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The Breakdown: Eisenberg's Five Thoughts on Loss in Cleveland

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley (2) looks to pass during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, December 12, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio.

Five thoughts on the Ravens' 24-22 loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium:

A very interesting afternoon. By the middle of the second quarter, the Ravens were down, 17-0, and Lamar Jackson and Calais Campbell were out of the game with injuries. It felt like more than just one game was going down the drain; possibly the season, too. But what happened after that was, yes, interesting. The defense, a unit brought to its knees by injuries, didn't allow another point. And with the backup quarterback, Tyler Huntley, running the offense, a unit that had looked quite lost came alive and kept getting better. The comeback fell just short and the loss stings, for sure; losers of two straight games and four of their last seven, the Ravens are no longer a lock to make the playoffs after going 5-1 to start the season. But the resilience they showed after they seemingly hit bottom was impressive. Their schedule only gets harder from here on, but the fight they showed Sunday bodes well for the likelihood of them being a tough out against any opponent, no matter how much adversity they're facing. You can do a lot with that.

It was almost enough to make you laugh if it weren't so sad. In a year when injuries have decimated the Ravens' roster, the one player who'd avoided getting hurt was Jackson, the quarterback so many experts figured would get hurt because of how he played. When he finally went out with a sprained ankle Sunday – while passing, by the way, not running – it felt like the last and biggest straw of the injury saga. And maybe it is, depending on how long he is sidelined; the Ravens aren't better off longterm without their biggest star. But having said that, Huntley was every bit as effective Sunday as Jackson on a good day, completing 27 of 38 passes for 270 yards, rushing for 45 yards and leading four scoring drives. With his poise, legs and arm, Huntley gave the Ravens a chance to win a game they had no business winning – a game that had gotten away from them as the offense looked paralyzed early with Jackson. The fact that Huntley lost two fumbles dulls some of the shine; the Ravens might have won if, say, he'd only lost one. Overall, though, Huntley looked like a quarterback just figuring out that his skillset works pretty darn well in the NFL. Onward and upward.

One storyline coming in was finding out if cornerback Marlon Humphrey's season-ending injury finally pushed the Ravens' defense beyond what it could endure. The answer was yes, it seemed, when the Browns rolled to 17-0 lead as Campbell's exit with a thigh injury only made matters worse. After that rocky start, though, the defense gathered itself and played well enough to win. It didn't happen like the organization drew it up back in the summer, that's for sure. Rookie safety Brandon Stephens led the team with six solo tackles and eight overall, and cornerback Chris Westry, only on the field because so many other guys got hurt, also had six solo tackles. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield was sharp early but tailed off, throwing for just 47 yards in the second half. Meanwhile, running back Nick Chubb had more than twice as many carries (17) as he did in the first game between the teams, but only gained 59 yards. What you saw was a defense with pride, a defense that can stop the run, a defense with several young pieces doing well with unexpected opportunities. (I can't leave out cornerback Anthony Averett, whose second-quarter interception seemingly woke the Ravens up.) To be clear, the answer, in the end, was Humphrey's injury did NOT push the defense over a cliff.

After Rashod Bateman didn't catch a pass and was targeted just once in the Ravens' loss to the Steelers a week earlier, it seemed the rookie wide receiver was struggling to develop chemistry with Jackson. I don't know if that's a fair conclusion, but after Sunday's game, it seems eminently fair to conclude that he and Huntley ARE on the same page. Bateman had zero catches again when Jackson went out. In the final 37 minutes, he caught seven passes for 103 yards on eight targets. And he didn't just get open and reel in nice tosses. He made several contested catches, fought for the ball, and gained yardage after the catch. I'll go ahead say it: He looked like Anquan Boldin at times, and that's quite a compliment. Huntley's connection with Mark Andrews was the same as Jackson's, as Andrews caught 11 passes for 115 yards, in the process establishing a new franchise record for most receiving yardage in a season by a tight end. Marquise Brown was also in the mix with five receptions. But Bateman was a revelation. It's safe to say that, going forward, he should never have days of zero receptions on one target.

Short takes: I didn't have a problem with Head Coach John Harbaugh going for two after the Ravens scored a touchdown and trailed, 24-15, with 4:09 to play. It didn't work out, but the Ravens still had a chance to win after they pulled within two points and recovered an onside kick. Huntley's fumble in the red zone early in the third quarter was far more damaging to the Ravens' prospects … The Ravens weren't happy with how pass interference was called, mostly on them, and I'd say they had reason to be upset with several of the flags. Officiating didn't cost them the game, but the crew produced more head-scratchers than usual … Running back Devonta Freeman continued his surge, averaging a healthy 4.9 yards on 13 carries. The running game is trending up, quite a statement considering Patrick Ricard sat out the game with injuries, a major setback … The Ravens haven't scored a touchdown in the first quarter since Week 6 … You know the Browns were terrified of the possibility that Justin Tucker might get to try a game-winning field goal. He was dead-on perfect from 42, 50 and 55 yards, while the Browns' Chase McLaughlin missed from 40.

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