By John EisenbergRavens InsiderCSNbaltimore.com
From the first day of training camp, the Ravens' Paul Kruger has been better in his third pro season than he was in his first two. Moved back to his natural slot at rush end, the 2009 second-round draft pick has earned steady playing time with his aggressive play.
His improvement paid huge dividends for the team Sunday when he registered two sacks against the Arizona Cardinals, including a crucial one in the final minutes that effectively set up Billy Cundiff's winning field goal.
"This is what I've been working for for the past three years, trying to get better and better, working with the coaches," Kruger said. "I'm really happy."
Kruger's key sack came on a third-and-eight play for the Cardinals from their 15 with 1:07 remaining, Kruger beat his blocker with an inside move and brought Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb down for a nine-yard loss.
After the Cardinals punted, the Ravens took over at the Arizona 44 and drove to the winning field goal.
Kruger now has three sacks for the season.
A trio of big plays stunned the Ravens in the second quarter Sunday, leaving their home crowd at M&T Bank Stadium as quiet as it had been all season.
First, the Cardinals OBrien Schofield bested tackle Bryant McKinnie, sacked quarterback Joe Flacco and forced a fumble that the Cardinals recovered at the Baltimore 2. That produced a touchdown that gave Arizona a 10-3 lead.
Minutes later, the Cardinals Patrick Peterson returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown.
On the Ravens first offensive snap after that, Flacco was intercepted when a pass sailed through Torrey Smiths hands and was grabbed by the Cardinals Richard Marshall. That led to a 10-yard touchdown pass from Kevin Kolb to Early Doucet.
The Cardinals third touchdown in less than five minutes gave them a 24-3 lead with 3:52 left in the first half.
Some Baltimore fans booed their mistake-prone team, and others just sat silently in the cool autumn sunshine, shocked by what they were seeing.
Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chris Carr suited up and played Sunday, giving the Ravens their most complete lineup in the secondary in 2011.
Carr, who had been out since Week 3 with a pulled hamstring, immediately took on a major role as the nickel back. Smith, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 1, played the corner on several obvious passing downs and also played on special teams coverage units.
Carr dropped back to return several punts.
Former Ravens tight end Todd Heap, now with the Cardinals, said he had circled this game on his calendar for obvious reasons, but a hamstring injury denied him a chance to exact revenge on the Ravens for cutting him before this season.
He was deactivated before the game and spent the afternoon on the sideline in a sweatsuit.
Several other former Ravens were in the stadium for much-less-ballyhooed homecomings. Running back Chester Taylor and punter Dave Zastudil played for the Cardinals, and Brian Billick, who coached the Ravens to their Super Bowl triumph a decade ago, was in the broadcast booth for Fox.
Ray Lewis sat out four plays in the second quarter after suffering a shoulder stinger. He missed five plays all of last season The Ravens offense generated its initial first down with 8:30 left in the first quarter, some 31 minutes sooner than Monday night The Ravens deactivated Chykie Brown, Anthony Allen, Danny Gorrer, Dannell Ellerbe, Ben Grubbs, Lee Evans and Sergio Kindle.
Follow John Eisenberg on Twitter at @CSNEisenberg.