The new-look Baltimore Ravens were tough, physical and opportunistic, all good signs for a team seeking another run to the Super Bowl.
Joe Flacco was sharp in his preseason debut, second-year pro Bernard Pierce scored on a 20-yard run, and a revamped defense forced four turnovers in a 44-16 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night.
Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw a pair of TD passes, including a 21-yarder to LaQuan Williams, who also recovered a blocked punt in the end zone.
"We are pleased that we were able to keep pressure on them in all three phases of the game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You just keep going after an opponent, and when you do that, sometimes you can overcome mistakes and penalties."
Josh Freeman and the rest of Tampa Bay's starters played sparingly, so most of Baltimore's scoring came against backups and newcomers to a defense that ranked last in the NFL against the pass last season.
Flacco signed a $120.1 million contract after leading the Ravens to their second Super Bowl title. He worked two series, completing seven of nine passes for 57 yards and one interception.
Lavonte David sacked Flacco for a 10-yard loss and Danny Gorrer picked off a sideline throw intended for Jacoby Jones two plays later to stop Baltimore's first possession.
"It felt pretty good, and not just in terms of finally being back out here," Flacco said. "I felt like we operated OK for being this early and that the offensive line played pretty well. There are a couple of things we need to clean up — like on the interception — because those are little things that we need to ... get better at, so we can stay on the field and score points."
Freeman's first series ended with the fifth-year pro, who's entering the final year of his contract as the third quarterback drafted in 2009, being sacked by Chris Canty. He left the game on a better note, directing an 11-play, 56-yard drive that produced Derek Dimke's 29-yard field goal.
"It felt good to get back out there. Playing a team like the Ravens, they're going to blitz, they're going to play man, they're going to mix it up," Freeman said. "We saw quite a bit during the short time (Baltimore's starters) were in."
Freeman completed four of seven passes for 34 yards in just under a quarter. Rookie Mike Glennon took over on Tampa Bay's third possession, teamed with tight end Tom Crabtree on a 61-yard catch-and-run on his first play, and led two first-half scoring drives.
The third-round draft pick threw a third-quarter interception, but his mistake was hardly the only costly blunder for the Bucs. Chris Oswusu muffed a punt return to set up Pierce's touchdown, and Baltimore added a TD just before the half when Brynden Trawick blocked Chas Henry's punt in the end zone and Williams recovered.
Despite only playing 13 snaps, Freeman felt he accomplished what he set out do in a preseason opener — mainly working off the rust of a long offseason.
"The reason for the preseason is tuning up," the Tampa Bay quarterback said. "We talked about coming out and playing physical and not turning the ball over as an offense. ... I thought it was an effective day to get out and play against somebody, since the last two and a half weeks we've been playing against each other."
The Bucs played without cornerback Darrelle Revis, the biggest of several key offseason acquisitions since going 7-9 and missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season. The three-time All-Pro is recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him most of last season with the New York Jets; there's a chance he may not play in the preseason.
Six other projected starters also did not play for Tampa Bay: guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph; defensive end Adrian Clayborn; fullback Erik Lorig; tight end Luke Stocker; and kicker Lawrence Tynes, who's been slowed in camp by a toe injury.
The Ravens played without linebacker Jameel McClain, one of several possibilities to replace Ray Lewis in the middle of a defense that lost Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Cary Williams and Bernard Pollard to free agency.