How the Last Loss to the Browns Was a Turning Point for Ravens

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The last time the Ravens lost a football game, Head Coach John Harbaugh walked into the locker room following a 40-25 defeat to the Cleveland Browns and delivered a hard-hitting message.

The Ravens were 2-2 and had surrendered more than 500 yards in two consecutive defeats.

"I remember John said it in the locker room – 'Right now, we're just not a very good team.' That was just the brutally honest truth," right guard Marshal Yanda said.

"We had a long way to go, we had to improve. We had to change some things, roll in some different guys. I feel we've stepped up to the challenge. That's the last game we've lost. Speaks volumes for what we've done as a team."

Winning 10 straight and storming to the NFL's best record (12-2) since that defeat, the Ravens have every reason to be stoked for Sunday's rematch against the Browns. A victory would clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC for the Ravens, securing a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the conference playoffs.

The stakes are high Sunday for Baltimore, but even if they weren't, the Ravens haven't forgotten the Week 4 loss to the Browns. It was a turning point of the season, sparking personnel and tactical changes that helped mold them into Super Bowl contenders.

The Ravens have shown their opponents for 10 straight games what kind of team they are, and they want to show Cleveland on Sunday. Lamar Jackson hates losing so much, he remembers defeats dating back to his days in Pee Wee football. Of course, Jackson remembers losing to the Browns in September.

"Any loss would annoy me, bother me, it definitely did," Jackson said. "That was the last loss we had. We definitely want to come and get a victory. We know they want to sweep us. We're the Ravens. We're having so much success this year. That's what everybody wants to do. Beat us."

This hasn't been the season the Browns (6-8) expected after being picked by many to win the AFC North. The Ravens have already clinched the division for the second straight year, while the Browns' playoff hopes are flickering.

Yet, the Browns have a multitude of offensive weapons including running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and quarterback Baker Mayfield. Chubb shredded the Ravens for 165 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in September, including an 88-yard run to reach the end zone untouched.

Cleveland has the offensive firepower to give any team trouble, something Harbaugh is well aware of, despite the Ravens' success since the last time he saw Cleveland.

"As you guys have pointed out two different times, [the Browns] scorched us last game," Harbaugh said during his Wednesday press conference. "So, we have to stop these guys before we start talking about who deserves credit for anything."

The defense that Baltimore will bring to Cleveland on Sunday looks far different than what the Browns saw in September. Within days of losing to Cleveland, the Ravens signed two inside linebackers who have helped stabilize the run defense – Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort. They have also added three physical defensive linemen since the Cleveland game – Jihad Ward, Domata Peko and Justin Ellis. Trading for Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters in October, along with the return of cornerback Jimmy Smith from an early-season knee injury, has given Baltimore the league's deepest secondary.

Defensive tackle Brandon Williams, Peters, Smith, Bynes, Fort, Ward, Peko and Ellis weren't on the field when the Ravens were beaten by Cleveland in September, and Bynes is looking forward to making a difference. He remembers the mood surrounding the Ravens when he signed 10 weeks ago.

Some fans were panicking, and not everyone outside the locker room believed Baltimore was headed for a special season. However, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Matthew Judon said the Ravens never lost faith in each other, and that new players on defense helped.

"Shout out to the GM [Eric DeCosta] and upstairs for making those moves," Judo said. "They saw flaws or little weaknesses that we had and they righted the ship. They got some people in here that helped us. There are some people that are Ravens that haven't lost yet, and we want to continue that trend.

"The people that were here through those two losses, those two long weeks ...we heard all the talk and all the chit-chatter [about] how bad we were. We just gelled together as a team. I think that's what helped us and sparked this run that we're on right now.

Bynes wasn't overwhelmed when he was placed in the starting lineup just a week after being on the street as a free agent. The Ravens haven't lost since Bynes signed, largely because they have approached every week with an unwavering focus since that Cleveland game.

The Ravens have the NFL's top-ranked defense since Week 4, and now come in at No. 6 in total defense. After that Cleveland game, they were ranked No. 27.

"I said it when I first came here, people outside were acting like we were 0-4, like the season was over," Bynes said. "It's not about how you start, it's how you finish. Right now, we're in a great position. We're looking for more."

Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, who has a career-high five sacks, is one of many Ravens who have stepped up since that loss to Cleveland. He's looking forward to getting another crack at the Browns.

"We felt like that was below what we're capable of," Bowser said. "The film showed it. You can come up with any excuses you want to, but we have goals in mind for this team, a place we're trying to get to. We want to be in Miami (for the Super Bowl). That game showed we had to pick it up. Now, we have to keep it going."

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