Thursday night's NFL season opener provided an early clue that it would be a long night for the Baltimore Ravens. With no Denver Broncos defenders within 10 yards, a languid Brandon Stokley couldn't get his body turned around in time to reach the first-down marker on the game's third play.
Watching his receivers fail to separate is nothing new for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. The difference this year is that he no longer can depend on Dennis Pitta's sure hands or Anquan Boldin boxing out defensive backs at the point of the catch.
After two early touchdown drives, the Ravens' offense stalled to the tune of five three-and-outs and an interception over the next quarter and a half, while the Broncos ran away with the game en route to a 49-27 blowout win.
Pitta, in particular, was sorely missed. Ravens tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark combined for one fumble and an unofficial tally of six dropped passes, including a potential touchdown that marked the game's tipping point.
Flacco's passing game was out of sync throughout, which is no surprise considering his top two targets were couch surfing when training camp opened. Stokley and Clark padded their numbers against soft coverage in garbage time, but the eyeball tests showed two players struggling mightily to make plays in the twilight of their careers.
This is the first week of a long season. It's too early to throw in the towel on this aerial attack. The Ravens have unearthed a gem in undrafted rookie Marlon Brown, who flashed playmaking ability for the third consecutive week. If there's going to be a sustaining element to this offense, though, the featured players will have to be Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Torrey Smith and Brown, while the slow-moving trio of Stokley, Dickson and Clark falls by the wayside.