The Ravens' 16-0 win over the Cleveland Browns caused as much concern as celebration.
After scoring a couple of touchdowns in a 17-second span of the third quarter, the Ravens (5-4) looked like a team that survived and saved their playoff hopes against the hapless Browns (1-8).Linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs limped out of the locker room with a full-leg brace to protect his right knee sprain. Tight end Todd Heap walked off the field in the final minutes of the game, clutching his left side. And kicker Steve Hauschka put his job in jeopardy after missing another field-goal attempt and getting an extra-point try blocked.
An apathetic crowd at a half-filled Cleveland Browns Stadium seemed unimpressed by the Ravens. A national television crowd probably felt the same way.
"It was an ugly game," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said, "but that's the way some of those are in the NFL."
After being held scoreless for the first 32 1/2 minutes, the Ravens jumped out to a double-digit lead in the third quarter by capitalizing on the Browns' mistakes.
The first touchdown came on a 13-yard run by running back Ray Rice - the result of the Ravens rushing to the line and taking advantage of an out-of-position defense. The next one occurred on the next offensive play as Brady Quinn's pass bounced off the hands of tight end Robert Royal and went right to Ravens safety Dawan Landry, who ran 48 yards for the touchdown.
It marked the Ravens' first shutout since 2006. But it might as well come with an asterisk because it came against a Browns offense that scored just five touchdowns in the first eight games this season.
"It was a dogfight," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
The Ravens' fourth straight win over the Browns moved them one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3). But the victory was filled with lingering issues.
Hauschka's kicking problems were "disappointing," Harbaugh said. "He has to kick the ball better and kick the ball with more confidence. We need a kicker to play better than that."
Asked if he has to evaluate the kicking position: "We've been evaluating the kicking position. We had a great talk Tuesday night. He'd be the first to tell you that he has to kick better than that."
The Ravens' offense managed just one touchdown against the NFL's fifth-worst scoring defense (an average of 26.1 points allowed). The Ravens finished with 274 total yards and converted four of 14 third downs (29 percent).
Another worry is Suggs, who sprained his knee in the third quarter and didn't return. The Ravens' top pass rusher was injured on Quinn's second interception of the third quarter.
Suggs would only say, "It's all right," as he hobbled out of the locker room. He had an electronic stimulant on the leg, too.
"Right now, I don't know," Harbaugh said when asked if it's serious. "It's not one of those catastrophic knees. So, we'll MRI it and take a look it tomorrow."
Heap's also a question. Injured in the first half, he fought through the pain to play after halftime.
"It's painful right now," Heap said.
The Ravens looked confused early, using up all three first-half timeouts in the first 6 minutes, 15 seconds of the game. Their defense was penalized in the first quarter for having 12 men on the field.
As a result Hauschka's missed first field goal, the Ravens recorded their fourth scoreless first quarter in their past five games.
The struggles extended into the second quarter for the Ravens, who were shut out in the first half for the second straight week. The Ravens haven't scored an offensive touchdown in their past five games.
In the first eight games of the season, the Browns had allowed an averaged of 13 1/2 points in the first half.
The Ravens' defense helped its offense to start the second half, forcing the Browns to go three-and-out. Taking over at their own 41-yard line, Flacco connected with Mason for a 41-yard, third-down pass. Mason spun out of a tackle by cornerback Brandon McDonald and ran to the Cleveland 13-yard line. After a quick snap, Rice scored a touchdown in his fifth straight game.
On the next series, Landry never broke stride when he picked off Quinn to score his second career touchdown off an interception. It also marked the Ravens' first interception after a 16-quarter drought.
Hauschka's point-after was blocked by Shaun Rogers making it 13-0.
On Cleveland's next possession, the Ravens picked off Quinn again when the pass went off wide receiver Mike Furrey and right to nickel back Chris Carr. Quinn was flagged for a low block on the interception return, and Suggs was injured on the play.
That turnover led to Hauschka's 44-yard field goal.
Now, the Ravens face a three-game stretch against the Indianapolis Colts, Pittsburgh Steelers and Green Bay Packers.
Said Harbaugh: "This three-game stretch coming up is probably everything for our season."