CLEVELAND — During a third quarter in which the Ravens not only didn’t get a first down but they didn’t net a single yard, Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs sauntered over to a frustrated offense on the sidelines and delivered a message.
“We’ll hold them from scoring touchdowns, you guys go ahead and pull a drive together and let’s win this game,” Suggs told the beleaguered group.
At the time, Suggs’ comment seemed like wishful thinking. The Ravens were in the process of going 30 minutes without a first down and punting on seven straight possessions. Quarterback Joe Flacco was in the midst of misfiring on eight of nine pass attempts. Running back Ray Rice, who gained 58 yards and a touchdown on 11 first-quarter carries, was immersed in a stretch of seven carries for 10 total yards.
And because of those things, their once 14-point lead was all gone. But as they normally do against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens responded just in time. Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a go-ahead 19-yard touchdown with 4 minutes 26 seconds to play and the Ravens’ defense did the rest in a 25-15 victory Sunday in front of an announced 65,449 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
“We all knew what was happening. We all felt a change. You all felt it. But we also knew that when our defense was stopping them, when they were only kicking field goals, that we had a chance to win this game,” said Rice, who rushed 25 times for 98 yards and a touchdown. “We had no doubt that we were going to go out there and put a drive together to come out ahead.
“As far as Ravens’ football, we’ve never been a fancy group. We’ve never been a group that wins quite frankly, pretty. When you’re 6-2, there’s just no complaining about it.”
Whether Smith’s catch and spin past Joe Haden on his way to the end zone or Anquan Boldin’s clutch 21-yard catch earlier in the drive that broke a long first-down drought is the spark that the Ravens’ offense needed going forward remains to be seen. But its immediate impact was evident throughout a relieved Ravens’ locker room.
They are now 6-2, including 2-2 on the road, heading into the Sunday’s matchup with the Oakland Raiders at M&T Bank Stadium , where the Ravens haven’t lost since December 2010. They swept the season series against a divisional foe and they’ve now beaten the Browns (2-7) 10 straight times. They are 3-0 this season against the AFC North and have won an NFL-high 11 straight games against divisional opponents.
“We started fast and we finished strong. In the middle, we were a little like this,” said Ravens Coach John Harbaugh, waiving his hand wildly. “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 game.”
Two plays after Brandon Weeden completed an 18-yard touchdown to Josh Gordon that was nullified by an illegal formation penalty, Phil Dawson kicked his fifth field goal of the day, this one from 41 yards, to give Cleveland a 15-14 lead with 8:48 to play.
When the Ravens got the ball back at their own 19 with 8:44 remaining, they hadn’t gotten a first down since the 8:38 mark of the second quarter. They had failed on seven consecutive third-down conversions. The wide receivers weren’t getting open and Rice had zero room to run. And predictably, the first play of the drive resulted in a dropped pass by Smith.
“I think all of us were probably frustrated a little bit there,” said Flacco who completed his first 10 passes but finished the game 15 of 24 for 153 yards and a touchdown. “We weren’t able to move the ball, we weren’t converting on third down, and so I think you have got to deal with it.”
What finally got the Ravens was Flacco’s 21-yard strike to Boldin on second-and-10 from the 19.
“We just needed one play to break the ice and that was it,” fullback Vonta Leach said.
A roughing the passer penalty on T.J. Ward gave the Ravens the ball on the Browns’ 32. It was then third and 10 from the 19 when Flacco hit Smith in the right flat and he spun past Haden and sprinted untouched to the end zone. It marked the Ravens’ first third-down conversion since the first quarter when the Ravens went 4 for 4 on third downs. They finished 5 for 14 in that category, but the successful one after the third quarter provided the game’s decisive points.
“There were a few plays I felt like I could have made earlier in the game,” Smith said. “I was frustrated by it so I was glad we got to finish on the good side.”
A two-point conversion pass to Boldin made it a 22-15 game. The Ravens’ defense, which allowed 105 rushing yards to impressive rookie Trent Richardson but forced five field goals on five trips inside their red zone, stopped Cleveland on fourth down.
Justin Tucker converted the field position into a 43-yard field goal and Ed Reed intercepted Weeden on the Browns’ final possession.
“Somebody just mentioned to me was it frustrating. No, it wasn't frustrating at all. We knew what was happening to us. Cleveland has a good defense. I don't care what people think,” Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “Give our guys credit for that last drive. The defense played complementary football. We got better during the bye.”
Cameron had heard plenty of criticism during the week after Rice got just nine carries and rookie Bernard Pierce didn’t get any in a 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans two weeks ago. The Ravens responded by rushing on 16 of their 22 offensive plays in a first quarter in which the Ravens out-gained Cleveland 156 to 22 and controlled the time of possession, 12:17 to 2:43.
An eight-yard touchdown by Rice and a 12-yard score from Pierce — the first of his career — gave the Ravens a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. But by halftime, it was 14-9 and the Ravens’ offense, which had struggled on the road all season, was once again in a funk.
It took a while and for their seemingly comfortable two-touchdown lead to vanish, but the Ravens woke up just in time.
“I don’t take any credence in winning ugly. To me, it doesn’t mean anything,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to have lots to work on next week. We are going to try to become a great football team. We’re not there by any stretch [but] we have a chance to get there if we all come together and do the things we need to get there.”