Cleveland's Trent Richardson needs to get the ball more than 18 times a game like he did against Baltimore in Thursday's 23-16 loss.
The last time the Cleveland Browns beat the Baltimore Ravens was in 2007 with a 33-30 overtime win. Since then, Cleveland has been 0-8 versus Baltimore. Heading into Thursday Night's primetime game, the winless Browns were heavy underdogs.
Already without starting cornerback Joe Haden, who is serving a four-game suspension, and wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, who is suffering from a hamstring injury, Cleveland entered the game hampered and with an adjusted lineup full of young and unproven first- and second-year players. Aside from the loss of Haden and Massaquio, Cleveland lost receiver Joshua Cribbs to a head injury that knocked him out of the game in the first quarter
In the end, the young Browns, led by 28-year-old rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, took the Ravens down to the final play of the game, only to fall short and lose 23-16.
With this loss, however, Cleveland might have given the AFC North a glimpse of just how good the Browns can be, once they figure out a couple of things.
Playing without two wide receivers, the Browns found a new pair of receivers in Travis Benjamin, a rookie from Miami, and second-year player Jordan Norwood. The pair combined to make six catches for 82 yards, but, more importantly, they both made big plays that gave the Browns opportunities to score.
Benjamin returned a punt to 40 yards that helped set up a field goal; of Norwood's four catches on Thursday night, three came in the fourth quarter and included gains of 22 and 27 yards.
Additionally, wide receiver Greg Little caught four passes for 77 yards, while rookie running back Trent Richardson combined for 104 total yards (47 rushing and 57 receiving) and contributed a touchdown.
Weeden, who finished 12-of-25 for 118 yards with four interceptions and a QB rating of 5.1 in Week 1 against the Philadelphia Eagles, was solid against a pass rush by the Ravens that beat and bloodied him up on Thursday.
Considering that he was down two wide receives and faced seven-man blitzes, as well as the rain, Weeden had Cleveland in position several times to cut Baltimore's lead down to a field goal. He was victim, however, to a combination of great Ravens defense and dropped Browns passes, including a touchdown drop by Greg Little in the 4th quarter.
Cleveland is now 0-4 in the 2012 NFL season, but this is the kind of loss that could kick start the Browns for the rest of the year.
Cleveland did hit on a couple of key facts in its game against Baltimore:
- Trent Richardson is awesome, and he needs more possession of the ball than the 18 times he had in Thursday's game.
- Considering the injuries and suspension, the Browns were game against the Ravens.
- Mental mistakes, liked dropped passes and a defensive holding call on third down that would have given the Browns the ball back with three-and-a-half minutes left in the fourth quarter, are momentum-killing plays
This Cleveland team isn't very far off from being a playoff-quality squad.
In the 2011 NFL season, six teams that made the playoffs hadn't made it the year before. The Browns could be the next team to join that list very soon.
For an aging Ravens team and a beat-up Pittsburgh Steelers squad, their time at the top of the division may be up sooner than they'd like.