Ravens 25, Browns 15
No, this is not a rant about drug-laced baked goods. Actually, this poorly conceived title is a reference to the fact that, yesterday, the Ravens played the Browns, and that the Browns organization is so bad it has “gone to pot,” as they say. “They” being no one, of course, but “pot” in this case referring to the toilet—you know, where literally crappy things go. Dumb title aside, the Browns are bad. The Ravens beat them on Sunday because the Ravens organization, conversely, has not gone to pot: Thanks to John Harbaugh, Ray Rice and Joe Flacco, probably in that order, it has been pulled from such watery, disgusting depths in recent years. But are we the “elite” team that media chatter claims? This I wonder. And this I doubt. Because the Ravens only look “elite,” or even “good,” for about half of every game. For the other half, we look like the Jaguars crossed with the Pittsburgh Pirates crossed with France: a mind-boggling amalgam of various failures. This is not my attempt to get the street cred often given to homers who dwell on small imperfections. This is honesty. The Ravens are a Bad “Good Team,” at least this year.
We qualify as a Good Team because of all the stats that I and other time-wasting sports lovers had to memorize and parrot this week: The Ravens have won an NFL-best 11 consecutive games against division opponents. We are 10-0 against the Browns during the Flacco/Harbaugh Era, having not lost to them since 2007. We are 5-0 after bye weeks under Junderbaugh (which for some reason I just typed instead of “John Harbaugh” but I’m going to keep anyway). We haven’t lost two straight games since 2009 … and our last game was a loss to/depantsing by the Texans.
We qualify as a Bad Good Team, however, because these impressive stats suggest that a Good Good Team, if it didn’t outright destroy the Browns—a far inferior team now and historically to the Ravens—at least would not have languished in mediocrity for two quarters, giving the Browns hope and a steady sense of momentum en route to our squandering a two-touchdown lead. A Good Good team would not have let things get so bad that I literally began to look forward to a soul-crushing loss for the sole reason that I believed, with our offense looking so positively, terrifyingly, eye-assaultingly monstrous, that Cam Cameron would be fired Monday morning if we did lose.
The Ravens came out like gangbusters, tricking Maryland into believing that the team was going to forego the listless, mistake-riddled starts it usually has on the road. Fourteen points in the first quarter? SAH-WEET! It wasn’t a coincidence that Flacco started 10/10 for 100 yards (a mathematically gorgeous stat line) at the same time that Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were gashing the Brownies for four and five yards a pop. Those good vibes, however, were short-lived—annihilated near the end of the second quarter, during the entire third, and for much of the fourth. During that stretch, we had five three-and-outs, went 0 for 7 on third down, and amassed four yards of total offense. After running for 66 yards on 13 carries in the first half, Rice gained one yard on five carries during this drought, which is noxious not just for the fact that a man who is 5’8 could not gain half of himself, but also for the fact he touched the ball just five times, all on extremely imaginative dives up the middle into really fat guys who knew he was going to run a) if it was first down, or b) if it was second down and Flacco had just thrown an incompletion.
None of this changed until about six or seven minutes were left in the game, after the Browns scored their fifth field goal and 15th consecutive point to take a one-point lead. Forced to abandon their “at least we’re still winning” mindset, the Ravens drove for the win: The line blocked well, Flacco had a pocket, Rice had lanes, the receivers got separation and didn’t drop passes, and Cameron called a surprisingly nice mix of runs, passes and play-actions. Hell, the officials even gave us a “roughing the passer” penalty, and I have seen Joe Flacco all but curb-stomped and set on fire without getting that call. I was also shocked that we went for a two-point conversion: I kind of figured Junderbaugh was thinking, “Hey, Cleveland only scores field goals, right? Let’s be up by TWO OF THOSE THINGS!!!” And not only did we convert, but we converted … easily? With a beautiful Flacco floater to a wide-open Boldin? That two-point conversion was the highlight of my week. And my week included dressing up like a character from “Captain Planet” for Halloween, so I do not make this point lightly.
Did the Ravens win this game or did the Browns lose it? On the one hand, we snatched a road victory from a hated division rival, which is never easy. We improved to 6-2, we’re second in the AFC, Rice ran for nearly 100 yards against a good defense that held the Chargers to six points last week, and Flacco pulled off a game-winning drive. On the other, the Browns reeled off 15 points in a row, marched at will for two quarters-plus, and probably only lost because their head coach and offensive coordinator are hideously clueless, with one failing to get a touchdown off five drives in the red zone and the other going for it on 4th and short from his own 30-yard line when there were four minutes left in the game and he had two time-outs. Either way, I will happily take this uninspiring win against a fairly bad team. I will also happily take being 8-0 in season predictions.
On to the Raiders.