The Ravens started the game like everyone expected and jumped out to an early 10-0 lead in the fourth quarter.
They made the game seem even more one-sided as they scored another ten unanswered points and had a 20-0 lead in the third quarter. Everything looked like the Ravens were going to have an easy win, but the Browns kick returner, Josh Cribbs, sparked the team with an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown.
That return seemed to change the momentum of the game. The Ravens offense couldn’t seem to get anything going and their defense couldn’t seem to get the Browns off the field. The Browns had a 12 play 80 yard drive in the fourth quarter that ended in a touchdown pass by Seneca Wallace. All of the sudden, the Browns were within one score of winning the game, and with the way that they were able to move the ball on the Ravens, a Browns win wasn’t all that unlikely.
The Ravens defense was able to stop the Browns on the next possession, but the Ravens offense couldn’t move the ball when they got back on the field and were about to give the ball back to the Browns with two minutes on the clock—plenty of time for a game winning drive.
Luckily for the Ravens, one of the Browns defensive lineman, Phil Taylor, gave the game to the Ravens by jumping off sides on fourth down—in what was a clear attempt by the Ravens simply to draw the Browns offsides. There’s no saying that the Browns would have won the gave had they gotten the ball back, but the Ravens were definitely happy that they didn’t have to find that out the hard way.
The Ravens are happy to have the win, but they certainly didn’t play their best football against the Browns. We always learn more about the Ravens whether they win or lose, so let’s take a look at what we learned about the Ravens after their 20-14 win over the Browns.
This game was really a tale of two halves. In the first half, the Ravens played well and jumped out to an early lead. Everything was going their way, and the Browns were doing everything in their power to give the Ravens an early Christmas present.
The Ravens were doing so well, in fact, that the score could have been much worse and doesn’t really reflect how far apart the two teams’ performances were. Ray Rice was running all over the Browns defense, and aside from a few good runs by Peyton Hillis—who seems to be the Ravens kryptonite, the Ravens defense was shutting down the Browns defense and frustrating Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace.
The second half was a totally different story as the Ravens seemed to completely fall apart on both sides of the ball. The offense was definitely the biggest problem. Joe Flacco was completely less than half of his throws, none of the receivers were catching the ball consistently and even Ray Rice was getting stuffed.
It’s had to tell exactly what happened without going back and re-examining every play, but there was the definite feeling that the Ravens let off—or stopped playing their hardest—once they had a 20 point lead on the Browns.
There is an argument for playing conservatively with a big lead, but there really is no excuse for allowing a team like the Browns to come back and almost win. The quick score on the punt return turned the game upside down and caught the Ravens off-guard, but their response to that score—an anemic drive that ended in an interception by Flacco—was not what you’d expect from a championship caliber team.
The Ravens need to learn how to respond in critical situations in games. Their offense’s seeming inability to rise to the occasion in situations like they found themselves in versus the Browns is a serious concern moving forward and particularly in the playoffs, and they are just lucky that they were playing against an inferior opponent that couldn’t take advantage of their offensive ineptitude.
Joe Flacco had a rough day against the Browns. His 46 percent completion percentage says all that you need to know about the offense’s performance, but not all of the incompletions were completely his fault.
There’s no question that Flacco was throwing some bad passes. He was mistiming his throws, throwing behind the receivers, leading them out of bounds and overthrowing. It was just an off day for Flacco, but before we lambaste Flacco for the performance, we need to recognize that none of his receivers were helping him out.
The Ravens receivers probably dropped more passes than they caught, and several of those passes were on target and simply bounced off the receivers hands. Ed Dickson was the biggest culprit, but Torrey Smith and Lee Evans were guilty as well.
Those dropped passes really hurt Flacco in more ways that simply his completion percentage. Flacco was never able to get into any kind of groove—for lack of a better term. He wasn’t able to get any momentum going on the offense. There were a few drives where things would seem to be coming together, but a receiver would drop a critical pass and kill the drive.
Many times, offenses rely on momentum, and it’s important to get the quarterback into a rhythm throwing the ball to his receivers. It’s clear that Flacco was missing his go-to guy, Anquan Boldin, who always seems to come up with a few key catches to extend drives. If some of the critical drops in this game hadn’t been made, Flacco’s statistics probably would have been much better, and the game may not have been as close as it was. There’s no way of knowing for sure, but there’s no doubt that Flacco will be looking forward to getting Boldin back for the playoffs.
The Ravens defense has been showing signs of weakness to the pass over the last few weeks and had their worst performances of the season last week versus the Chargers. One player that they missed I that game was Lardarius Webb, who has become the Ravens best corner by far and one of their best defensive players overall.
Webb’s story this season is actually very interesting even outside his stand-out performance on the field. In the final game of last season against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Webb was beaten by Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown for a long completion on a very long third down. That conversion helped the Steelers win the game.
That play and the fact that the Ravens drafted Jimmy Smith in the first round and resigned Chris Carr to a good contract had many people thinking that Webb would be competing to play nickel corner at best.
Webb never let any of that affect him and has done nothing but impress since he stepped onto the field in the first game. The Ravens have grown to rely heavily on Webb in coverage as a lock-down corner, and he has yet to let them down—aside from an injury that kept him out of the game versus the Chargers.
There’s no way of knowing whether or not Webb’s presence alone would have helped in the game versus the Chargers, but there is no question that he has been a force for the Ravens in every game he’s played this season—including the game against the Browns where his clutch interception halted a Browns drive deep in Ravens territory.
All season long, the Ravens have played like a different team on the road. They have played their worst games on the road and all four of their losses have been to losing teams—although the Chargers were on a three game winning streak and certainly were not playing like a losing team at the time.
This season has been perplexing for fans and analysts of the Ravens because they can play so well at home and can play so poorly on the road. It’s normal for teams to play better at home, but for a team to play completely differently is very abnormal.
There doesn’t seem to be any tangible reason behind it either. There haven’t been key injuries or other negative factors in the losses… The only common thread is the fact that the Ravens are playing away, and that seems to make a huge difference.
It’s for that reason that the Ravens and their fans need to pray that they can hold onto home-field advantage with the second seed in the playoffs. It would be even nicer if they could get the first seed if the New England Patriots would next week since the Ravens would probably have a hard time beating the Patriots at home if their history this season is any indication.
The first seed would be nice, but the Ravens and their fans are just happy that the team has control over their own destiny right now as far as home field advantage is concerned.
Unfortunately, the Ravens will be forced to beat their disturbing trend of losing on the road by beating Cincinnati Bengals at home next week. If the Steelers win, that would force the Ravens to win in order to hold onto their home field advantage, and considering their road struggles, the Ravens will probably need home field advantage if they’re going to make the Super Bowl this year.