OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Joe Flacco knew the criticism was surrounding him after two straight rough starts that led to losses for the Baltimore Ravens.
One big early pass to Mike Wallace helped change all of that as the Ravens rediscovered their deep passing game to jump on top of the Oakland Raiders early in a 30-17 victory Sunday.
“I have confidence in who I am as a player and a person, and I have confidence in our football team. So I’m never going to waver,” Flacco said. “I may not play well one week, but it’s not going to change who I am.”
Flacco had been quite bad the previous two games , averaging less than 4 yards per attempt in losses to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh in games Baltimore (3-2) failed to score a single time in the opening half.
But that changed when Flacco’s 52-yard pass to Wallace set up Vince Mayle’s 2-yard run and Jimmy Smith returned a fumble by Jared Cook 47 yards for a score on the next drive to give the Ravens 14-0 lead over the Raiders less than four minutes into the game.
“We wanted to just start fast and play aggressive from jump street,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We go 14-0, then everything plays into our favor, then we can gallop our pressures get more dimensional and really hold them off there.”
The Raiders were forced to play catch-up with backup quarterback E.J. Manuel getting the start in place of the injured Derek Carr. Manuel threw a 41-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree and led another TD drive that ended in Marshawn Lynch’s 3-yard run . He finished 13 for 26 for 159 yards.
But that wasn’t nearly enough for the Raiders, who have dropped three straight following a 2-0 start, putting a severe dent in their hopes to challenge in the AFC West.
“I just think we’re facing a little adversity right now,” linebacker Bruce Irvin said. “Coming into the year you all were telling us how good we were. I don’t know if we believed it or not. It’s not the first time I’ve been in this situation. It’s the fifth game. We’ve got 11 more games. We’ve got time to turn it around but it’s all about if we want it.”
CARR’S HEALTH: The one bit of positive news for the Raiders came after the game when coach Jack Del Rio said he had a good feeling that quarterback Derek Carr would be able to play next week against San Diego. Carr missed this game with a broken bone in his back and the initial diagnosis was he would likely miss between two and six weeks. But he practiced on Thursday and Friday on a limited basis and fought to play this week. Del Rio held him out but signs do point to a quick return for Carr.
RUN GAME: The Ravens had been using a three-back rotation but that plan got altered when Terrance West went down with an ankle injury after a 13-yeard run on the opening drive. Javorius Allen got the bulk of the work with 73 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown. But Alex Collins, who ran for 164 yards the past two weeks, also contributed with 55 yards on 12 carries.
WHERE’S AMARI: Amari Cooper had developed into one of the game’s best receivers his first two seasons, topping 1,000 yards in each season. But he has been a non-factor of late. He had just one catch for 8 yards on two targets against the Ravens. He has just four catches for 23 yards on 15 targets the past three weeks, hampering Oakland’s offense.
BIG WEEK: Smith was having a good week even before his fumble return for a touchdown. His second son, Jalen, was born earlier in the week after 25 hours of labor.
“It was truly a blessing,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited about that. And then getting a touchdown and coming around for the team.”
TAKE IT AWAY: While the Raiders had issues on defense last year, they did do well forcing turnovers with their 30 takeaways ranking second in the league. That opportunistic play has been missing so far this season as Oakland has forced just four turnovers through five games and the team is still searching for its first interception. Two of the turnovers came on muffed punts.
“The lack of turnovers has really hurt us in the game,” cornerback TJ Carrie said. “We’re used to getting those turnover battles and winning them and capitalizing on them, giving our offense a couple extra opportunities to get on the field and play.”