Five thoughts on the Ravens' 12-9 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium:
The Ravens had a chance to take command early. Ominously, they couldn't take advantage due to their own mistakes. They still had several chances to win late on a day when they didn't come close to bringing their "A" game offensively. But their offense couldn't produce a decisive play against a Cleveland defense that played far better than its No. 25 league ranking, and meanwhile, Baker Mayfield made just enough plays to set up a game-winning field goal. Credit the Browns for pulling off the upset – they deserved to win. But was it an opportunity lost for the Ravens? Oh, boy, a big one. Even an ugly win would have enabled them to build on the momentum they generated in Pittsburgh, and also would have widened their margin for error down the line, which could come in handy given the slate of tough games they're facing. It's just one game, one result, but the loss puts them back in the position of having to prove their mettle as a playoff contender. Not what they had in mind.
If you look at the final numbers, you wouldn't think the offense had a rough day. It generated 410 yards and 25 first downs, healthy totals. But they don't tell the whole story by any means. Cleveland's defense got the best of the Ravens' offense with an energetic and opportunistic performance. The Ravens didn't help themselves by leaning too heavily on the passing game – Joe Flacco dropped back 59 times out of 84 snaps – on a day when the ground game performed well, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. There also were way too many mistakes, starting with a calamitous red-zone interception from Flacco in the second quarter. Two drops by receiver Michael Crabtree also cost the team points early, and Crabtree had his hands on a potential game-winning touchdown late. "I put that on me," Crabtree said. But as the game wore on, Cleveland's pass rush had more and more success collapsing the pocket on Flacco, and Baltimore's receivers had more and more trouble getting open. (John Brown was targeted 14 times but caught just four passes.) The offense converted just four of 16 third downs as a result, and those numbers say the most about how the game unfolded.
It's hard to hang too much of this result on the defense when the offense was so mistake-prone and even the special teams had issues when a Justin Tucker field goal was blocked near halftime -- another way in which Baltimore points came off the board. Bottom line, the defense made a bunch of plays, sacked Mayfield five times, had similarly strong third down numbers (Cleveland was 6 for 19) and yet again didn't give up a touchdown after halftime – still hasn't given one up all year. Nonetheless, the defense will not frame this performance. Mayfield, no ordinary rookie, passed for 342 yards, and the Browns rushed for 112, moving the pile at several key moments. Most importantly, when the game boiled down to who, if anyone, would yield in overtime, it was the Ravens' defense that allowed a 65-yard drive to set up Greg Joseph's winning field goal. For a defense that has had issues in the past with finishing, it was a throwback no one wanted to experience.
Since I seem to be counting ways this game slipped away, let's not forget about two key penalties that cost the Ravens dearly. The Browns and their fans don't want to hear complaining on this front because Cleveland was flagged 10 times for 66 yards while the Ravens were flagged just four times for 41 yards, and at one point, the penalty count was 9-0, Cleveland. But the Ravens' penalties were huge. On the first, with the Browns ahead, 9-6, late in the fourth quarter, Tim White returned a punt 25 yards to the Cleveland 42, presenting the offense with a golden scoring opportunity. It was negated by an illegal block-in-the-back call on Kenny Young that pushed the ball back 24 yards. The drive still ended with a game-tying Tucker field goal, but you can't help wondering what might have happened without the penalty. Even more disastrous was an illegal block flag on receiver Chris Moore that negated an Alex Collins run to the Cleveland 36 in overtime. The Ravens were in Tucker's range, in position to win, without that flag—which they hated. "Kind of a bogus call," said Flacco, who seldom utters a word about the officiating. Maybe it was a bit ticky-tack, but all you can do these days is hope the inevitable flags don't kill you, and well, the Ravens didn't get lucky.
Short takes: The CBS broadcast crew reported that Crabtree has more drops than any receiver in the NFL since 2015 other than Denver's Demaryius Thomas ... John Brown already has more receiving yards this season (338) than he had all last season (299) … The Ravens can't like that White fumbled a punt return in the second quarter. Kenny Young recovered it, but remember, White replaced Janarion Grant after Grant fumbled twice in three weeks … After going 1-2 on the road against their AFC North opponents, the Ravens probably need to sweep all three at home later this season to give themselves a real shot at winning the division … Hard to believe the Ravens are 3-2 when they've outscored their opponents 55-15 after halftime.
Check out the best shots from Sunday's Week 5 game in Cleveland.