Bills-Ravens: What we learned

Scott Pitoniak, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Eight months ago, Kiko Alonso was sitting in the living room of his Los Gatos, Calif. home watching Joe Flacco lead the Baltimore Ravens to a Super Bowl victory.
On Sunday afternoon, Alonso was on the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium, making life miserable for the veteran quarterback. The rookie linebacker from the University of Oregon intercepted two of Flacco's passes, including one on a diving play with 57 seconds remaining to preserve the Buffalo Bills 23-20 upset of the defending champions.
"It's kind of weird to think about all that happening in such a short period of time," said Alonso, who is just the second rookie linebacker in franchise history to have four interceptions in a season.
The Ravens were driving for the apparent game-tying field goal or game-winning touchdown when Alonso saved the day. Flacco threw a short pass over the middle to Dallas Clark at the Bills 36 that was tipped by safety Da'Norris Searcy. Alonso dived for the ball and came down with it. The play was challenged but upheld by the replay official, and the Bills ran out the clock.
Buffalo limited the Ravens to just 24 rushing yards on nine carries. Ray Rice, who returned to action after missing last week's game with a hip injury, managed just 17 yards on five carries.
"We've got to run the ball better," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You saw the difference in the first half with (the Bills). They're running the ball for four, five yards at a time and putting themselves in manageable third downs, and we're not doing that. That's tough on everybody. That's tough on our passing game, on our quarterback."

What the Ravens said
"We were fortunate to win the Super Bowl last year, so teams are going to come up and play us hard every game. We have to do the same thing. We have to get up for every game. We have to find a way to start faster. We didn't start fast today. We started real slow and when it came down to it, we didn't have enough. So we have to start faster and find a way to finish games." - Cornerback Corey Graham.

What the Bills said
"Coming in as rookies we're just trying to get better and develop and grow each game. Each game is a learning experience for the both of us. He's developing. He's pulling out wins for his offense. I'm not looking at him as a rookie but as this team's quarterback and a leader." - Wide receiver Robert Woods on his relationship with quarterback EJ Manuel.

What we learned about the Bills
1. Kiko Alonso may be the leading candidate for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year honors at the quarter pole of the season. The second-round pick from Oregon is the first game-changing linebacker the Bills have had since Takeo Spikes was healthy a decade ago. Alonso is superb at rushing the passer and covering receivers. He says he can't remember having interceptions in three consecutive games at any level of football, including Pop Warner.

2. Rookies EJ Manuel and Robert Woods are developing some passing chemistry. Manuel targeted Woods eight times, resulting in four connections for 80 yards and a score on a 42-yard touchdown toss down the center of the field. They now connected 11 times for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and also hooked up for a crucial two-point conversion in the victory against Carolina.

What we learned about the Ravens
1. Joe Flacco could use some help from his ground attack. The Bills entered the game ranked 29th against the run with an average yield of 155 per game, but Baltimore managed just 24 yards on nine attempts, a paltry 2.7 yards per carry average. Rice returned after missing a game with his hip injury, but continued to struggle. Flacco clearly misses the departed Anquan Boldin and injured Jacoby Jones, but a more potent run game would ease his burden.

2. Baltimore can put up some big-time passing numbers, even without a running game. Granted, the Bills were playing without three starters in the secondary, but Flacco finished 25-for-50 for 347 yards and two scores. Torrey Smith was his favorite receiver, turning five targets into five receptions for 166 yards and one score - a 26-yarder midway through the third quarter that cut the Bills lead to 20-14. Baltimore converted just 19 percent (3-of-16) of their third downs.

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