NFL Wire News

Ravens-Browns: What we learned


BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens appeared to be on the way to one of their most inexplicable and disappointing losses in the 18-year history of the franchise.

Quarterback Joe Flacco and the offense simply couldn’t get anything against the Cleveland Browns and any hopes for the playoffs appeared to be slipping away.

Flacco then made a passionate speech at halftime, imploring his teammates to dig down and find a way to win. Flacco then led the charge, putting together one of the most impressive performances of his career.

He threw a pair of touchdown passes in the fourth quarter to lead the Ravens to a 20-10 victory over the Browns, clinching a spot in the AFC playoffs Sunday.

After a disappointing loss to the Houston Texans last week, the Ravens (10-6) were able to sneak into the postseason because Kansas City beat San Diego, knocking the Chargers out of the sixth and final spot.

“The only thing I was thinking was, ‘man, they’re winning,'” Flacco said about the Chiefs. “They’re going to win the game. All we got to do is score a couple of points and we’re going to be in. That’s what I was thinking.”

Cleveland (7-9) lost its fifth straight game and has not won in Baltimore since 2007.

Flacco started slowly but came up big when it mattered most.

He completed 22 of 36 passes for 312 yards and set a career high with 27 touchdown passes on the season. Baltimore running back Justin Forsett had 119 yards on 17 carries.

Browns running back Terrance West, a Baltimore native, got the start and ran for 94 yards on 18 carries. He gave Cleveland a 10-3 lead on a 2-yard run with 3:29 left in the third quarter, when it looked like the Houston Texans or Ravens might step up to become the No. 6 seed in the AFC.

“I was a Ravens fan all my life and I know a lot of guys on that team,” West said. “I attended a lot of games here. This was the first time I ever played on the field and it was a great experience.”

Justin Tucker pulled the Ravens to within 10-6 with a 28-yard field goal with 10:37 left in the game. After the defense forced a 3-and-out, Flacco found Torrey Smith for a 53-yard gain and on the next play, he found Smith again in the middle of the end zone for the go-ahead score.

“When Joe is hot, he’s tough to handle,” Smith said. “And that’s on us at times to get him hot and our offensive line has to do a great job protecting him. When you get him hot, we’ve seen what he can do.”

On the Ravens next possession, Flacco found Kamar Aiken with a 2-yard touchdown pass for a 20-10 lead with 3:44 left in the game.

Cleveland rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, who was promoted from the practice squad just two days prior to the game, dealt with pressure all afternoon and was sacked four times. Shaw completed 14 of 28 passes for 177 yards, including a 49-yard pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel that set up his team’s only touchdown. He also had an interception late in the fourth quarter.

“I thought I battled pretty well,” Shaw said. “I felt pretty comfortable out there. I’m disappointed we couldn’t get it done.”

The Ravens have reached the postseason six of seven years under coach John Harbaugh.

“Just a gutsy effort — faith and guts,” Harbaugh said. “I think our guys kept the faith and fought right to the end. Credit to the Browns, they played a very good game, especially on defense.”

Baltimore’s offense sputtered throughout the first half despite having a short field on several possessions. The Ravens did manage a 25-yard field goal by Tucker with 8:05 left in the second quarter.

The Browns tied the game on the ensuing possession with a 38-yard field by Garrett Hartley and the score remained knotted at 3 at the half.

“It was certainly a disappointing way to finish,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said. “We had our chances and I thought we executed our plan well for three quarters. We just couldn’t finish.”

What the Ravens said:

“I think we can be very dangerous. We all know the history. It’s a 0-0 tournament right now. We’ve been on the road plenty of times in the playoffs as a group. We’re as dangerous as anybody else, at least. So, I’m excited to be coaching the Ravens in the playoffs, I can tell you that.” –Ravens coach John Harbaugh

What the Browns said:

“Mike Pettine is the right coach to lead this team. Early on, we really turned things around, but none of us wanted the season to end like this. Nobody is more upset about it this than he is. This is the guy that will make this program get better.” –Browns safety Jim Leonhard

What we learned about the Browns:

1. Cleveland still needs to find a long-term solution at quarterback. First-round pick Johnny Manziel struggled with limited reps and ended his season on the IR with a hamstring injury. Brian Hoyer, who started the majority of games, also struggled and was benched against Carolina. Hoyer could not play Week 17 against the Ravens because of a shoulder injury. He went 7-6 and is a free agent at the end of the season. Rookie quarterback Connor Shaw got the start against Baltimore and completed 14 of 28 passes for 177 yards with an interception. When asked whether Shaw will be in the mix as a starter for next season, Browns coach Mike Pettine replied: “That’s something we are going to sit down and go through all the postseason evaluations. He’s just that gritty, competitor type that finds ways to make plays.”

2. Cleveland will likely have to address several off-the-field issues that have been a distraction for the team this season. In the final regular season game against the Ravens, the Browns played without wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended by the team for missing a walk-through. Cornerback Justin Gilbert was inactive against the Ravens for reportedly being late for a team meeting the prior night. Quarterback Johnny Manziel made more headlines off the field than with his on-field performance. Many of the Browns’ struggles this year revolved around their inability to stop the run. The Browns had the league’s worst run defense, allowing 142.4 yards per game. On Sunday, the Ravens ran for 129 yards on 28 carries. Cleveland will need to bulk up the defensive line via free agency or the draft to help correct those problems.

What we learned about the Ravens:

1. Baltimore finished 10-6 and reached the playoffs, despite having 18 players placed on injured reserve throughout the season. The secondary was hit the hardest with six defensive backs knocked out for the season. The Ravens appear to thrive under adversity and that could serve them well with a challenging playoff road ahead. “It’s kind of the things that happen to us, if you don’t get down when things go bad, and you can handle the criticism –- you can come out on top,” Harbaugh said. “To me, that’s what football shows us every week.”

2. Even with some recent struggles, Baltimore had one of its most prolific offenses in its 18-year history. The Ravens shattered the franchise’s single-season records for points (409) and yards of offense (5,838). Quarterback Joe Flacco had his best year as a Raven with a career-high 3,986 yards and 27 touchdowns. He is confident the offense can play better entering the postseason. “It feels good,” Flacco said about making the postseason. “I remember sitting at home last year and it didn’t feel very good. So, that at least won’t be happening this year.” Wide receiver Torrey Smith also had a career-high 11 touchdown receptions while Steve Smith finished with over 1,000 receiving yards for the eighth time in his career. Running back Justin Forsett also had his best year as a primary back with a career-high 1,226 yards. “We started slow (today), but sometimes it’s not about how you start, it’s about how you finish,” Forsett said.

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