CLEVELAND — By the end of a 28-3 win Sunday, the Ravens had scored more points, rushed for more yards and passed more efficiently than any offense unfortunate enough to have faced the Browns’ top-ranked defense this season. The Ravens knew what awaited them here. They’d arrived with a plan and a purpose. Their offensive numbers, cold and unflinching, told a story of success.
Less quantifiable, but no less important, were the boos created, tails beaten and backs broken — figuratively, anyway — over a game-defining first-half stretch. Midway through the second quarter, the Ravens took over at their 7-yard line, holding on to a four-point margin. Less than eight minutes later, they had a 21-3 halftime lead and a chokehold on an AFC North clash.
“They were massively important,” coach John Harbaugh said of the Ravens’ back-to-back 93- and 74-yard touchdown drives. “They were really the game. It gave us an opportunity to get in position to win the game.”
The takeover showcased the very best of the Ravens (3-1), who left Ohio with a divisional road win for the second time in three weeks. And it started with their defense, which played as if starting quarterback Deshaun Watson’s surprising deactivation because of a shoulder injury were an affront to its competitive spirit.
After a Ravens fumble ended a promising drive in field goal range, rookie quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson got Cleveland (2-2) only as close as the Ravens’ 45 before it punted again. Quarterback Lamar Jackson and the Ravens started inside their 10 for the first time all game, a bad place to be for an offense that had managed just four first downs over the game’s first 21-plus minutes, succumbing at times to the Browns’ crowd noise and team speed.
The Ravens ran their way out of trouble: a 4-yard carry by running back Gus Edwards, then a 6-yarder by Edwards. After a 36-yard catch-and-run by tight end Mark Andrews, Justice Hill ran for 15 yards. Then he ran for another 7. Then running back Melvin Gordon III ripped off a 22-yard carry, down to the Browns’ 3. Jackson, who’d opened the game’s scoring with a 10-yard designed run, snaked his way in for a 2-yard touchdown with 4:21 left that pushed their lead to 14-3.
“There’ll be a lot of teams that come and play timid,” Hill said of Cleveland, which had allowed just 2.8 yards per carry and 52 yards per game over the season’s first three games. “We’re going right in to attack them.”
After running through Cleveland, the Ravens forced a three-and-out and took over at their 26 with 2:45 remaining. They didn’t have much time to spare. So Jackson dropped back to pass, again and again, against the NFL’s best pass defense.
A holding penalty that nullified a drive-starting 55-yard catch-and-run by Hill did not deter the Ravens. Edwards ran for 16 yards to get them back on track. Jackson found rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers on a screen pass for 6 yards. After two short runs, Jackson feathered a 23-yard pass down the left sideline to Gordon, just out of the reach of stumbling star inside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah.
A first-down sack by defensive end Myles Garrett knocked the Ravens out of field goal range. A holding penalty on left guard John Simpson knocked the offense back into Ravens territory. Then, on second-and-29, Jackson waited … and waited … and waited, until he could wait in the pocket no longer, and bolted to his right. The 8.38 seconds between the snap and his throw, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, was enough time for Flowers to get open downfield for a 43-yard catch near the right sideline.
“It’s something we work on,” said Flowers, who finished with three catches for 56 yards. “You know Lamar’s going to run around and create plays ... so we just work on that every day. And I saw him running, and I just shot all the way to the corner, and he threw it to me.”
Inside the red zone again, Jackson surged ahead for a 4-yard run, then narrowly missed a 7-yard touchdown to wide receiver Nelson Agholor. His third-down throw was maybe his best of the game, though: an off-platform dime to Andrews, over two Browns defenders, in the corner of the end zone, with 11 seconds remaining in the half.
“He’s the full quarterback,” said Andrews, who had five catches on five targets for a game-high 80 yards and two touchdowns. “He’s not just the full quarterback; he’s able to do so many other things that other quarterbacks can’t do, and that’s a beautiful thing. Lamar Jackson’s second to none.”
Said Jackson, who finished 15-for-19 for 186 yards and two touchdowns, and added nine carries for 27 yards: “I just gave Mark a shot, and he did the rest.”
The Browns entered Sunday having allowed one offensive touchdown and 11 plays of 15-plus yards in three games, according to TruMedia. In two drives Sunday, the Ravens scored two touchdowns and had six such explosive plays. Against a defense that had allowed an NFL-best 163.7 yards per game, the Ravens rolled up 167 in half a quarter.
“That’s a momentum shift, whenever you can get some big plays — big, explosive plays — [and] put points on the board,” Hill said. “The defense feels that, the offense feels it, special teams — everybody feeds off of it.”
It was a knockout one-two punch. As the Browns headed into the locker room after a let’s-get-outta-here kneel-down, boos rained down upon them. Some fans headed for the exits. It was only halftime, and the Ravens already led 21-3. They’d outgained Cleveland 249-70. They’d forced a turnover and stopped six of eight third-down opportunities.
Days before, Ravens inside linebacker Roquan Smith had raised some eyebrows at his Wednesday news conference, remarking that, on the road, he knew he was considered “the bad guy.” Players’ families would be watching, and yet, “we’re going over there to beat their tails in front of their wife and kids.”
It hadn’t taken long. The Ravens knew that much as they ran off the field. They already had the Browns’ number.
“I think Roquan pretty much explained that statement before the game just coming out here, try to take over,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “That’s what every team does, try to go into another person’s stadium and try to take over. And that’s what we did today.”
Right tackle Morgan Moses and safety Daryl Worley left with shoulder injuries, while cornerback Jalyn Armour-Davis, primarily a special teams player, left with a hamstring injury. None returned to the game, and Harbaugh said the team was waiting on further testing.
Cornerback Arthur Maulet briefly left the game in the second half while he was being evaluated for a concussion, but he returned.
Mastering the Browns
Andrews has nine receiving touchdowns against Cleveland, the most by any Ravens player against a single opponent in franchise history. He also has at least five catches and 75 yards in four of his past five games at Cleveland.
“I thought Mark Andrews just played an incredible game,” Harbaugh said.
Jackson was 8-for-9 for 135 yards and a touchdown while passing under pressure, according to NGS, good for a nearly perfect 155.8 passer rating.
Thompson-Robinson, meanwhile, went 4-for-15 for 14 yards and threw two picks — bad enough for a passer rating of zero.
Browns wide receiver Amari Cooper, coming off his best game of the season, had one catch on six targets for 16 yards. He drew a pass interference penalty on defensive back Brandon Stephens on a trick play, but he didn’t have a catch when covered by a Ravens cornerback, according to NGS.