History Shows Browns Will Be Difficult To Beat
I'm a wreck.
And not just because of the season-opening loss at Denver.
We've recovered from that, and we're ready to smack someone. That would be the Cleveland Browns, who visit M&T Bank this Sunday.
But, I've been around the NFL too long, know too much and understand how hard it is to win* any* game in the NFL. This game will not be easy. Based on recent history, this game will be close.
You remember this: the Ravens won the Super Bowl last season. It was a lot of fun. Two of our regular-season victories came against the Browns. Both were nail-biters to the end. Remember Cleveland's last visit to Baltimore? I do. It was Sept. 27, 2012. We were knocking heads late in the fourth quarter with a one-touchdown, 23-16 lead.
Then rookie quarterback Brandon Weedon directed the Browns to our 18-yard line in the final seconds before an incomplete pass ended the game.
How about the game in Cleveland last season? We jumped to a 14-0 lead and, while they shut us out for the next two quarters, kicker Phil Dawson kicked five field goals to give Cleveland a 15-14 lead with just under nine minutes left in the game. Fortunately, quarterback Joe Flacco engineered a nine-play, 81-yard scoring drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown strike to receiver Torrey Smith. Kicker Justin Tucker added a 43-yard field goal in the final minutes to give the Ravens a 25-15 victory.
Those were the ninth- and tenth-consecutive times we have beaten the Browns. Flacco is 10-0 against Cleveland, tying John Elway for the most consecutive victories over a same opponent (Patriots) in NFL history. *THERE IT IS – WE DOMINATE THE BROWNS. *
We all know better, right? It's just not me, is it? Like you fans, I'm on the outside looking in once kickoff comes, and that makes me fret. I'm nervous. Is that the plight of not having a hand in the actual game?
I have two brothers and a sister who live in Cleveland. All three have basically said: "The Ravens will easily beat the Browns." Huh?
Again, we won the Super Bowl last season and had to fight valiantly to beat the 5-11 Browns.
That's NFL reality.
Which brings me to last Sunday, when I got to be a fan just like all of you. I watched much of the Browns' game, because that's the team the Ravens played next. I also took lots of peeks at the Steelers, and that game helped lift some of the doldrums from the Denver loss.
Of course, I also peeked at the Bengals and Bears, two teams we'll face later in the season. Bear down Chicago Bears, you made me smile with your victory over Cincinnati.
Patriots On The Ropes
Then I wandered to the Patriots at the Bills' contest. If any game had blowout written all over it, this was the one. Buffalo has a new head coach (Doug Marrone), two new NFL coordinators and they were starting a rookie quarterback (EJ Manuel from Florida St.) Across the field stood Bill Belichick with 314 games as a head coach under his belt. Tom Brady was the Pats' quarterback, of course. This was his 202nd NFL start and he owned a 20-2 mark against Buffalo.
But there was Buffalo with a 21-17 fourth-quarter lead. (I was so happy.) Brady drove the Patriots down the field, but New England failed to get a touchdown from inside the 10 and settled for a field goal that made the score 21-20 with 10 minutes remaining. OK, good defensive stand by the Bills, who are stout on that side of the ball – as we will see firsthand when we play at Buffalo on Sept. 29.
In the end, Brady directed a game-winning drive that ended with a Pats' field goal with five seconds left in the game. Final: Patriots 23, Bills 21.
That game only adds to my anxiety.
I see 10 wins in a row over the Browns, and I think, "It can't go on forever." (My wife Sally, the lovely redhead from Wisconsin, calls it "Your Irish Stinkin' Thinkin'." She's 100% Finnish. What can I say?)
I'm not one of those who can think of only positive thoughts. I'm too practical. Am I nuts? Are there lots of fans like me out there?
(And, just so you know, I walk around our complex with confidence. I try to pump up people around me. I say things like, "I can't wait until we play the Browns this Sunday. My team, our home field … The Browns will get the best of the Ravens." I compliment John Harbaugh and tell him nobody prepares a team better than he does. No one. The Ravens are always ready on game day. And our record under Harbs proves that.)
I just know the NFL reality. The league wants us all to be 8-8. The more you win, the harder it is to continue to win. If this were Major League Baseball, we'd have most of the players who left us from last year's team still here. However, the NFL lives with a hard salary cap and we adjust accordingly.
Here's what I believe. The Ravens will be a very good team this season. We'll be in the playoff hunt in December. We are the only team to go to the playoffs the last five seasons. Before 2012, we were the league's only current franchise to earn the playoffs four consecutive seasons. My belief is that we'll earn a sixth time in a row. Wouldn't that be something?
But, there is no doubt. The Browns can beat us. In fact, they are desperate to beat us. They are like a wounded animal. They're sick of us and our Super Bowl trophies. They can't wait to get here Sunday.
Well, good for them. Because we can't wait either. We have some venting to do. I'm glad it's in front of our raucous fans at M&T Bank Stadium, where we have a 21-3 record over the last four seasons.
Bring it on. Let's beat the Browns. I'll be the one with the upset stomach just before kickoff.
Talk with you next week,