Five thoughts on the Ravens' 33-30 overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ravens Aren't A Playoff-Caliber Team Right Now
The Ravens have lost three other games in 2015, but none hurt as much as this one. And none of those other defeats said as much, either. Coming into this game, the Ravens could still rightfully believe they were a potentially dangerous team, just off to a poor start; that's what a primetime win in Pittsburgh does for your confidence. But when you can't hold a 12-point second-half lead at home against a 1-3 Cleveland team, it's time to face your grim reality. When your defense can't stop the Browns offense in the second half, and when "inexcusable" key penalties keep bringing you to your knees, and when you're winless at home, 1-4 overall and in last place heading into late October, it says things about you that you don't want to hear. Simply put, this isn't a contending-caliber team right now.
**Loss Is On The Defense
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said, "I'll put this (loss) on the defense." Who can argue? The Ravens offense put up enough points to win, even while dealing with an injury-riddled pass-catching corps. Yes, it hiccupped late, failing to push the ball into the end zone on a late drive, then opening overtime with an ugly three-and-out. But the Ravens never would have been in such a situation if the defense had held up. Boy, it didn't. Cleveland quarterback Josh McCown tore the secondary into so many little pieces, piling up 457 passing yards. Using his mobility to escape pressure, McCown completed 18 passes to receivers, 10 to tight ends and eight to backs. White shirts were wide open all day. No, it didn't help that cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Will Davis were lost with injuries by the start of the second half, putting the depth chart to a test it didn't pass; or that Elvis Dumervil also went out with an injury, leaving rookie Za'Darius Smith and special-teamer Albert McClellan as the rush ends on passing downs. But injuries are no excuse, and the Ravens didn't use it. Cleveland simply was better.
Ravens Beat Themselves With Penalties
For the first time in 2015, the Ravens didn't commit a turnover (or more than one) in a losing effort. So they didn't beat themselves that way. But they DID beat themselves with penalties, continuing a maddening season-long trend. Of the 12 flags they drew worth 98 yards, several stood out. When they still had control of the game, leading by 12 points in the third quarter, the defense sacked McCown on a third down in the red zone, seemingly blunting a drive. But Jason Babin drew a hands-to-the-face penalty, giving the Browns a first down. McCown scored two plays later. Then, as the Ravens tried to stop another drive, Babin and Za'Darius Smith each drew an offside penalty, one of which wiped out a sack. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh called the flags "inexcusable" and "a major problem" and surely something worse under his breath. Whatever is causing the flags – lack of fundamentals, lack of technique discipline, lack of thinking straight – they're a sign of a team with serious issues. The Ravens can't win consistently until they start cleaning up the mess.
Offense Needs Forsett, Smith To Return
Knowing the Ravens were without injured receiver Steve Smith Sr., the Browns put eight defenders "in the box," the idea being to slam the door on the run and dare quarterback Joe Flacco to beat them with his relatively untested pass-catching corps. Flacco made the Browns pay in the first quarter, picking Cleveland apart. Kamar Aiken caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 48-yarder. Jeremy Ross, making a nice debut, caught
two passes for 24 yards. Who needed Smith? As the game unfolded, though, Smith's absence was keenly felt. In the last three quarters and overtime, the Ravens' wideouts combined for just three receptions totaling 6 yards. Marlon Brown caught one pass for zero yards. That isn't going to cut it. The Ravens still moved the ball and scored because Justin Forsett had a huge game with 121 rushing yards and 49 receiving yards. Forsett got better as the game went on. If he hadn't gone out with an ankle injury on the Ravens' final drive after carrying the offense into the red zone, their chances of pushing the ball into the end zone – and winning in regulation – were much higher. But with Smith and Forsett on the bench, they settled for three. Needless to say, the Ravens need both back.
Short TakesHarbaugh had never lost to the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium … Ross had a strong debut as the kickoff and punt returner. His highlights included a 46-yard kickoff return and a 17-yard punt return … Sam Koch did an excellent job of punting toward the sidelines to keep Cleveland's Travis Benjamin from having a chance to break a return …The Ravens have struggled in short yardage situations, but on third and goal at the one in the third quarter, Flacco took the snap from center and easily cleared the goal line … The Ravens were up by eight and in position for a field goal just before halftime when an illegal block penalty on Darren Waller pushed them back, forcing Justin Tucker to try a 51-yard field goal attempt, which he missed. Those three points would have helped in the end, needless to say. It was another example of the penalty bug exacting a toll.