Five thoughts on the Ravens’ 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium:
Took A Village
It took a village for the Ravens to lose a game in this division rivalry for the first time since 2007. All three of the Ravens’ units contributed. The offense was sluggish early – more than sluggish, actually, forcing the Ravens to play from behind all afternoon. Then the special teams kicked in with the game’s biggest mistake, Tandon Doss’ fumbled punt, which gave the Browns an easy touchdown just when the Ravens seemed on the verge of catching up. Finally, the defense struggled late, failing for the third straight game to get off the field and get the ball back to the offense. “I thought they deserved to win the game; we did not play well enough to win,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. He was right.
Uncharted Territory For Harbaugh
This is uncharted territory for Harbaugh. He pulled out all the stops with the Ravens coming off their bye-week break with a 3-4 record. He cut two guys. He said he believed in the team and thought it was ready to catch fire. He’s always had a nifty touch when calibrating his team’s psyche and ordinarily sees results, but this time, if he intended to send messages, they didn’t take. The Ravens were flat early and dogged throughout by the same issues that caused problems before the bye: a slow start, a tepid running game, penalties, turnovers, coverage breakdowns. It was as if nothing had changed. The end result was a third straight defeat and a 3-5 record for the Ravens, who are still in the AFC playoff picture only because falling out of it is almost impossible in a league of legislated parity. It will be interesting to see how Harbaugh responds to the longest stretch of persistent losing in his six years on the job. He’s already tried a couple of things. Expect more.
Can’t Afford Flacco To Be Off
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco did not have one of his better games. He was off target early, as if rusty, and never really looked sharp throwing the ball. Even on a 46-yard completion to Torrey Smith before halftime, he underthrew an open target – a good pass would have resulted in a touchdown. He fared better as the game went on, but overall, while accuracy is generally not an issue with him, this game was an exception. And the simple fact is the Ravens offense has so many problems that it can’t afford for him to be off. After all the talk about getting the running game going during the bye, it was no better. The pass protection was shaky again, too, as the Browns sacked Flacco five times and repeatedly made him throw on the run. The best thing he did, and it’s no surprise, was compete, make things happen with his legs, stand in against the heat, keep the game close. With 16 game-winning, fourth-quarter drives to his credit, he might well have pulled the game out if given a chance at the end. But that chance never came.
Will Rice Return To Himself?
Ray Rice’s numbers were lamentable: 11 rushes for 17 yards, 14 overall touches for 38 yards. There weren’t many, if any, holes for him to run though, but he didn’t break tackles, either. It’s just not happening for the Ravens’ top playmaker in 2013. Is it because of the hip flexor injury he suffered in September? He said last week that the bye-week rest did him a world of good, inferring that the injury was indeed a problem right up to the bye, even though he was back on the field. After Sunday, when the run-game needle didn’t move at all, it seems fair to wonder whether he will be himself again at any point this season. And if he isn’t himself, what are the Ravens going to do about it with half of their season still to go?
“It’s time to make a stand; you get kind of sick of losing to the same team,” Browns tight end Jordan Cameron said before the game about losing 11 in a row to Baltimore. The Browns brought that urgency to the field Sunday … This game was a matchup of teams ranked 26th and 28th in the league in rushing yards per game, and it showed. Neither will move up in the rankings … Give Browns quarterback Jason Campbell credit for making plays with both his arm and legs despite taking some wicked shots … Little things are killing the Ravens. Little things like a holding penalty on a fair-catch punt return; a 12-men-on-the-field penalty immediately after a fumbled punt; and punter Sam Koch failing to pin the Browns inside their 20 on several opportunities and then flubbing a 25-yarder when he needed a long one late … Please take note: The Ravens’ wide receivers combined for 19 receptions, a season high total. They aren’t the problem.