The Baltimore Ravens apparently don't need an emotional lift from Ray Lewis or the services of running back Ray Rice to win a big game.
All it took to beat the Houston Texans was a couple of momentum-turning plays and a strong performance by the defense.
Daryl Smith returned an interception 37 yards for a touchdown, Tandon Doss took a punt 82 yards for a score and Baltimore's improving defense held the high-powered Texans without a touchdown in a 30-9 rout Sunday.
The Ravens inducted the retired Lewis into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime. Before the game, Lewis was the first player out during introductions. But the former linebacker, who retired after Baltimore won the Super Bowl in February, declined to do his trademark dance.
"I walked out there with a totally different perspective, because every other time I always walked out there for a battle," Lewis said. "But this time, I walked out there as a man, a complete man. It feels good, it feels good to know I ran my race, and now I'm here."
Lewis watched the game respectfully from the sideline, as did Rice, who missed his first start since 2008 with a strained left hip flexor.
It didn't matter that neither Ray contributed. Bernard Pierce ran for 65 yards and a touchdown and Baltimore (2-1) did not commit a turnover.
"It was just a great day," Smith said. "Got a great win, and it was Ray Lewis Day, too."
The Texans (2-1), on the other hand, absorbed a distressing defeat following wins over San Diego and Tennessee. Houston led 6-3 before Smith and Doss scored in the final three minutes of the first half.
"We need to take a hard look at what we're doing as a team and individuals," Houston quarterback Matt Schaub said.
The Texans were called for 14 penalties and didn't score after halftime.
"We did not play well," running back Arian Foster said. "We did not play well at all."
Five things we learned from Baltimore's 30-9 win over the Texans:
1. NO TIME TO PANIC: The Ravens' new-look defense has improved radically since allowing seven touchdowns in a season-opening 49-27 loss at Denver.
In the wake of that loss, fans and some media members wondered if the defending champs had lost their edge.
"The only people panicking was you guys. We know we didn't play a good game," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said Sunday. "In the NFL you're going to have highs and lows. It was the first game. They had some success. We knew we had to go to work."
And so they did. Baltimore has since gone eight straight quarters without allowing a touchdown.
2. MAKING A DIFFERENCE: The Texans offense, which tallied seven touchdowns and 61 points in opening the season with two victories, isn't the same without wide receiver Andre Johnson, who saw limited action after bruising his shin.
After Johnson limped through most of the first half and an X-ray at halftime showed no break, coach Gary Kubiak called for a pass to the standout receiver to start the third quarter.
"We threw the ball the first play. I wanted to see him run," Kubiak said. "I did not think he could run the way he needs to play, so we took him out."
Johnson will be re-evaluated in Houston on Monday.
3. REED DEBUT: Ed Reed made his Texans debut after missing the first two games of the season following his recovery from hip surgery. It was his first NFL game in which he wasn't wearing a Baltimore uniform.
Reed spent 11 years with the Ravens before signing a free-agent deal with Houston in March.
Kubiak talked with Reed before the game and set a number of snaps he'd play in his first game action. When someone relieved the free safety late in the game, Reed was surprised.
"I was like, 'Whoa, whoa, whoa, what's going on?'" he said. "I totally forgot about the play count."
At least Reed finished his first game back healthy.
"At the end of the day, I felt good," said Reed, who was credited with three tackles.
4. SOLID SEPTEMBER: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco finished 16 for 24 for 171 yards and no touchdowns. Nothing great, but he's now 11-0 at home in September starts during his NFL career, the best record for a quarterback in the Super Bowl era.
Credit for this one, he said, goes to the defense.
"Our defense, man, it didn't break," Flacco said. "They've played two weeks now where they haven't given up a touchdown. That's pretty good. You're going to have a tough time losing when that happens."
5. HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Doss celebrated his 24th birthday with a sensational punt return that put the Ravens up 17-6.
"Just having that play in front of my home team fans, that was amazing," he said. "Hopefully, I'll just keep doing it."
The runback was reviewed because Doss came dangerously close to stepping out of bounds.
"I thought I stepped out, honestly," he said.