BALTIMORE — When Baltimore Ravens Coach John Harbaugh returned to the locker room late Sunday afternoon, he confronted an angry team.
Quarterback Joe Flacco, who was sharp in throwing for two touchdown passes and making only a few mistakes, was upset at himself for losing his patience and missing open receivers downfield. Rush linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Eric Weddle, leaders of a unit that forced five turnovers for the second straight week, were lamenting all the mistakes the defense made.
That the Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns, 24-10, in front of an announced 70,605 at sunny M&T Bank Stadium and improved to 2-0 ahead of Sunday’s matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London was an afterthought.
“Our guys were pretty hacked off about the fact that we didn’t play as error-free as we should have, and we need to,” Harbaugh said. “The plus side of that is that our guys really don’t blink. They’re resilient, tough and they just keep playing.”
The Ravens built a two-touchdown lead by midway through the second quarter and they were never really threatened again by the Browns, whose quarterback, DeShone Kizer, became the latest rookie signal caller to be overwhelmed by the home defense at M&T Bank Stadium. However, the game wasn’t exactly routine.
The Ravens lost two players — six-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and reserve linebacker and core special teamer Bam Bradley — to season-ending injuries and also watched top interior defensive lineman Brandon Williams go down with a foot injury.
A week after his play did little to extinguish concern about his recovery from a back injury, Flacco threw second-quarter touchdown passes to Buck Allen and Jeremy Maclin and completed 25 of 34 passes for 217 yards. The Ravens also turned the ball over twice.
Defensively, the Ravens gave up 386 yards of total offense and repeatedly allowed Browns receivers to get open downfield. Yet, just when it looked as if they were buckling, they forced either Kizer or backup Kevin Hogan, who played about a quarter and a half with Kizer dealing with a migraine, to make a costly mistake.
The Ravens have forced five turnovers in back-to-back games for the first time in team history. They also are the third team since 1970 and the first since the 1992 Pittsburgh Steelers to intercept four or more passes in each of the first two games. But good luck finding a Ravens defensive player who was celebrating afterward.
“We made too many mistakes, too many blown coverages, too many big plays as a defense, so we’re not happy about the performance we had,” Weddle said. “We let those mistakes creep in and if we don’t fix them, it’s going to hurt us down the road. It may look like a great, great defensive effort, but when you look at it, we made too many mistakes out there. Luckily, we clutched up.”
Fourth-quarter interceptions by Lardarius Webb, who picked off Kizer in the end zone, and Brandon Carr sealed the win. Weddle and rookie Tyus Bowser had first-half interceptions, and Terrell Suggs sacked Kizer, forcing a fumble that the Ravens’ Matthew Judon recovered.
“What’s crazy is a lot of players come off the field, especially on defense today, kicking themselves because we knew we kind of messed up several different times that could cost us when we face those playoff teams down the road,” Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “There are things we have to clean up.”
On offense, the Ravens looked far more comfortable and explosive than they did a week earlier when they didn’t complete a pass in the second half while grinding out a 20-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener. The Ravens got Flacco out of the pocket frequently against the Browns, and he found open receivers in the middle of the field. Tight end Benjamin Watson had eight catches for 91 yards, and Allen had five receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown.
But Flacco wasn’t pleased by his play.
“I was a little disappointed in myself,” he said. “I feel like one of the things I can do is stay pretty patient when I go out there and play, and today I definitely felt like it got the best of me a little bit. We had some guys running open. I thought there was a couple of plays I was trying to do a little bit too much, hoping for too much, and I either missed something or I threw a pick way down there.”
Once Flacco hit Maclin for a two-yard touchdown pass with one second remaining before halftime — Allen’s 37-yard run set up the play — the game’s outcome was really never in doubt. But a performance others might have seen as dominant and thorough, the Ravens graded as mistake-filled and uneven.
“We have won two games. We don’t have the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. We have not won the division. We have not clinched a playoff berth,” Suggs said. “You can never take a game for granted, but the standard is very high here and we did some things that we are kind of kicking ourselves in the butt for. We’re going to go back to the drawing board and try to fix them.”
When Yanda limped off the field early in the third quarter, the Ravens immediately feared the worst. And their fears were confirmed when they learned after the game that Yanda had fractured his left ankle, an injury that ends the season of one of the NFL’s best offensive linemen just two weeks in.
“It hurts,” said Suggs, his voice somber. “He is a leader. There is not a word in the English dictionary that can describe — well, I can’t find one right now — what Marshal is to us. It hurt. That hurts to lose your bell cow. We are going to miss him, but we still have to play Raven football. He would want us to play Raven football, and he would hold us to that standard.”
When Yanda and Bradley, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament covering a punt, go on injured reserve, the Ravens will have 15 players on IR.