The Cleveland Browns’ 24-18 victory over the Baltimore Ravens did more than just end an 11-game losing streak; it made a statement. The Browns put the entire AFC North on notice Sunday by taking down the team that had bullied them for nearly six years.
Jason Campbell proved once again that with decent quarterback play, the Browns are good enough to compete with anyone. They now have victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens this season.
The real surprise was how the Browns dominated in every facet of the game. If the teams were all wearing the same jersey with no identifying characteristics, you might think the Browns were the ones who won a championship last season.
So now they head into the bye week directly in the middle of the AFC North and playoff races. Before they get there, however, let's look back at the Browns’ win over the Ravens.
When you hold a team to 55 rushing yards, force two turnovers, sack the quarterback five times and hit him eight times ,it is a good day on defense. The Browns stifled the Ravens offensive attack and had quarterback Joe Flacco throwing hurried passes all afternoon.
Flacco had just 250 yards on 41 attempts. He had to earn every single yard that he picked up through the air.
Running back Ray Rice had just 17 yards on 11 attempts. He averaged just 1.5 yards per carry.
Defensive coordinator Ray Horton dialed up blitzes from every level of the defense, which forced Flacco into a bevy of bad throws that landed everywhere except for in his receivers’ hands.
Perhaps the most impressive part was the fact that the defense held its ground with the game on the line and just a three-point lead. It forced a Ravens punt, and the offense was able to put the game away with a long drive and a field goal.
The entire city of Cleveland simultaneously cursed when Jason Campbell left the game with a rib injury. The most Browns thing that could ever happen did and almost derailed a pivotal moment in the season.
Brandon Weeden entered the game to boos from the crowd and showed once again why he is not the starting quarterback any longer.
Despite the injury, Campbell returned and made big play after big play. He made smart decisions, felt pressure in the pocket well, orchestrated four scoring drives and probably saved the season.
It’s amazing to think that Campbell was passed over two separate times this season when the team decided who would be its starting quarterback.
In just two games, he has already had one of the best bodies of work that Cleveland has seen from its 20 starting quarterbacks dating back to 1999.
Despite being a top-10 defense in a bevy of categories, the Browns have been near the bottom of the league on third-down conversions and turnovers this year.
On Sunday, they fixed one of those issues.
Before they played the Ravens, the Browns had forced just nine turnovers. They got two on Sunday.
Cornerbacks Joe Haden and Buster Skrine have played exceptionally well but have failed to capitalize on opportunities to make game-changing takeaways. They had just one turnover between them before Sunday.
So when Haden caught his interception in the second quarter, his first of the season, it was a much bigger deal than just stopping a Ravens drive. He had been plagued by drops and finally was able to corral one.
Maybe that will be a turning point for the Pro Bowl hopeful.
Last season, wide receiver Greg Little turned an abysmal first six weeks into a strong stretch run and helped the Browns offense. Maybe he can do it again.
Since Josh Gordon’s return to the team and Little’s return to the starting role, he has been quietly settling in as a strong No. 2 target. That is exactly how it happened last year as well.
Once Josh Gordon moved into the No. 1 wide receiver role, Little could suddenly catch the football again.
Sunday was Little’s second-biggest game of his career, as he caught seven passes for 122 yards. He attacked the football in the air and made big plays after the catch, which really sparked the offense.
He also made two boneheaded plays where he got unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. One time he threw a defender’s helmet, and another he taunted a Ravens player after the whistle.
He still has some maturing to do.
Long gone are the days where the Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers dominated the division. In fact, those two teams are the current cellar dwellers of the AFC North.
The Bengals, who are by far the most talented squad, have struggled with inconsistent play, and that has left the door wide open for every other team.
While the Browns trail the Bengals by two games, they have already beaten the divisional leaders once and get them again after the bye week. With a victory, the Browns could legitimately be tied with and hold the tiebreaker over the Bengals after 10 games.
The Ravens are not out of the mix either. They are just a half-game behind the Browns and split that season series.
The Browns have seen too many men walk the sidelines with a headset and bumble in-game decisions. They may have finally found a good one in head coach Rob Chudzinski.
His first big test this season was way back in Week 3 when the team was winless, had just traded the face of the franchise and was heading to Minnesota to play in a tough environment.
Not only did he rally the team and disprove the theories that the Browns were tanking for a draft pick, but his squad also won a tough road contest and changed the direction of the season.
We also cannot forget how he handled the Josh Gordon trade rumors, documented here by Cleveland.com, with class and candidness.
Most importantly, however, he has handled the insanity of an NFL sideline like a seasoned veteran. His clock management at the end of the win over the Ravens was a thing of beauty.
His challenges always seem to make sense, and he shows confidence in his team by going for fourth-down conversions at a surprisingly high rate.
He seems built for this job.
Early in the season, the Browns’ sacks came mostly from the outside linebacker position. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton ran an aggressive but bland version of his system while the players got used to their roles.
All that has changed.
On Sunday, the Browns got two sacks from the secondary, two from the linebackers and one from the defensive line.
He is sending more exotic blitzes than he was early in the year. He is also allowing his players to roam the field more before the snap. He trusts them to disguise the scheme and return to their actual assignment without blowing coverage.
He is also more confident in leaving Buster Skrine in one-on-one coverage on the outside. Skrine has proven he can hold his own and will make plays for the defense.
This was a game that the Browns would normally lose. When the Ravens started to make a push late in the game, however, the Browns held their ground and finished the job.
There were no late turnovers or boneheaded penalties.
There were no breakdowns in coverage or incorrect routes. There was just execution.
The pressure of 11 straight losses to one team is a lot for a young roster. But as Joe Haden said this week via The Plain Dealer, the Ravens are not the Ravens of old.
Even though Baltimore used those comments as bulletin-board material, the Browns were able to pull off a victory. They are now the only team in the AFC North with an over-.500 record within the division.
They are growing up right before our eyes.