CLEVELAND – The natural tendencies of the Baltimore Ravens have become a well-known trait, a troubling flaw that has already manifested itself three times this season.
The oft-recited facts about the Ravens:
· Their three losses this season were all against teams with losing records at the time, and all were preceded by emotional victories.
· As the Ravens (8-3) square off with the Cleveland Browns (4-7) in an AFC North division game today, they have vowed not to repeat the scenario.
· The Ravens have defeated the Browns six consecutive times, an unblemished mark since John Harbaugh took over in Baltimore.
Yet the Ravens still regard the Browns as dangerous.
“If you were a fighter, this is the fighter you avoid at all costs because he is always going to fight you hard, and he is always going to fight you for the 12 rounds,” Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “If you look at just the matchups between the two teams in the past, they have always brought it against us.
“They have always had a special thing to play us. They are going to bring it. Once again, our work is cut out for us. It’s tough for everybody else; we’re just the right man for the job.”
The city of Cleveland will always treat this game as a grudge match considering the shared history of these two franchises with former Ravens owner Art Modell moving the original Browns to Maryland in 1996.
Being swept by the Ravens each of the past three years only adds to the hard feelings.
“We understand it,” said Ravens free safety Ed Reed, who has haunted the Browns with 10 interceptions and three touchdowns in his career. “The blood isn’t there for us, but we understand we’re right in the mix of it.”
To stay in the mix in the hunt for the top seed in the AFC, the Ravens will need to reverse their trend of letdowns.
They lost to the Tennessee Titans after trouncing the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars after a comeback win over the Houston Texans.
And they were upset by the Seattle Seahawks one week after completing the season sweep of the Steelers.
The Ravens’ best chances of changing this subject comes in the next four weeks as all of their opponents have losing records.
“Obviously, everybody is making it a point, and we can’t seem to get away from it, but rightfully so, we’ve earned that,” Suggs said. “If we go on the road against a team that ‘wasn’t good’ in y’all eyes, and we dropped it, we’ve definitely earned that reputation. Until we show y’all different, that’s going to be the story.”
Although the Browns have the top-ranked pass defense, a rugged running back in Peyton Hillis and a loud stadium working in their favor, they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record this season.
Will the Ravens overlook the Browns?
Was that even the problem in their prior setbacks?
Whether the Ravens can even put a finger on what’s happened, they acknowledge that it’s been an issue.
“A lot of inconsistency, a lot of mistakes on our part,” defensive end Cory Redding said. “A lot of shooting ourselves in our own foot. You’ve got to put those games behind you, you can’t look back."
In quarterback Joe Flacco’s opinion, the common thread to the losses is simple.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” Flacco said. “People want to say that we have had an up-and-down season. We’re 8-3. There is nobody better than us in the AFC right now. To say that we have had an up-and-down season, I don’t think it’s correct.
"It’s just we haven’t played well against some teams that people would expect us to beat. Sometimes that happens. Like I said, we’re a young football team. We’ve worked on being more consistent. We are going to get better and better as the year goes on, and that’s what we’re working towards.”
The Browns’ four wins are against the winless Indianapolis Colts (0-11), the Miami Dolphins (3-8), the Seahawks (4-7) and the Jaguars (3-8).
Those triumphs come by a grand combined total of 16 points.
“It’s always a dogfight,” Harbaugh said. “That’s never going to change. It’s going to be just like playing the Steelers, just like playing the Bengals in that sense. We’re very tuned into that.
“Obviously this rivalry has special meaning to both sides. It’s a great rivalry to be a part of, and it’s always a very intense game.”
The Ravens have won eight of their dozen games in Cleveland in the series, including four of the past five meetings.
They lead the all-time series, 17-7.
Still, the Browns fell to the St. Louis Rams and the Cincinnati Bengals during their latest losses by a total of four points as errant field goal snaps cost them the games and cost former Pro Bowl long snapper Ryan Pontriand his job.
And the Ravens have been hurt this season by dangerous return specialists, and they don’t come any more explosive than Joshua Cribbs. He’s hurt the Ravens in the past.
After what’s already transpired this season, there’s no reason to be overconfident.
“Our guys, even in the games we haven’t played well and lost on the road, I don’t believe we had an emotional letdown,” Harbaugh said. “We just have to play well. Every single team in this league is really good and I think the Browns are exceptionally good, much better than their record would indicate.
“We’ve always had tough games against them. Our guys understand the Browns, they understand the division rivalry and they understand what they’re getting into, so I don’t think there’s any possibility of any kind of emotional letdown. We respect everybody and we really respect the Browns."
Tied with the Steelers atop the AFC North in terms of record and with the Texans and the New England Patriots for the best record in the AFC, the Ravens don’t want to do anything to squander this opportunity.
Luminaries like middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who didn’t practice all week and is listed as questionable, and Reed are another year older and getting closer toward the end of their careers.
“We have a good chance to make a run at it,” Suggs said. “My opportunity to achieving that football immortality, that greatness, the window, let’s be honest, is not as wide as it was when I first started.”