The Baltimore Ravens were 16-0 winners over the Cleveland Browns Monday night at Cleveland Browns Stadium. They were dominant defensively throughout the game, allowing just 160 yards of offense to Eric Mangini’s team; and never allowed their AFC North foe to advance the ball farther than the Baltimore 45 yard line. They forced 2 Brady Quinn interceptions (one of which Dawan Landry returned for a TD), and allowed Jamal Lewis just 36 yards on the ground. Coach John Harbaugh said the team played “tremendously well” on the defensive side of the football.
Sadly, the good news basically ends there.
The Ravens continued to show many of the bad signs that had caused the team to go 1-4 in the last 5 games. Joe Flacco managed just 155 yards passing, and didn’t lead a scoring drive until the 3rd quarter. The offensive line allowed 3 sacks from Rob Ryan’s defense-including 2 from David Bowens-who will not exactly be confused with Jared Allen any time soon. They were penalized 7 more times (for 43 yards), and had 7 drives end in punts. Steve Hauschka missed another field goal, and had an extra point attempt blocked.
With the game tied 0-0 at the half, it was an eerily similar script for this football team. They had failed to score in the first half of their loss to the Bengals a week ago, scored just 6 points in the first half of a win over the Broncos 2 weeks ago, 3 points in the first half of a loss to the Vikings 4 weeks ago, 7 points in the first half of a loss to the Bengals 5 weeks ago, and 7 points in the first half of a loss to the Patriots 5 weeks ago.
The win will be immense for a team who needed to keep pace in the AFC playoff race. At 5-4, they stand just a game behind the Chargers and Broncos (who they hold a tiebreaker over-and who are tied for the lead in the AFC West), as well as the Steelers (who they still play two games against). It is even more important considering the brutal stretch they face over the next 3 weeks (vs. Colts, vs. Steelers, @Packers), which John Harbaugh described as “everything for (their) season.”
But the doubters will be out in force this week. They’ll describe the Browns as in inferior opponent who the Ravens had no business but to shut out. They’ll say Steve Hauschka must be cut, and the team needs to sign a new kicker like Mike Nugent or Billy Cundiff (this will be especially tough this week with Matt Stover returning on the Indianapolis sideline). They’ll say the Ravens still can’t do enough offensively to keep up with the best teams in the NFL.
And they might be right.
The good news for the Ravens is that they’re less than a week away from getting a real chance to prove them wrong.
INJURIES: Terrell Suggs (knee sprain-was in an aircast after the game and declined comment to the media; Harbaugh said the injury was “not catastrophic”), Haruki Nakamura (broken ankle-Harbaugh described injury as “stunning” to team’s emotions), Todd Heap (bruised chest), Tavares Gooden (left game with concussion)
AUDIO: Hear from John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Dawan Landry, Ray Lewis, Derrick Mason, Steve Hauschka and Trevor Pryce NOW in the Audio Vault at WNST.net
CHEAP SHOTS: Trevor Pryce declined to answer when asked if he thought Brady Quinn’s hit on Terrell Suggs was a “cheap shot”, but he said we could “read between the lines.” Dwan Edwards said his hit on Joshua Cribbs on the last play of the game was NOT retribution for the hit on Suggs.
HARBAUGH ISN’T TALKING: John Harbaugh will NOT conduct his weekly press conference tomorrow afternoon as was expected. He will not be available again until Wednesday. The team has tomorrow off.
RAY RICE: Surpassed 100 total yards of offense for the 6th consecutive game. Which is particularly impressive.
HAUSCHKA’S FUTURE: John Harbaugh said the team will continue to evaluate Steve Hauschka and the kicking position, as they have been doing for weeks. He described Hauschka’s performance as “disappointing”, said Hauschka needs to kick “with more confidence”, and said the blocked extra point “shouldn’t happen.”