Juszczyk Borrows LeBron James' Celebration
Cleveland native Kyle Juszczyk doesn't have a signature touchdown celebration. After all, he had never scored in his NFL career … until yesterday.
In front of his hometown crowd and about 50 family members and friends, the Ravens fullback and Cavs fan borrowed from the NBA's best player, LeBron James. After scoring a 9-yard touchdown, Juszczyk pantomimed King James' pregame ritual of putting chalk on his hands and throwing it in the air.
(Mobile users tap "View in browser" at the top of the page to watch.)
So is this a celebration he will keep? Or did he have it in mind specifically for Cleveland?
"No, it just came to me during the national anthem," Juszczyk said after the game. "I told [Owen Daniels] afterwards, 'If I score, I'm going to do it.' So I just went with it."
It did not go unnoticed. During the game, SportsCenter tweeted side-by-side images of James and Juszczyk doing the powder toss.
"LeBron James and Kyle Juszczyk. What a pair," wrote Cleveland Plain Dealer's Tim Warsinskey. "One came home this summer hoping to heal a town's broken heart. The other returned home Sunday wearing rival colors and broke those hearts all over again."
But more importantly, he brought joy to Ravens fans' hearts.
While his LeBron impersonation got all the attention, of greater importance is that Sunday marked Juszczyk's breakout game since being drafted. The touchdown catch was his first reception of his NFL career and he followed it up with two more grabs, including a 33-yarder.
His emergence couldn't come at a better time, as he could help mitigate the loss of tight end Dennis Pitta (more on that below).
"It definitely meant a lot to me," Juszczyk said. "Having gone the first two games without any touches, I kind of thought to myself maybe it was meant to be that my first catch and my first touchdown would be in front of my hometown. I knew I just had to stay patient and my time would come and I would get an opportunity to show what I can do."
Amidst Controversy, Ravens' Best Attribute Propels Victory
Outsiders wonder how the Ravens do it.
Amidst controversy and national attention, how have they come out and beaten two division rivals in back-to-back weeks? They did it with a dominant win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in primetime last week, and they did it again on the road in a thrilling come-from-behind 23-21 win over Cleveland Sunday.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley attributes the victories to what he believes is the Ravens' greatest strength: "uncanny calmness."
"The Ravens came to FirstEnergy Stadium with the Ray Rice scandal swirling around them," Hensley wrote. "They scratched their starting running back (Bernard Pierce) before the start of the game. And they watched one of their best offensive weapons (tight end Dennis Pitta) get carted off in the middle of it.
"So, how do the Ravens react when adversity is just as big of an opponent as the Browns? By not overreacting."
It should be no surprise that quarterback Joe Flacco led the team and helped them keep calm.
Turns out, it was Flacco who read the Cleveland defense when he broke the huddle with 88 seconds left on the clock. He saw one safety deep and nonchalantly told Steve Smith Sr. that he wanted a slant-and-go. The 35-year-old wide receiver beat the Browns' $75 million Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden, setting up the game-winning field goal.
"When you're in the moment, it's tough not to be calm," Flacco said.
Too bad the fans screaming at their television screens and running around their living rooms at home don't find calmness as easily. It would be a lot easier on their hearts.
And then there was Head Coach John Harbaugh, who didn't blink when he decided to punt on fourth-and-16 and bet that his defense would stop the Browns with just over two minutes left.
"It was a pretty easy decision with two timeouts," Harbaugh said. "I felt like we could get the ball back at worst with 1:40. We got it back in front of the two-minute warning, which is big."
It put the ball back in Flacco's hands with plenty of time, and Smith described the emotions out there – or rather, the lack thereof. "Honestly, it wasn't that emotional," he said. Flacco's calmness "makes it so much easier."
Lest we forget, a huge storyline heading into this matchup was the Ravens' struggles with winning on the road last year. They only won two of their eight road matchups in 2013, and one of those losses came in Cleveland.
"No one is going to confuse that for a good win, but that's the type of game the Ravens lost countless times last season," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jon Meoli.
"This was the type of win that separates a playoff season from a non-playoff season," added Sun colleague Childs Walker. "The Ravens overcame a late-game deficit on the road and a disheartening injury to Dennis Pitta, all against the backdrop of continued national scrutiny over their handling of the Ray Rice situation. Though questions remain about the secondary and other facets, their resolve was impressive."
Win Comes At A Cost
The road victory at a hostile FirstEnergy Stadium was huge for the Ravens, but the team will be feeling the effect soon enough.
"This one came at a huge cost," wrote Jeff Zrebiec.
Of course Zrebiec is referring to the injury of Pitta, and also the reported injuries to outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (groin), defensive lineman Chis Canty (knee), left tackle Eugene Monroe and Jimmy Smith. Per Zrebiec, Suggs and Canty left the game early, and Monroe and Smith hobbled out of the locker room after the game. On top of that, there are still questions surrounding cornerback Lardarius Webb (back).
"But the Ravens will worry about those things in the days ahead," Zrebiec wrote. "On Sunday, they celebrated a victory they badly needed."
After the game, Suggs and Canty downplayed their injuries.
"I'm alright," Suggs said, per The Sun's Aaron Wilson. "We're going to check it out and find out what's going on, but I'm going to be alright."
"Just a little cramp," Canty added. "It just kind of jumped up on me."
As for Monroe, Wilson said he was "clearly hampered" by the knee injury that had bothered him all week in practice.
