The Ravens offense started hot and ended strong, but couldn't do much of anything in between.
After scoring two consecutive touchdowns to open the game, the unit then went over 30 minutes without a first down. It didn't gain a single yard in the third quarter. Baltimore punted seven straight times with six three-and-outs. There were dropped passes and costly penalties. Running back Ray Rice had no room to work and quarterback Joe Flacco was off the mark on a number of throws.
But then it all changed.
After losing an early 14-point lead and down by a point midway through the fourth quarter, Flacco led the Ravens on a nine-play, 81-yard touchdown drive to take the lead. The Ravens would hold that lead for the victory, taking down the Browns 25-15.
It was a gritty, ugly-at-times victory that has become commonplace during the Ravens' 6-2 start to the season.
"That was a fight," said Head Coach John Harbaugh, who improved to 10-0 against the Browns. "That was an AFC North style team and this was an AFC North style battle."
The key play on the game-winning drive came on second down from the Ravens 19-yard line. Flacco dropped back to throw and found Anquan Boldin across the middle for 21 yards and a first down, their first of the second half. The play brought a collective sigh of relief to the offense, and got the Ravens started on the go-ahead touchdown drive.
"That was the play we needed to get going," Rice said. "Joe is our quarterback and he is always so calm under that type of pressure."
"We were in a lull," Boldin added. "We needed that just to change the tone. We never lost our poise or anything, we just kept trying to make plays. Finally, we did."
After the first down by Boldin, the Ravens capped off the drive with a 19-yard touchdown by wide receiver Torrey Smith on third down. Flacco hit Smith on a hitch route at about the 10-yard line, and then he spun away from cornerback Joe Haden and beat the defenders to the end zone.
"It just came naturally," Smith said about the spin move. "I was just playing. There was one guy back there I knew, so I tried to shake him."
Smith's touchdown gave the Ravens a 20-15 lead and then they converted on the two-point conversion with a pass to Boldin to extend the lead to 22-15. The Ravens added a 43-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to give them a 10-point lead that would hold for the final score.
It was an up-and-down day for the Ravens, who started the game playing arguably as well as they have all season.
They came out committed to running the football, and marched down the field for touchdowns on the first two drives, mostly relying on the legs of Rice. He finished the day with 98 yards and a touchdown on a season-high 25 carries.
The Ravens ran the ball on 16 of their first 22 plays, and the effective running game set up the play-action pass. Flacco was also sharp, hitting his first 10 throws of the game and completing passes on third down to keep drives alive.
Ray Rice scored on an 8-yard scamper on the Ravens first possession and rookie running back Bernard Pierce got his first career touchdown on the next drive with a 12-yard run.
Then the offense went cold, and on their next seven drives, the Ravens picked up just one first down, and punted on seven straight possessions before the game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
"We started fast and we finished strong," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, it was a little iffy there. But the thing I'm proud about our guys is that we played with faith and we played with faith in one another."
After the Ravens took the 14-0 lead, then the Browns offense mounted a comeback. The Browns scored field goals on each of their next three possessions to cut the Ravens' lead to one score.
Cleveland was able to move the ball against the Ravens mostly because of a strong effort by rookie running back Trent Richardson. The Browns committed to running the ball with Richardson, who finished with 105 yards on 25 carries. He's the first rookie to top 100 yards on the Ravens defense since Fred Taylor in 1999.
As the Browns chipped away at the Ravens' lead, Baltimore's offense stuttered.
Harbaugh and Flacco said the Browns didn't change what they were doing defensively, but the Ravens found themselves in holes.
The struggles led to frustration at times, but the key was keeping that from affecting their play.
"I think everybody does get frustrated, but it's a matter of how you handle it," Flacco said. "You have to deal with it. It's how well can you deal with the frustration and pick yourself back up."
As the offense struggled, the defense kept the Ravens in the game thanks to a stout performance in the red zone. The Ravens kept Cleveland out of the end zone, holding them to five Phil Dawson field goals.
In addition to playing tough in the red zone, the defense also came away with some critical turnovers. Cornerback Cary Williams intercepted Brandon Weeden in the third quarter to stop a drive, and then safety Ed Reed picked off Weeden on the Browns' final drive to squash any hopes of a comeback.
The performance by the defense gave the offense confidence leading up to the comeback drive.
"We knew that when our defense was stopping them and they were only kicking field goals, that we had a chance to win this game," Rice said. "We had no doubt that we were going to put a drive together to go out and come out ahead."
The win improves the Ravens to 2-2 on the road and gets them back on track after a 30-point loss to the Texans in Week 7. The Ravens now have a home game coming next week against the Oakland Raiders.
"We have lots to work on. We had lots to work on last week. We're going to have lots to work on next week too," Harbaugh said. "We're going to try to become a great football team. We're not there by any stretch. We have a chance to get there."