they had to do so without three-time Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, who missed his first game since 2008 because of a strained left hip flexor.
“We are a young team,” Flacco insisted. “We have a lot of new guys, and we were thin at the running back position (Sunday). We are going to have some growing pains throughout the first couple of weeks. I have said all along, the biggest thing will be: Can we win while we have those? So far, the last two weeks we haven’t played great, but we’ve managed to win football games against two pretty good football teams. We have to continue to get better and come out next week flying around.”
Now that they appear to be getting in sync, Flacco and Clark have become a threat to opposing defenses. Signed as a free agent in August after Dennis Pitta dislocated his hip, Clark ranks second on the team with 12 catches for 141 yards.
Against Houston, Clark had four receptions for 46 yards, including a 21-yarder on a third-and-9 that fueled Baltimore’s initial scoring drive.
“There was some good stuff out there, in terms of some of the timing and some the tight throws that were made, big third-down conversions,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the kind of stuff we’ve been working really hard to get to, not just with Dallas but with all the guys.”
Backup running back Bernard Pierce ran for 65 yards and a touchdown. Rice watched from the sideline, but he could be ready by Sunday.
“He was close (last) week, to a degree,” Harbaugh said, adding that Canty (groin) was also nearly healthy enough to play.
Defensive lineman Terrence Cody left the Houston game with a sprained knee and will likely be sidelined against Buffalo.
“It would be a stretch to expect him back this week,” Harbaugh said.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)