"You got to tough it out no matter what's going on," Monroe told Wilson. "I was able to keep grinding."
Wilson: Webb Didn't Look Ready In First Game
Webb finally made his 2014 football debut Sunday in Cleveland, but it wasn't the "sterling return" he envisioned.
"Webb allowed receptions in limited action and had trouble matching receivers' speed in the open field," wrote Wilson. "Webb eventually was pulled from the game by Coach John Harbaugh."
"He] still looked like his lower-back injury was bothering him in his first game of the season,” added Hensley. “Even though he didn't start and he played limited snaps, Webb [looked like he could barely move."
In limited action, Webb finished with one tackle, and was also in on a punt return, but it went to the back of the end zone for a touchback.
Pitta's Season & Career In Jeopardy?
The word on Pitta, according to Wilson's reports, is that he dislocated his hip. The initial diagnosis, after being transported a local hospital for X-rays and treatment, revealed no fracture, which would require surgery.
How significant is it that Pitta suffered another injury to the same hip he dislocated and fractured last summer?
"A second fracture and dislocation to the same hip is relatively rare," Dr. David Chao, a former San Diego Chargers team doctor who is an orthopedic surgical specialist but doesn't treat Pitta, told Wilson. "This is a significant trauma. It's very concerning. It doesn’t bode well for his career. Even to do this one time is unusual, but twice is very bad.
"What may be going on is he doesn't have enough bone back there to support the hip, which is a ball-and-socket joint. The emergency right now is making sure that he has enough blood getting to the joint. Otherwise, there's a chance you develop avascular necrosis in the hip. That's what ended Bo Jackson's career."
Good Problem At Running Back
Starter Bernard Pierce has a good chance to be back next week, says Harbaugh.
So the question going forward will be who should get the ball most, in light of how well he and backups Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro have played when given opportunities. Rookie Taliaferro took people outside the Ravens' walls by surprise with his touchdown and 91-yard outing on just 18 carries.
"Sure, trying to figure out the Ravens' featured back each week is a nightmare for fantasy owners. As far as the Ravens' needs, this has been the best-case scenario because all three running backs have been so productive," Hensley wrote. "The Ravens now have confidence that Pierce, Taliaferro or Justin Forsett can carry the load when called upon. They've seen it against the Bengals, Steelers and Browns.
"In all likelihood, Pierce remains the Ravens' starter when he returns. But that doesn't mean he finishes the game for the Ravens. Ravens coach John Harbaugh previously said he will go with the hotter back."
Manziel Trickeration Should Have Been Flagged For Deception
Browns fans weren't happy with rookie running back Terrance West for his illegal shift that negated the Browns' 39-yard trick play to quarterback Johnny Manziel. But former respected NFL official and CBS expert Mike Carey told the broadcast team that the play should have drawn a flag regardless of West's mistake.
The Browns violated Rule 12, Section 3, Article 1(k) of the rulebook because it qualifies as a "hideout" play. Carey says Manziel couldn't be within five yards of the sideline, and he had to have his shoulders parallel with the line of scrimmage.
Both were clearly violated here:
Here is the full description of the guidelines from the rule book:
"Using entering substitutes, legally returning players, substitutes on sidelines, or withdrawn players to confuse opponents, including lingering by players leaving the field after being replaced by a substitute and an offensive player lining up or going in motion less than five yards from the sideline in front of his team's designated bench area.
However, an offensive player is permitted to line up less than five yards from the sidelines on the same side as his team's player bench, provided he is not in front of the designated bench area.*" *
Harbs' Challenge Should Have Worked
It didn't end up having a huge effect on the outcome of the game, but Carey said the refs got another call wrong too.
Harbaugh challenged the ruling that Flacco didn't break the plane of the end zone on a quarterback sneak in the third quarter, but the ruling stood after review.
Carey said the call should have been overturned based off this screen grab:
Taliaferro ran it in for the score on the next play, but in a tight game, the timeout that the Ravens were charged for the challenge could have come back and hurt them.
Emotional Ray Lewis Responds To Ravens Controversy
With controversy swirling on how Ravens brass has handled the Ray Rice situation, former Ravens linebacker and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis got emotional while speaking of the integrity of General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Owner Steve Bisciotti.
"This is one of those situations that – it's family. I've spent 17 years of my career at this one place. I've known Ozzie Newsome now over 19 years of my career, of my life. That's half of my life. I've known Steve Bisciotti over 15 years of my life. And each one of those men – bottom line – has never lied to me, once. They've given me an opportunity at life to change not only my life but my family's life as well as my kids' life. If this incident, what we're dealing with, if they could do this all over again, they would."
- "Sensing his team needed a spark Terrell Suggs entered pre-game warmups against Pittsburgh not with his Ravens helmet but a gladiator helmet," wrote Brian Jackson. "The crowd at M&T Bank stadium loved it. The No Fun League NFL thought otherwise. The outside linebacker was fined $5,512 by the league for a uniform violation." [CSNBaltimore.com]
- Stock watch on safety Matt Elam … "Falling," wrote Hensley. "The first-round pick had the worst game of his short career, getting beaten deep and missing tackles. Elam allowed passes of 43 and 70 yards. It was a recurring problem for the entire secondary, from Asa Jackson to Chykie Brown to Darian Stewart."
- Yes, the Cincinnati Bengals are the best team in football. [USA Today]
- Despite the win over the Browns, the Ravens defense has big problems. [The Baltimore Sun]