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Senior NFL Columnist

Texans make big-time statement, knock out former bully Ravens

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HOUSTON -- It's too bad the Baltimore Ravens weren't in their black uniforms Sunday. After all, black is appropriate for a funeral, and that's what we had in Reliant Stadium.

It was the burial of the Ravens as we know them.

The Ravens of the past decade would walk into a stadium as the biggest and toughest group of players in the league, and playing them meant it would be an all-out physical battle that left players in the hot tub a little longer the next week.

Now the once-bad bully can't even get off a punch.

The Ravens left Reliant Stadium the recipient of a beatdown at the hands of the Texans that surely has to leave them wondering if they can even fight anymore. Houston scored a team-record 43 points in a 43-13 drubbing of Baltimore that wasn't even that close.

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If this was supposed to be a battle between the two heavyweights of the AFC -- both coming in at 5-1 on the season -- somebody forget to tell the Ravens to come out of the locker room to answer the bell.

And believe this: Ray Lewis and his pre-game theatrics and rah-rah approach couldn't have saved the Ravens on Sunday. Lewis, who is likely out for the season with a torn biceps muscle, wasn't playing well anyway.

The return of defensive end Terrell Suggs from a torn Achilles tendon, a miraculous recovery indeed, netted him a sack, which made for a nice subplot, but was clearly overshadowed by the bigger issue. This Ravens defense isn't very good.

Houston had 420 yards of offense to 176 for the Ravens. The Texans had 27 first downs to 12 for Baltimore.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak was asked after the game if there was anything he didn't like offensively.

"I'm sure I'll find something," he said.

He will be hard-pressed. After starting slowly, the Texans ran it, passed it, controlled it and scored with it the entire game. It was the third game this season that the Ravens have allowed 400 or more yards.

The Ravens will talk as if this is one game and that it's fixable. But see a blatant case of denial.

Losing 20-10 to a good Texans team would have been on thing. But 43 points?

"What weren't they able to do?" Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

For the Texans, this was an important game. The Green Bay Packers destroyed them last week in a game in which Aaron Rodgers lit them up for six touchdown passes, setting off the alarms as to whether the Texans were really that good.

Not only that, but Baltimore beat the Texans twice last season, including eliminating them in the playoffs.

"I don’t know if they were bullying us," Texans defensive end Antonio Smith said. "They might have snuck a couple of wins on us. I don't remember a game where they bullied us. We won the battle today."

The big play was an interception return for a touchdown by corner Johnathan Joseph to make it 16-3 with 14:51 left in the second quarter. The Ravens never threatened after that.

"It's definitely a statement game for many reasons," Texans tackle Duane Brown said. "The Ravens are highly regarded as one of the top teams in the league, and we've never beat them. It shows a lot about this team in terms of being able to bounce back."

The Ravens will have to learn that lesson now too. But when you study that defense, you have to wonder if they can. They came in off two games having allowed more than 200 yards rushing, both victories.

Then they lost Lewis, their emotional leader. And, more damning, they lost top cover corner Lardarius Webb for the season. Add in age as a factor at some key spots and Haloti Ngata being banged up, and you have the recipe for trouble.

On offense, the question is who are they? Do they want to give it to quarterback Joe Flacco and let him wing it around? Or do they want to be balanced with Ray Rice a focal point of the offense.

Rice averaged 5.2 yards per carry in the first half. The bad news is he had just six carries. Does offensive coordinator Cam Cameron forget he's around?

I love the move to the more up-tempo offense, but Flacco can't play like he did against the Texans and expect it to work. He was horrible for much of the day, finishing with 147 yards, two picks and a passer rating of 45.4.

There was some talk that the Texans were soft, that they wilted under the physical style of teams like the Ravens. They shot that down with their performance and again in the locker room.

"We don't pay any attention to that," Texans safety Glover Quin said. "The people that are outside, they don't know how we play. I don't put any stock into it because they really don't know what they are talking about."

You can't be soft and put a beating like that on a supposed tough guy. Then again, maybe that tough guy isn't so tough anymore.

The Ravens defensive swagger is gone.

The fear they once instilled in opponents is no more.

At 5-2, they are still in the playoff chase, still atop the division race. But as they walked off the field Sunday afternoon -- heading to their bye week -- you had the feeling an era was over and the nastiness was gone.

"It's been tough and we need this bye week," receiver Torrey Smith said.

One game. Two teams. Yet seemingly now traveling such different paths.

It was only 60 minutes, but oh what a telling 60 minutes it was for the Ravens and the Texans.

"Sometimes you get tossed out of the bar," Harbaugh said.

Yeah, but who knew it would be so easy to do?


Pete Prisco has covered the NFL for three decades, including working as a beat reporter in Jacksonville for the Jaguars. He hosted his own radio show for seven years, and is the self-anointed star of CBS Sports' show, Eye on Football. When he's not watching game tape, you can find Pete on Twitter or dreaming of an Arizona State national title in football.
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