Coming out of the bye week, the Ravens promised to showcase a more efficient offense in their first AFC North road game of the season.
For one quarter, they succeeded Sunday by grounding the hurry-up offense and relying on the running of Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to set the table as they tallied 11 first downs.
The problem: The Ravens only had one first down for the next two-plus quarters
QB Joe Flacco started by completing 10 of his first 12 passes, but he went cold until the last drive of the fourth quarter when he led Baltimore 81 yards on nine plays to retake the lead with a 19-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith with 4:26 left.
Flacco then hit Anquan Boldin on the two-point conversion of the final margin. He finished 15-for-24 for 153 yards without a turnover as Flacco remains unbeaten in 10 career games vs. Cleveland.
The last time Baltimore lost to this team was 2007, the season before Flacco’s rookie season and John Harbaugh’s arrival as coach.
The Ravens won the first meeting this season, 23-16, in Baltimore.
This was the perfect opponent for the Ravens to get their confidence back with a 43-13 loss at the Houston Texans in Week 7 and a bye in Week 8.
Flacco came in averaging only 189 yards passing per game on the road, and hadn’t had a 300-yard passing game since Week 4 against the Browns.
It appeared he didn’t need a big passing day with the way they ran the ball early. The Ravens took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on scoring runs of 8 (Rice) and 12 (Pierce).
It was the first time since Week 2 that the Ravens scored at least a touchdown in the opening quarter and represented their second and third touchdowns on the road this season. Before Sunday, they’d only had one TD in 10 quarters away from home.
Player of the game: Rice, who was the Ravens’ only consistent offensive option, had 98 yards on 25 carries and a TD.
The turning point: With the Ravens struggling to generate offense, Browns S T.J. Ward is called for personal foul with a blow to the head on Flacco. The ball was moved to Cleveland’s 43 that led to the go-ahead touchdown by Smith in fourth quarter.
Sizzle effect: LB Terrell Suggs was in surprisingly good form in the Texans game despite it being his first game of the season coming off an Achilles tear. He didn’t have a sack Sunday and was relatively quiet.
Pick play: One play after S Ed Reed dropped an easy interception from Weeden with the ball in Ravens territory, CB Cary Williams made a diving snag of an errant pass on third down and returned the ball 26 yards to the Browns’ 39. It was Williams’ fourth pick of the season. He got his first pick of his career in the first game against the Browns, returning it 63 yards for a touchdown that proved to be the difference in the victory in Baltimore. Reed finally got his interception on Cleveland’s last possession of the game from Weeden.
Run defense: The Ravens have allowed an average of 207 yards per game on the ground in their last three outings, including a franchise-record 227 to the Dallas Cowboys. On Sunday, the Browns fell behind by 14 points early but stuck with Trent Richardson. He only put up 47 yards on 14 carries in their first meeting, but this defense was missing three key defensive starters (LB Ray Lewis, CB Lardarius Webb and DE Pernell McPhee) as Richardson had 76 yards on 14 carries by halftime as they were able to trim the deficit to 14-9. He was held to 29 yards in the second half. The Browns had 116. The Ravens had been allowing 142.9 per game.
Drive-killers: Faced with good field position to start the second half on their first two possessions, holding penalties by Sean Considine and LaQuan Williams negated it.
Missing in action: Dennis Pitta has gone from Flacco’s favorite target to a non-factor. He was targeted 23 times in the first two games of the season, hauling in 13 catches for 138 yards and one touchdown. But in six games since then, including Sunday’s game when he had two catches for 33 yards, Pitta has had 19 catches for 171 yards and one touchdown. With the Ravens backup on their own 10 to start the third quarter, he hit Pitta on second down for what would’ve been close to a first. Pitta, however, couldn’t hold on when he was hit and it was ruled incomplete. The result was a quick three-and-out series and the Browns getting possession near midfield.