The Ravens defense didn't have its most sparkling effort Sunday in Cleveland.
It gave up seven plays of over 20 yards, including a 70-yarder in which the receiver wasn't touched down by safety Matt Elam after making a diving snag. The Ravens missed too many tackles.
But when it mattered most, Baltimore's defense came up with the stops it absolutely needed.
The Ravens forced back-to-back three-and-outs in the final minutes, giving the offense a chance to mount its comeback for a 23-21 victory.
It's a welcomed sign after Baltimore's defense wilted under pressure too many times last season in losses to Green Bay, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago.
"Last year, we didn't do a good job towards the end of the game getting off the field," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "It was just great to get off the field twice at the end of the game."
"We have done it before," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs added. "You're only as good as the last time you did it, but we know that this defense is capable of making plays and winning the game."
The defense seemed to turn a corner after the 70-yard Browns gain by wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, which threatened to break the back-and-forth game open.
After that, Browns running back Terrence West was stuffed for a 1-yard loss by Ngata. Then a busted play led to a sack for outside linebacker Coutney Upshaw. Good third-down coverage and pressure led to Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer* *passing beyond the line of scrimmage.
That backed the Browns up and Billy Cundiff's 36-yard field-goal attempt was low and thus blocked by cornerback Asa Jackson.
The Ravens offense marched down the turf for a field goal to pull to within one point with five minutes left. The defense needed a stop.
"We all came out with the mindset that we were going to do whatever we need to do to get that ball back for the offense," Upshaw said.
The defense got stops by finally forcing some incompletions by Hoyer, who to that point had completed 19 of 22 passes. Hoyer had mostly carved up the secondary by not making mistakes and completing well-timed passes. Missed tackles also allowed bigger gains.
But when needing a stop, things changed.
Ngata had the coverage on one Hoyer incompletion and linebacker C.J. Mosley was in hot pursuit on the other. The Ravens also bottled up a rushing attempt for just 3 yards. The Browns punted and the Ravens offense took over with four minutes remaining. But Baltimore's offense got just one first down before having to punt again.
The defense needed another stop, this time with 2:19 left.
The Browns kept running. They got 5 yards on their first carry, but rookie running back Isiah Crowell was stopped by Ravens defensive end DeAngelo Tyson for a 2-yard loss on second down. The Browns chose to pass instead of running out the clock, and the pass was a bit behind wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. It was another three-and-out, another punt.
So what changed?
"Our defensive coaches did a good job of getting on the chalkboard and figuring out how to get the run game stopped and how to get the three-and-outs that made the difference at the end of the game," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh also added that the Ravens did well getting penetration up front against the running game, and held the edge better.
Overall, Baltimore's defense had troubles with giving up big plays, in part because of too many missed tackles. The Browns put up 375 total yards of offense, just two fewer yards than the Ravens. Cleveland averaged 6.8 yards per play.
"Hopefully we can continue to do that if we need to, and just do a better job for a whole game as a defense as opposed to just the end," Ngata said.