The Ravens' offensive problems were too much for them to overcome in Week 15.
Held without a touchdown for the first time all season, the Ravens dropped a frustrating 13-3 decision to the Browns on Saturday night, in a performance that will force Baltimore to take a hard look at its offense.
The Ravens have been held to 10 points or less in two of their last three games, and the defense was unable to save them in Cleveland. If the Ravens are to win the AFC North, reach the playoffs, or advance if they make the postseason, their offense must get better.
"We just have to start scoring touchdowns," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "You can't turn the ball over. You've got to run routes the right way to get between defenders. You can't fumble the ball. Our guys know that.
"It's not a good enough passing game right now across the board. Every area can get better at something. From an offensive standpoint, it's something that we've got to go to work on and we will."
When the Ravens had opportunities to score touchdowns, they squandered them.
On their first drive, they were stopped in the red zone on fourth-and-1 when Patrick Ricard was stopped short. In the third quarter, they gave away an opportunity to score at least three points when Tyler Huntley threw a red zone interception. Then, on their next series, wide receiver Demarcus Robinson lost a fumble that was recovered by the Browns, and the Ravens only reached Cleveland's territory once in the fourth quarter, on a drive that ended when Justin Tucker's 50-yard field goal attempt was blocked.
The Ravens had another strong performance on the ground, rushing for 198 yards and averaging 7.1 yards per carry. But Huntley was limited to 138 yards passing, completing 17 of 30 and throwing the costly interception. Baltimore's two longest passing plays both went for 19 yards, one to Mark Andrews and one to Devin Duvernay. Their inability to create explosive plays through the air has forced them to become a plodding offense that is having difficulty finishing those drives with touchdowns in the red zone.
The defeat wasted another strong rushing performance led by J.K. Dobbins (13 carries, 125 yards), who topped 100 yards for the second straight game. Dobbins' production is more impressive because he is still not at full strength, in only his second game back from arthroscopic knee surgery.
Dobbins' longest run was a 37-yard scamper that he said would have been a touchdown if were 100 percent. Instead he was caught from behind, and for Dobbins it was just another disappointing outcome.
"I don't have my speed right now but I'm working to get it," Dobbins said. "I would've scored a touchdown. I put that on me. That's what the team drafted me for, to make plays."
Perhaps the Ravens could have relied on their running game even more in key situations. They were rolling on the ground throughout the game, often lining up Ricard to help the offensive line overpower Cleveland's front seven.
Three plays before Huntley's interception, the Ravens trailed just 6-3 and had first-and-10 from the Cleveland 18-yard line. They were already well within Tucker's range for a field goal, and could have tried to power the ball the rest of the way with their run game. Instead, Huntley dropped back to pass on first down and was sacked for a four-yard loss, then after a four-yard gain by Dobbins, Huntley threw was intercepted by Denzel Ward, who made a nice play cutting in front of Desean Jackson.
Dobbins pointed out that no matter what plays are called, it's up to the players to execute.
"We've just got to make plays – me, the receivers, everybody," Dobbins said. "We're playmakers, we need to make plays for our quarterback. We can't leave him back there without nobody to make plays. Even if somebody's tightly covered, you've got to make a play."
Right guard Kevin Zeitler said it was disappointing to see the offense waste opportunities.
"We did the things that we do well well, but some of the things that bite us came back to bite us again," Zeitler said. "Our inability to score. Shout out to our defense. Shout out to the Browns for playing extremely well. We've got to sit down and figure this out. We need to get better real quick. It's on us. We shouldn't be rushing for 200 yards and only get three points."
The Ravens are not sure yet if Lamar Jackson (knee) will return after missing the past two games, when Baltimore hosts Atlanta in Week 16. But Zeitler knows the Ravens' offense must improve collectively even if Jackson returns.
"Lamar is a heck of a player, he can do things that no one else can," Zeitler said. "He's definitely part of the puzzle. But we believe in Tyler. Last year we were able to score a bunch with him back there. Everyone has a role. We've got to get this fixed."