The Ravens looked like they may have missed too many opportunities.
They had failed to capitalize on several chances late in the game to put up points, and looked like they were headed for a loss at the hands of their division rival.
But the Ravens kept fighting, and they came up with key plays down the stretch to set up Justin Tucker's game-winning field goal as time expired for the 23-21 victory. The Ravens now improve to 2-1 on the season after a three-game stretch against division foes to open the year.
"We were staring 1-2 in the face," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "To be able to play the last five minutes the way we did, and to get another chance and to come away with one is huge."
The game was back-and-forth throughout the afternoon – there were seven lead changes in the contest – before Tucker's boot sealed the victory for the Ravens.
The difference was the Ravens getting critical contributions from all three phases of the game in the final few minutes.
The defense forced Cleveland to three-and-outs on their final two possessions, giving Flacco and the offense a chance to set up the game-winning field goal. The special teams play was also critical, as cornerback Asa Jackson blocked a 36-yard field-
goal attempt by Browns kicker Billy Cundiff to keep the Ravens alive.
After the key stops by the defense, Flacco and the offense had one final drive starting at the 50-yard line with 1 minutes, 58 seconds remaining. Flacco then hit veteran wide receiver Steve Smith on a 32-yard completion down the sidelines with Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden in tight coverage, setting up the Ravens for the game-winning field goal.
"Whenever I line up, I think there's no better option than me," Smith said about his confidence leading up to that completion.
Smith finished with five catches for a game-high 101 receiving yards. The clutch play at the end of the game was exactly what the Ravens hoped to get from Smith when they signed him as a free agent this offseason.
"It was for moments like that that we brought Steve Smith in here," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
The completion to Smith and game-winning field goal by Tucker would have never been possible if it weren't for a stellar play by the defense to get the Ravens the football with a chance to win. On Cleveland's final four series of the game, the Ravens held them to three punts and the blocked field goal.
The block came after a 70-yard completion to Browns wide receiver Taylor Gabriel on busted coverage in the Ravens secondary, but then the defense tightened up and forced the field goal. Cundiff also had a 50-yard field-goal attempt bounce of the upright in the second half to keep the Ravens in striking distance.
"That was huge because you definitely thought, 'OK now we have a chance to come back,'" defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "That was a huge play and I'm just glad we were able to make it."
The Ravens got a solid all-around performance from several players to lead them to the win. The running game was strong despite the absence of top running back Bernard Pierce. Rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro saw his first significant action and led the Ravens with 91 rushing yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. The Ravens finished the day with 160 total yards on the ground.
"The results speak for themselves with Lorenzo," Harbaugh said. "He's physical. He's a downhill runner. He's hard to tackle. That's a big plus for an offense. And credit the offensive line as well."
Another key contributor out of the backfield was fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who caught three passes for 54 yards and a touchdown playing in his hometown. The Ravens were efficient on offense for most of the day, and Flacco finished 19-of-31 passing for 217 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Defensively, the Ravens had a tough time keeping Cleveland off the field as quarterback Brian Hoyer had time to throw. He completed 19-of-25 passing for 290 yards and a touchdown, and was consistently able to find soft spots in the coverage.
But when the Ravens needed the big stops from their defense, the unit came up clutch and put the game back in Flacco's hands.
"Last year we didn't do a good job getting off the field toward the end of the game," Ngata said. "It was great to be able to get off the field twice like that at the end of the game."
Now the Ravens return to Baltimore with a two-game winning streak after victories over the Steelers and Browns. The victory kept them from falling too far behind the Bengals (3-0) in the division race, and has them in the thick of the race.
"That was an AFC North football game," Harbaugh said. "That's a great victory on the road. Winning an AFC North game on the road this year is going to be really, really hard to do, and our guys stepped up and did it."