BALTIMORE – The Baltimore Ravens will rely on a couple of old hands to play key roles in an aerial attack that almost certainly will be much more than a passing fancy.
The offseason trade for sure-handed Anquan Boldin and the signing of free agent wide receiver Donte' Stallworth were designed to enhance an offense that last season relied heavily on the run.
Boldin has done his part. Unfortunately for the Ravens, it will be at least two months before Stallworth can contribute after he broke his foot in Saturday's 24-10 victory over the New York Giants.
But Baltimore still has 13-year veteran Derrick Mason and nine-year pro Todd Heap, both of whom were featured prominently in a dazzling passing show that amassed 17 points and 220 yards in the first half against the stunned Giants.
Mason was targeted 10 times and finished with five catches for 35 yards. Heap had six receptions for 69 yards, including an important fourth-down catch and a touchdown.
Boldin had four catches for 52 yards and a score, Mark Clayton had a reception before leaving with a mild concussion, and running back Ray Rice — who led the team in catches last season — chipped in with four receptions for 44 yards.
So who should opposing defenses cover? It's a tough question to answer, which explains in part why third-year quarterback Joe Flacco went 20 for 32 in the first half.
"When everybody is involved on offense, it makes it very difficult on a defense," Mason said. "One week it might be me. One week, it might be Quan. One week it might be Todd or Ray. It's going to vary from week to week. That's what you want as an offense."
The 36-year-old Mason was expected to play a secondary role behind Boldin, and that still may be the case. But he's still got to be accounted for, and on Saturday night he was Flacco's main target.
"I'm just going to go out there and do what I do — prove that I can get open," Mason said. "It's good to have Anquan. It's good to have a lot of these other guys. It takes pressure off you."
And Heap? Well, the Ravens drafted not one, but two tight ends in the 2010 draft. If that was supposed to serve as a challenge to Heap, the two-time Pro Bowl participant responded by playing his best football in years.
"I feel really good physically. My body feels good generally," he said. "I'm in a good place right now. I'm excited."
For years, the Ravens have been a team that played offense without a sense of urgency. They had no problem with milking the clock in the huddle and running two off tackle plays before passing on third down.
Against the Giants, Baltimore ran the no-huddle offense and had a passing play called on each of its nine first downs in the first quarter.
"They surprised us a little bit with the no-huddle there, and it took us a couple series just to get used to what they were trying to do," New York defensive end Justin Tuck said.
The Ravens passed on 32 of 43 plays in the first half. By the end of the game, nine different players had receptions.
"You can never have enough weapons," center Matt Birk said. "That just makes it harder for defenses to defend you. It gives the coaches a lot of options. If that means scoring points, it makes it a lot more fun being an offensive lineman."
So, will the Ravens continue to be pass-happy in the regular season? Or will they go back to giving the ball to running backs Rice, Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee?
It depends on how the opposing defense lines up.
"There's still a lot to come from this offense because there are so many guys that can make plays," Mason said. "When you've got more than two or three guys that can catch the ball, you're allowed to open up and expand your playbook. You still have to factor in the running game with Ray, and Le'Ron and Willis. So once we get that going along with our passing game, it's going to be very hard for defenses to game plan against us."