Five thoughts on the Ravens' 25-20 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium:
Ravens' Comeback A Real Accomplishment
Coming in, the Ravens had a 14-2 record against Cleveland under Head Coach John Harbaugh, leading to presumptions about how the game should unfold. But it was Cleveland's home opener under a new head coach whom the Ravens respect, and with 17 rookies, the Browns are young and fast. In other words, it was a dangerous game. Sure enough, the Browns opened with a stunning flurry that left the Ravens 20 points behind before the first quarter ended. Suddenly, the Ravens were at an early-season crossroads: Would they wilt and get hammered or find their footing and come back? They came back with a methodical hum, the defense tightening up, the offense moving better as the game progressed. "I saw a lot of composure," receiver Mike Wallace said. Neither the offense nor the defense changed a single X or O; they just started playing better. The Ravens didn't allow a point in the final 45 minutes, pulled within one early in the third quarter, took the lead early in the fourth and held on for an impressive win. The young Browns helped with some mistakes, including a key penalty in the final seconds, but when you come from 20 points down to win on the road, you've really accomplished something.
Biggest Play Of Game May Have Been On Taunting Penalty
In a game of big plays, the biggest, quite possibly, was a taunting penalty on Cleveland receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. in the final seconds. The Browns, down by five, had driven from their end to the red zone when Pryor reeled in a completion from quarterback Josh McCown that put the ball on the 10. There were under 20 seconds to play. It appeared the Browns would have several chances to win. But Pryor was flagged for tossing the ball at Ravens safety Lardarius Webb, who covered him on the catch, and hitting him with it. The penalty offset a Baltimore penalty also called on the play, resulting in the ball returning to the 29. The Ravens' C.J. Mosley intercepted a pass on the next play, sealing the game. The fans were furious about the flag because Pryor didn't appear to intentionally hit Webb. It certainly didn't appear to reach the bar of what used to be called taunting, "but they're calling that stuff much tighter now so you never know," Webb said. He added that he was "in a zone" and didn't know if Pryor said anything to him along with hitting him with the ball. "I honestly don't know what happened. But it was a great call!" Webb said with a smile.
Ravens' Special Teams Play Changes Outcome
The Ravens' special teams probably made the difference. Lawrence Guy blocked an extra point that would have given the Browns a 21-0 lead, and Tavon Young returned it for a two-point conversion. That three-point swing was huge in the end. Justin Tucker was money, nailing field goals of 52, 49 and 41, yards, as opposed to Cleveland's Patrick Murray, who missed a 53-yarder and had an extra point blocked. And returner Devin Hester strutted his stuff. His 48-yard kickoff return gave the Ravens a chance to get back in the game early. (They didn't take advantage.) He later returned another kickoff 32 yards, and on his first punt return in purple, shook his early pursuit with an Allen Iverson-worthy double-move and returned the ball 15 yards. It all bodes well for Hester's game down the line. He looks healthy and that rounds out the Ravens special teams, which are flying high.
Three Young Pass Rushers Help Beat Up Josh McCown
The Ravens gave up 197 yards of offense in the first quarter, which is more than they gave up in four quarters the week before. Given how McCown torched them a year ago, it seemed another long day was in the offing. But the secondary stopped giving up big plays, the interior plugged holes and the Browns ended up generating less yardage in the last three quarters combined than they did in the first. In a key aspect of the game, the Ravens battered McCown, reducing his effectiveness. Worried about their pass rush coming in, the Ravens saw three young players – Timmy Jernigan, Brent Urban and rookie Michael Pierce – record sacks. Pierce was a force, repeatedly pushing the pocket in. If this game is any measure, the Ravens have found themselves another undrafted free-agent gem.
Ravens Go Back In Time With Pitta-Flacco Connection
The last time Dennis Pitta played in Cleveland, he suffered a hip fracture that many thought might end his career. But in his return, now healthy, he caught nine passes for 102 yards Sunday. It was almost like going back in time, with Joe Flacco repeatedly finding him in key situations and using him to move the chains. Flacco found others receivers too. After some early stumbles in the passing game, the quarterback said he encouraged Offensive Coordinator Marc Trestman to start throwing downfield more. That opened things up as Flacco hit Steve Smith Sr., Wallace, Crocket Gillmore and Pitta for "chunk" gains. It ended up being a big day for the passing game, and for the second week in a row, the Ravens used their running game as a late-game hammer, running the clock down.
I'm pretty sure we already have our winner in the "worst quarter of the 2016 season" contest. In Sunday's first quarter, the defense was gashed for an 85-yard touchdown run and allowed a handful of long completions, Flacco was intercepted and rookie receiver Chris Moore dropped a touchdown pass. Whew … The Browns held a moment of silence for Clarence Brooks, the longtime Ravens assistant coach who died Saturday. It was a nice gesture, and several Ravens said they were highly emotional when the game began, perhaps even too emotional … The Ravens are 2-0 for the first time since 2009.