November 2, 2008
Despite falling behind 27-13 to the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens maintained their composure. But how many Ravens fans were able to do the same? Who maintained faith that a rookie quarterback could stabilize the offense, on the road, inside hostile Cleveland Browns Stadium? Who believed that a decimated Ravens secondary could stop the bleeding and withstand the final twenty minutes to preserve a comeback win?
And yet that’s exactly what the Ravens were able to do Sunday against a Browns team that had been on a roll. The Ravens entered this contest on a two-game winning streak, and the Browns had won three out of their last four games since losing 28-10 to the Ravens in
When they surged to take a 14-point, third-quarter lead over the Ravens, it appeared they might coast to another victory. But the Ravens were able to turn the tide and come back for a road win.
Sure, it helped the Ravens that Romeo Crennel put his offense on ice in the second half after taking that lead. Despite the Ravens coming back with an immediate 79-yard scoring drive to pull within seven, at 27-20, with just 1:10 to go in the third quarter, the Browns still seemed determined to sit on their lead.
They sent former Ravens running back Jamal Lewis up the gut repeatedly in an effort to milk the clock. His six carries during this momentum-shifting sequence netted just twelve yards, leaving
With the Ravens defense holding
It was here where Browns lost their momentum, lost their home field advantage, and lost the game to the Ravens. Once the tables were turned, it was Anderson who was challenged to move his team down the field for a come-from-behind score – one that eluded the Browns’ offense.
The final dagger in the Brown come from behind effort was delivered by Terrell Suggs who returned his second career interception for a touchdown – the second in the last 3 games.
Was Suggs’ interception on a badly thrown screen pass the career-changing moment for Derek Anderson? Time will tell. Romeo Crennel stubbornly stood behind
On the opposite sideline, for Joe Flacco, it may have been the defining game of his rookie season. Ravens’ coaches have slowly loosened the reigns on Flacco with each passing week. And then Sunday, when there was little other choice, they let the
There appeared to be more confusion than usual getting the offense out of the huddle and snapping the ball in the allotted time. Because of it, perhaps, Joe Flacco seemed out of sync early. He still struggled a bit on the speed of his progressions and was quick to throw away balls. He did, however, make progress throwing the long ball this week. Mark Clayton dropped a very well thrown ball in the end zone. But the two connected on the second try for a long touchdown, with Clayton making a more difficult catch to beat Brandon McDonald. On another long attempt to Clayton Joe put too much air under the ball, particularly for a smaller receiver in traffic. Flacco continues to impress on third downs, when the pressure to perform is greatest. He shook off a sack to keep a critical drive alive with a strike to Mason on third and 16. It was probably the play of the game for the offense. The two connected later for a touchdown when the Browns rushed nine, Flacco made the read, and got the ball out in time for Mason to beat one on one coverage in the flat. For the day, Flacco was 17/29 for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. It was his best performance since the
Running Backs: A
Willis McGahee was listed as questionable all week with an ankle injury. But the fact that he didn’t start, or play at all, was a minor but ultimately pleasant surprise given the way another rookie was able to contribute to the Ravens success on offense. Ray Rice received only his third start of the year, but for the first time he made a case for himself as a bona fide NFL starting running back. He was remarkable in his ability to squirt free for extra yards and move the chains. His ability to read the blocks of his linemen is still a work in progress, but he made up for it with an elusiveness rarely seen in Ravens runners. His fantastic day was capped with a sixty-yard scamper midway through the fourth quarter for one near touchdown. It was a real back breaker for the Browns. And it must have seemed like the bad old days for Browns fans, watching a Ravens running back rack up the yardage. Rice had 21 carries for 154 yards, which gave him a 7.3-yard average. He added 22 yards receiving on three catches, and it would have been more if Flacco had not thrown behind Rice in the seam early in the game. Le’Ron McClain showed both nimble feet and power running on his 14 carries for 34 yards, including a touchdown. Both backs were also excellent in picking up blitzers. Lorenzo Neal had more trouble, particularly with the Browns’ Kamerion Wimbley.
Wide Receivers: A-
With the Browns keying on Mason early, Mark Clayton had a breakout game. He made a case for himself as a deep threat, after spending most of his career running curls and diving for yards after the catch. After dropping a catch in end zone, Clayton made a tougher catch for his first touchdown of the year. He also hauled in intermediate throws for first downs. When Brandon McDonald was finally able to clamp down on Clayton, the Ravens directed their aerial attack towards Derrick Mason who beat the Browns regularly on the opposite side. Together, Mason and Clayton combined for 13 catches and 223 yards, with the two scores.
