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Flacco engineers well-oiled machine to record 55 points

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Flacco engineers well-oiled machine to record 55 points

Make no mistake, the Ravens were supposed to trample the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

Just not this badly.

How they did it by a 55-20 margin was astounding en route to their NFL-high 15th consecutive regular season win at M&T Bank Stadium.

Joe Flacco threw for 341 yards and three touchdowns as the Ravens (7-2) scored 27 of their points in the first half, more than they could muster in four quarters of any of their four road games this season.

Going to play at the Pittsburgh Steelers for an AFC North game next Sunday, the challenge will be to replicate the magic at M&T where the Ravens average 37 points -- 20 points more than they score away.

“I honestly don’t think about it too much because it’s just happened to work out that way,” Flacco said when asked about his team’s inability to duplicate a performance such as this away from home. “They put up our record on the scoreboard today at home since ’08 and we have five losses. … We’ve played some big games on the road a couple years, every year we’ve been here, and we’ve won a lot of them.”

Sunday’s points are a franchise-high as Flacco posted his first 300-yard game passing since Week 4. It also is the most in the NFL this season, eclipsing 52 scored by the New England Patriots.

The result was secure early for Baltimore when Ray Rice, who only ran for 35 yards, punched in a 7-yard touchdown just before the intermission.

In the third quarter, Flacco would find Torrey Smith for touchdown passes of 47 and 20 yards on consecutive drives and holder/punter Sam Koch would run in a fake field goal for a 7-yard score. The Raiders (3-6) aided the effort by committing 10 penalties for 105 yards and three turnovers.

“For most of the game, we felt like we were in it, but things came apart in the third quarter,” Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer said. “They kept scoring and we couldn’t keep up. With all the penalties and mental errors we had, there’s no way we’re going to beat a playoff team on their field.”

Jacoby Jones piled it on with a 105-yard kickoff for his second touchdown on special teams this season. He had a 108-yard return in the 31-29 win against the Dallas Cowboys.

The Ravens’ defense was playing without cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was a late scratch because of a lingering groin strain. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata dressed but didn’t play, either.

Still, the Ravens’ struggling run defense didn’t have to contend with Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson, both out with high ankle sprains.  Oakland only gained 72 yards on 24 carries for a 3.0 average.

During a three-game stretch, the Ravens were allowing 207 yards per game on the ground going into last week’s 25-15 win at the Cleveland Browns. There, they allowed 116. The line deflected six passes from Palmer.

This was a complete game for the Ravens, who started out well against the Browns with a 14-point lead but went without a first down in the second and third quarters, as all three phases made significant contributions for the victory.

Flacco even found tight end Dennis Pitta, who hasn't been a factor in the offense since Week 3, for a 5-yard touchdown pass that gave the Ravens a 17-3 lead.

"They definitely looked like they put an emphasis on trying to get to us a little bit, and we were able to get the ball out of our hands quickly," Flacco said. "And we had some good calls for those situations."

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

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USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

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