Five thoughts on the Ravens' 33-27 win over the Cleveland Browns Monday night at FirstEnergy Stadium:
Ravens Invent Jaw-Dropping Way To Win
After inventing all sorts of ways to lose this season, the Ravens finally invented a way to win. And what a crazy, jaw-dropping, what-in-the-world happened-there way it was. I don't know how many viewers around the country hung on to the end of this matchup of losing teams, but those who did saw a staggering swing of the football fates. Minutes earlier, the Ravens had the game in hand. Now, after a series of Baltimore gaffes, the Browns were lined up to kick a winning field goal. The loss would have reinforced the idea that the Ravens just aren't good enough to close out tight games this year, but this time, the story took a turn. Second-year Brent Urban, in his NFL debut, put up his hand and blocked the kick, and Will Hill scooped up the loose ball and raced 64 yards down the sideline to score the winning touchdown as time ran out. In other words: a win became a loss, then becomes a win again. Matt Schaub called it "surreal." Elvis Dumveril called it "magical." Urban said he was "ecstatic." The Ravens proved wrong the idea that you can't celebrate too hard when you win a game to improve to 4-7. They were pumped.
**Schaub Played A Lot Like Flacco
In his first game as Joe Flacco's replacement, Matt Schaub did a lot of things right and a few big things wrong. Honestly, his outing was similar to many of Flacco's in 2015. He spread the ball around, made a lot of big throws, moved the chains and got the Ravens offense into the end zone a couple of times. "He played winning football," Head Coach John Harbaugh asserted. But he also made a pair of huge mistakes that, frankly, were reminiscent of mistakes Flacco often made this year: a pick-six that cost the Ravens the lead in the third quarter, and then another interception, in the final minutes, that seemed destined to lose the game until the final play. In Schaub's defense, he hadn't thrown a regular-season pass in a year and hadn't made a start in 23 months, and "I don't know that he saw everything all the time" as a result, Harbaugh said. But after he threw the pick-six, he responded nicely, leading a touchdown drive that put the Ravens ahead again. And he walked off the field as the winner, having probably performed better than many people expected.
Banged-Up Ravens Took Advantage
Here was a thumbnail sketch of the Ravens offense: a backup center snapping the ball to a backup quarterback who handed to backup running backs and threw to receivers promoted to the first team only because of injuries. Not exactly a blueprint for success. So it wasn't a shock when the Ravens generated just five first downs in the first half and failed to convert a single third-down chance in the first 43 minutes. But in the end, the offense had a mostly positive night. We've covered Schaub's performance, but there's more. The line, featuring three reserves in starting roles, gave Schaub time to maneuver. Buck Allen and Terrance West ran the ball effectively. In fact, I wish they had run it more. Receivers such as Kamar Aiken and Chris Givens made big plays. Yes, Cleveland's defense is among the league's worst, so there were chances to make things happen, but the Ravens' banged-up unit did a nice job of taking advantage.
Late Defensive Breakdown Should Never Happen
Like Schaub and the offense, the defense had an up-and-down night. It had a tough time in the first half, allowing three long scoring drives and 15 first downs as Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown reprised his big-stat performance from the first game between the teams earlier this season. The second half was better – for a while. The defense beat up the Browns, knocked McCown out of the game and kept Cleveland out of the end zone. All it needed to do to lock up the win was keep third-team quarterback Austin Davis from producing a late game-tying touchdown. But receivers were open, Will Hill blew a coverage and the Browns tied the game – a horrible lapse. "We have to quit giving up free plays," Harbaugh said. It gets forgotten because of the win, but that late Cleveland rally should never happen.
Special Teams Unit Sensational
It's been a rough year for the Ravens defense and also for the offense at times, but their special-team units are nothing short of sensational in 2015. They made all the difference in this game. Kaelin Clay's 82-yard punt return for a touchdown got the Ravens on the board early, and Urban's dramatic final play gave the Ravens a blocked field goal or extra point try in five straight games. "Is that a record?" Harbaugh asked. No one knew in the wild minutes after the game, but regardless, the block streak is emblematic of what the Ravens are doing in kick and punt situations. Specialists Justin Tucker and Sam Koch are among the game's best. Baltimore ranks among the league leaders in many coverage and return categories. The one thing they hadn't done in 2015 was reach the end zone on a return, and Clay checked that off the list with a blazing runback down the right sideline. The Ravens have lacked playmaking on offense and defense this season, but not on their special teams.