John Harbaugh received an email from Director of Player Engagement O.J. Brigance Sunday morning.
The email read, "The Ravens are forged by adversity."
Harbaugh had no idea what kind of adversity his team would have to face – and overcome – in Saturday's 25-20 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
In an emotional weekend that saw the passing of long-time assistant coach Clarence Brooks, the Ravens found a way to pull off a road victory against a division rival that seemed all-but-impossible early in the game. The Ravens fought back from a 20-0 deficit to score 25 unanswered points for the second-biggest comeback in franchise history.
"Nobody cracked, nobody panicked, nobody pointed the finger," Harbaugh said. "Guys got mad, sure, they should, but we started playing better football."
Nothing went right for the Ravens in the first 10 minutes, 20 seconds.
Quarterback Joe Flacco threw an interception right into the chest of cornerback Joe Haden. Rookie receiver Chris Moore dropped a wide-open catch that would have likely been a touchdown. Cornerback Shareece Wright missed tackles and got beat deep. The defense gave up an 85-yard touchdown run to Browns running back Isaiah Crowell.
Before the Ravens even crossed the 50-yard line, they trailed by three touchdowns in front of a fired-up Cleveland crowd watching their team's home opener.
"We had to settle down," safety Eric Weddle said. "We didn't waver. That's the great thing about this – it shows signs of a great team when we battle back, play four quarters and end up winning the game."
After the Browns' third touchdown, the process of turning the game around started when Lawrence Guy blocked an extra point and Tavon Young returned it for two points.
Check out the best photos from Cleveland as the Ravens battle the Browns!
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who made the move from the booth to the sideline this year, gathered his unit together and challenged them to put the early miscues behind them.
"He really wasn't that fired up," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "He told us to stay calm, let the game come to us. When you go down like that, you feel like you have to go make extra plays. … We just had to stay calm and play our game."
"At the end of the day, we got together and said, 'We're going to keep fighting,'" Wright added. "It was a lot of football left. We played our worst football early in the game and still had a chance to win."
As the defense started to shut down the Browns, the offense found its rhythm. Quarterback Joe Flacco and tight end Dennis Pitta struck up their old chemistry for a 102-yard receiving game. Flacco hit Steve Smith Sr. for a big play and connected with Mike Wallace for a pair of touchdowns.
"We got guys who can take the heat, can stand in the kitchen in the fire," Wallace said. "I'll follow these guys anywhere because I know the type of men we have around here. …We did a great job of keeping our composure."
Wallace pointed to Flacco for keeping the offense calm despite the significant deficit. Flacco made his mistakes – he tossed a pair of interceptions – but he also led the Ravens on five scoring drives and finished the game with 302 passing yards.
"I honestly never have been around anybody as cool as Joe," Wallace said. "Nothing bothers him. Just the way he reacts to situations is like, 'Whatever.' We're down 20 to nothing, 'Whatever.' It's not really 'whatever,' but that's just the way he makes you think. It's no problem."
Flacco gave the credit back to those around him.
"I couldn't be more proud of the group of guys," Flacco said. "What a bunch of friggin' men. Yeah, do you want to play that kind of game? It wasn't pretty. We weren't perfect. We weren't great.
"Do you want to play that kind of game in September? Not necessarily. But every single game in January and February – where we hope to be – is going to be like that. There are going to be tough situations and that's why over the years, these games have just taken us to that next level."
Flacco and Harbaugh both talked about how winning tough games early in the season can pay dividends down the stretch. The Ravens have developed an identity during Harbaugh and Flacco's tenures of being a team that can win close, ugly games, and also tends to play its best football late in the season.
"When we get to those [late-season] games, we don't blink," Flacco said. "We've already been through it four, five, six times in September, October and November. That's why we can be so good late in the year."
The victories against Cleveland and last week against Buffalo show the Ravens have been able to win close games this year. That wasn't the case last season, and it was part of the team's undoing in their 5-11 season.
Harbaugh has preached all summer about playing winning football, and he's seen that from his group on their way to starting the year 2-0.
"I couldn't be more proud of these players and coaches," Harbaugh said.