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Ravens outslug Browns 25-15 in AFC North tussle

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Ravens outslug Browns 25-15 in AFC North tussle

CLEVELAND (AP) When the pushing, shoving, finger pointing and customary taunting ended, and after his team rallied to pull out a difficult division win, Baltimore coach Jim Harbaugh was exhausted and relieved.

``Whew, he said. ``That was a fight.''

One the Ravens usually win.

Regrouping in the fourth quarter after failing to gain a single yard in the third, the Ravens got a 19-yard go-ahead touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Torrey Smith with 4:26 to play Sunday and Baltimore's defense shut down Cleveland in the closing minutes for a 25-15 victory over the Browns.

It was Baltimore's 10th straight win over their division rival, and the Ravens' 11th consecutive victory inside one of the NFL's toughest divisions.

The Ravens (6-2) blew a 14-point lead, fell behind by one point in the fourth and finally made enough plays down the stretch to put away the Browns (2-7), who were unable to score a touchdown despite five trips inside Baltimore's 20-yard line and came up short again.

``That's been the tale of the season so far,'' said linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. ``We get so close, and for whatever reason when the game's on the line, whether it's defensively or offensively, we can't seem to make that play.''

Smith caught Flacco's strike and spun away from cornerback Joe Haden as the Ravens, who were throttled by 30 points at Houston two weeks ago, improved to 5-0 after a bye week under Harbaugh, now 10-0 against Cleveland since 2008.

After scoring TDs on runs by Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce on their first two possessions, the Ravens looked as if they might have an easy afternoon. But Cleveland's defense shut Baltimore down and Phil Dawson's fifth field goal, a 41-yarder with 8:48 left, gave the Browns a 15-14 lead.

The Ravens were in trouble. Flacco rescued them.

``Joe never blinked,'' Rice said.

Baltimore went six straight possessions without a first down when Flacco finally ended the drought by completing a 21-yard pass to Anquan Boldin on second-and-10 from Cleveland's 19.

``You need a play to get yourself going,'' Flacco said of his throw to Boldin. ``That was a good one.''

Two plays later, the Ravens caught a break when Browns safety T.J. Ward was called for roughing Flacco on a second-down blitz. Ward contested he did not hit Flacco in the head as the officials ruled.

``My chest hit him in the shoulder,'' Ward said. ``My arm hit him in the back shoulder. I didn't touch his head or anything.''

After Rice moved the ball closer to the end zone with two 10-yard runs, Flacco fired a slant pass on third-and-10 to Smith, who wheeled away from a flat-footed Haden and sprinted into the end zone to make it 20-15. The Ravens then converted the 2-point try with Flacco hitting a wide-open Boldin to extend the lead to seven.

Cleveland had plenty of time left and two timeouts to mount a comeback. But facing a fourth-and-2 at his own 28, Browns coach Pat Shurmur, who chose to punt two weeks ago at Indianapolis in similar circumstances, decided to go for it with 3:53 remaining.

However, rookie Brandon Weeden's pass for Greg Little was incomplete and the Ravens took over.

``I felt like we had a play that we liked and we didn't execute it,'' Shurmur said, who got defensive when pressed on his decision. ``Had we converted and moved forward, then it would have been talked about on what a gutsy move it was, right?

Baltimore's Justin Tucker kicked a 43-yard field goal to put the Ravens up by 10.

The Browns' last chance ended when safety Ed Reed intercepted Weeden, who went 20 of 37 for 176 yards and two interceptions in an up-and-down performance for the 29-year-old.

Weeden's best throw of the game was called back.

With the Browns trailing 14-12, Weeden drilled an apparent 18-yard TD pass to rookie Josh Gordon, but the play was nullified by an illegal formation penalty because running back Chris Ogbonnaya didn't line up far enough off the line of scrimmage.

``It's frustrating,'' said running back Trent Richardson, who gained 105 yards. ``But we can't point fingers. We all have to be accountable for what we do. I've got to run harder. We gotta make better calls. We have to make sure we pick up blocks and catch the ball, and we have to do the right things.

``Once you're in the red zone, you gotta score some kind of way. You've got to get in the end zone.''

Flacco finished 15 of 24 for 153 yards. He completed his first 10 passes, but Cleveland's defense shut him and the Ravens down for most of the second half until the final TD drive.

``We started fast and finished strong,'' Harbaugh said. ``In the middle, it was a little iffy there. But the thing I was proud of, our guys played with faith in one another. When the offense was struggling, the defense wasn't. When the defense struggled, the offense wasn't.

``We came together at the end to win.''

The Browns gave it all they had, but it wasn't enough. They'll have to wait until next year for another shot at the Ravens, who at times turned the game into a street fight.

``They're a nasty team,'' Ward said. ``That's just how they play, and I think they get away with a lot on that side of the ball.''

And is usually the case, the Ravens got away with a win.

NOTES: Baltimore has won 15 straight after a loss. ... Richardson is the first rookie to run for more than 100 yards against the Ravens since Jacksonville's Fred Taylor in 1998. Following the game, he and Rice exchanged jerseys on the field. ``It felt good to trade jerseys with a beast in Trent Richardson,'' said Rice, who had 98 yards. ``There's a mutual respect on both ends.'' ... Dawson is 17 for 17 this season and has made 23 in a row since last season. The NFL record is 42, held by Colts K Mike Vanderjagt. ... Browns KR Josh Cribbs became the NFL's career leader in kickoff return yards with one team. Cribbs has 9,638 yards with Cleveland. Brian Mitchell had 9,586 with Washington.

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

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To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

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Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.