Five thoughts on the Ravens' 23-16 win over the Cleveland Browns Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ravens Don't Fall Into Trap
Early on, it was apparent this would be a night to ask only one question: Do the Ravens win or not? They didn't bring their "A" game. They weren't going to wow a national TV audience with style points. They seemed to be paying the price for playing four games in 17 days, most recently an exhausting nail-biter against the New England Patriots. Not even the mojo of the purple and black uniforms helped. It was just one of those blah nights. Rain fell steadily. Some of the biggest cheers were for a) the returning regular refs, b) shots of the Orioles on the video board, and c) Terrell Suggs dancing on the bench. The game seemed almost secondary at times. In other words, it was a trap game. And the winless Browns, to their credit, played smart and tough, stuffing the box and forcing the Ravens into a one-dimensional attack while making enough plays to compete to the end. The stage was set for a surprise. But the Ravens didn't let it happen. The answer to the big question was yes, they did find a way to win a game they will forget almost instantly.
Can't Over-Emphasize Flacco's Success
Huge performances are becoming commonplace for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who passed for 356 yards Thursday night. It is impossible to over-emphasize how well he is playing. His statistics speak volumes and have him on course for his inaugural Pro Bowl appearance, but really, you have to see the games to understand the level he is reaching. He is repeatedly making bullet throws into tight spaces, passes that leave football insiders saying, "Are you kidding me?" Anquan Boldin, who was superb Thursday night with nine catches, was shaking his head in the locker room after the game. "I've never played with a quarterback with a stronger arm," Boldin said. "He is putting some throws into places you can't believe. But he's doing it all the time. It's impressive."
Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees is probably going to catch some heat for not bringing enough heat of his own, giving rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden enough time to throw for 320 yards and almost take the game into overtime at the end. But Pees is in a tough spot. If he brings a heavy blitz, it leaves the Ravens' pass defenders in one-on-one coverage, and opposing quarterbacks, Weeden included, are taking full advantage of that, mostly against Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith. So Pees knows he needs to protect those guys, but when he does and calls off the blitzes, asking his defensive front to generate the rush, the defense isn't producing nearly enough pressure. Figuring out this issue is Pees' challenge now. It's a minor miracle the Ravens are 3-1 while allowing 390 yards per game, but that's a testament to having a strong offense and star defensive players who know when to rise to a game-deciding occasion.
Officiating A Thing Of Beauty
Here's something I thought I would never write: The refereeing was a thing of beauty. But it was. From the very beginning. Did the returning regular refs miss some calls? Possibly. That last personal foul call on Paul Kruger, which gave the Browns a second chance to tie the game at the end, was clearly a soccer-like flop by the other side. But those things happen and you have to live with them. What was more important was the regular refs, led by Gene Steratore, were in complete command. Their authority was unquestioned, as was their knowledge of the rulebook. The game moved briskly, with few hiccups. When the headlines fade and we look back, it will stand as a remarkable travesty that the league allowed subpar, overmatched officials onto the field. The performance of the highly professional regular refs Thursday night certainly underscored that. Wise Not To Complain About Short Turnaround
The Ravens were wise not to play the "it's hard to play on Thursday night" card too much. The New York Giants put on a magnificent show last Thursday night, destroying the Carolina Panthers – on the road, no less. Teams can play well in spite of the limited game prep time that the Thursday night schedule demands. At least the Ravens were able to play at home last Sunday and then again on Thursday. Yes, that they played on Sunday night, as opposed to the afternoon, was more of a squeeze, but the Browns had to travel on Wednesday, so both sides had issues. And in the end, none of that matters. You have to play, no matter the circumstances, and there are no excuses if you don't win. The Ravens didn't play especially well, allowing a winless team to hang around all night. But as Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said, "Sometimes you're going to win and it's not going to look great." The Ravens did that Thursday night, and while there is much to dissect, the win is worth just as much as last Sunday's thriller.