Tight Ends: C
The tight end has practically disappeared from the Ravens offense. On the plus side, Todd Heap blocked extremely well throughout the game. However, he did get flagged for two false starts. He was not thrown to once during the entire game.
Flacco received excellent protection from his tackles all game long. Jared Gaither had a particularly good game, pushing defenders all over the field. Andre Davis will surely be glad to be done with the Ravens for the year. Willie Anderson had another nice game. If the Ravens put together a gag reel,
Interior Line: B
Shaun Rogers, the massive Browns nose guard gave this unit fits early, but they rebounded and got the upper hand later in the game. Ben Grubbs could not handle
Defensive backs: C+
This group survived against strong receivers, but not without incident. With Frank Walker and Fabian Washington starting for the injured Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, Ravens fans might have expected worse. But the cornerback tandem played tight coverage early, even on one-on-one schemes. Later, they relaxed coverage and Derek Anderson was able to start picking them apart.
This group continues to control the line of scrimmage. Bart Scott was in on a team-high ten tackles. They were less successful however in pressuring the quarterback. Terrell Suggs was relatively quiet until his interception. They are at their weakest in coverage, and were repeatedly a step late when
Defensive Line: A
Haloti Ngata deserves the game ball for his performance. He was a dominate run stopper while improving on his pass rushing when given the chance. Trevor Pryce and Justin Bannan played well together to get pressure with just a four-man rush, including Pryce’s sack of
Special Teams: D
On the plus side, Matt Stover was perfect on his three field goals and four extra points. However, the Ravens declined to try a 51-yard field goal, instead opting to punt, whereas the Browns Phil Dawson managed 54-yarder. Koch was less effective in his punts, kicking one into the end zone and another 37-yarder out of bounds. Still, he managed a 59-yard boomer later to reverse field position for his team. Nick Griesen had a particularly bad day in covering kicks. Despite promoting kicker Steven Hauschka to the active roster, Matt Stover handled kick off duties, which started to look like a bad call. Joshua Cribb’s 90-yard kick off return for a touchdown seemed, for a while, to be the game changing moment. Through the first half the Browns had 134 yards of kick off return yardage to the Ravens zero. Ray Rice was forced to kneel in the end zone on most of the kicks, and when he didn’t have to kneel, he muffed a kick and was forced to fall on it. The Ravens shuffled Ed Reed, Jim Leonard and Yamon Figurs back into punt return duty. Figurs made the most of his chances with a daring catch and return to give the Ravens the ball on the Browns 42 to start the fourth quarter. Brendon Ayanbadejo played well in coverage.
There was too much confusion on getting plays and personnel onto the field, even for a road game. The team was forced to burn timeouts. The Ravens were also slow to challenge some questionable calls, including Wright’s dive to the pylon and Ray Rice’s tightrope walk to the end zone where he was called out of bounds. Still, the Browns made worse coaching decisions, failing to decline a Ravens holding penalty that would have pushed them out of field goal range, and sitting on a lead with a suspect defense on the field. The Ravens offensive line coach John Matsko deserves special notice for the progress made by his young line, and the ability to hold the group together through injuries to the starters.
Scott Green’s crew should be commended for not calling too many unnecessary penalties. Still, they missed a few, too. They misidentified a hold by Grubbs. They overlooked an obvious off sides by the Browns defensive line that forced Flacco to scramble. There was a questionable spot on a Rice run that forced a Ravens punt. And there were missed calls at the goal line where runners stepped out and it was overlooked, and a runner stayed in but was called out.
Rich Gannon continues to be outspoken and on the money with most of his comments. He was particularly good at pointing out the Ravens confusion with shuttling plays in and out, and showing near outrage over the way the Ravens attempted to draw the Browns off-sides by lining up to go for it on a fourth-and-short situation far back at their own end of the field.
The Ravens take their 5-3 record on the road again next week against the Houston Texans, in a make up game for the hurricane-drenched contest originally scheduled for Week Two. After their emotional win against the Browns, and prior to having to face the high-profile Giants, it will be interesting to see if the Ravens can maintain their edge against the 3-5 Texans, who are coming off a 28-21 loss in