Ravens produce methodical 20-10 win at Cleveland, AFC North crown still up in the air

December 26, 2010 | Drew Forrester

Prior to Sunday’s game in Cleveland, the Browns mascot playfully tried to kick a field goal from about 15 yards out just before the teams were introduced. In true Charlie Brown fashion, he stumbled approaching the ball and basically whiffed on it, nicking the ball and sending it about 10 yards on the ground to the right.

It was eerily similar to what happened on the field during the game itself.

The Browns put up a game fight, but they were never going to pull it off.

John Harbaugh sewed up his 3rd straight playoff visit as Ravens coach on the frozen tundra at Cleveland Browns Stadium, as his team put together a rather routine 20-10 win over the Browns on Sunday to improve to 11-4 on the season and keep their AFC North title hopes alive.

This one was more about Cleveland making mistake after mistake and the Ravens playing sensible football than anything else. Rookie quarterback Colt McCoy was good on the short throws, but suffered when forced to go deep, as his average arm and lack of experience were haunting factors with Ed Reed lurking all afternoon and picking off a pair of bad decisions.

That’s the difference between a team that’s 5-10 and going nowhere and an 11-4 club that never looks all that dangerous but has still managed to conquer every bad team they’ve faced this year with the exception of Cincinnati in week #2.

On Sunday, Joe Flacco made two terrific throws to outshine the Browns rookie signal caller, as the Ravens erased an early 7-0 deficit and led at the half, 13-10. Cleveland then gambled to start the 3rd quarter with an onside kick that inexplicably went out of bounds at their own 38, and three plays later Flacco found Derrick Mason in the end zone to finish the scoring at 20-10.

The final 29 minutes was nothing more than an exercise in no-one-trying-to-get-hurt…the Browns because they have one week left until it’s golf season in Arizona or Florida of wherever they live from January through July and the Ravens because their season will continue in January when the post-season begins.

Give Harbaugh credit. While he didn’t win a Super Bowl two years into his tenure like Brian Billick did, he accomplished something on Sunday that Billick never managed to do — Harbaugh has now made the post-season in three consecutive seasons and is firmly positioned to gain an off-season contract extension pending the NFL labor agreement issues being ironed out for 2011.

There weren’t many negatives from this one, although it’s fair to point out – since it’s accurate – that Baltimore’s offense, like it did in a laugher-road-win at Carolina in late November, could only manage two touchdowns against a a down-and-out team like the Browns.

And now, the Ravens must count on Cleveland to produce a better effort with an extraordinary result next Sunday when the Steelers come to town with the AFC North crown on the line. A Pittsburgh win (or unlikely Ravens loss at home to Cincy) would push Baltimore to the #5 seed and a first round road playoff visit to either Jacksonville or Indianapolis, while a Steelers loss and Ravens win would give Baltimore the division crown and a first-round playoff bye.

There’s a saying in sports when talking about a season…”it’s a marathon, not a sprint”.

Well, it’s now a sprint, as the Ravens have at least two games left…and maybe more. Next Sunday vs. the Bengals may or may not matter much, but after that it’s win-or-go-home. Today in Cleveland, it wasn’t quite must-win territory, but Baltimore executed for most of the game as if it were. And that’s a good thing to see if you’re John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron and Greg Mattison.