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Look out, NFL: Ravens send Monday night message vs. Bengals

Joe Flacco and the Ravens' no-huddle offense hit on all cylinders against the Bengals on Monday night. (AP)

So what's a scarier development for the Baltimore Ravens' future opponents and their rivals in the AFC North: That Joe Flacco and Baltimore's new no-huddle offense looked absolutely lethal in picking Cincinnati apart in Monday night's 44-13 victory? Or that, in the second half with the game still in doubt, Baltimore was able to rely on its defense, even without Terrell Suggs, to absolutely slam the door and put the game away?

The first snap of the game set the tone for the night. Flacco faked a handoff to Ray Rice, then bombed one deep down the middle to Torrey Smith for 52 yards, setting up an early field goal.

Flacco and the Ravens' offense never really slowed down from there -- though Flacco narrowly avoided throwing two or three interceptions, as the Bengals' taxed defense failed to come up with a big play that could have turned the tide. On the Ravens' second possession, Flacco hit 6-of-7 passes before Ray Rice scored on the ground. The next time Baltimore had the ball, Flacco connected with Jacoby Jones for 25 yards, then floated a brilliant pass over the middle to Anquan Boldin for a 34-yard touchdown.

The Bengals did not put up much of a fight and the Ravens surely will face better defensive efforts this season. But for a franchise that has been undone in the recent past by its inconsistent offense, Monday marked a statement game.

And then there's that defense ...

For awhile at least, it looked like Dalton might be able to keep pace with Flacco, especially as A.J. Green found some openings and Andrew Hawkins started darting in and out of tackles.

But after Flacco made it 24-13 with his second TD toss of the night -- a perfectly placed jump ball to tight end Dennis Pitta -- the Ravens buried the Bengals. Ed Reed started the party, doing what Ed Reed does by jumping a Dalton pass to Brandon Tate and returning it to the house for a pick-six. Three snaps later, Dalton, running for his life to escape pressure, coughed the ball up again.

All told, Baltimore's defense accounted for four sacks, two turnovers, six points and any number of key plays.

Now, the rest of the NFL will be left with the conundrum of figuring out how to slow this Baltimore train that appears ready to barrel down the tracks.

Think you can stop the Ravens' offense? Good luck. Baltimore barely even needed Rice on Monday night -- he scored twice but received just 10 carries, or three less than the rest of the Ravens combined. Eight different Baltimore players caught passes, paced by Pitta's five for 73 yards, as he exploited mismatches and open space over the middle all night.

Flacco, for his part, was terrific. On another night, at least one of his misfires would have resulted in an interception, but just about everything else he threw was through a pinhole. He wasn't just good; he looked ready to jump into that "Elite Quarterback" discussion.

OK, so the offense is good. Maybe you can exploit the Suggs-less defense? Worth a shot ... except that the Ravens still have guys like Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Reed. Albeit against a pieced-together Cincinnati offensive line, Baltimore generated consistent pressure.

The only troubling stat for the Ravens' defense: BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 5.1 yards-per-carry average.

Week 1 of the NFL season will come to a close with Baltimore atop the AFC North as the only 1-0 team. Cincinnati, Cleveland and Pittsburgh all find themselves, already, with ground to make up.

Given what we saw on this opening weekend, that's exactly how the division standings should look. Cleveland (and rookie QB Brandon Weeden) coughed up an opportunity to upset Philadelphia, while Pittsburgh was outmatched by Peyton Manning in his Denver return.

And Cincinnati, of course, collapsed under Baltimore's unrelenting attack on Monday night.

If Flacco continues to play like he did in that one, and the Ravens' defense keeps crushing foes like usual, then the Bengals won't be the last opponent overwhelmed by Baltimore.

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