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Behind Enemy Lines: Browns show grit, promise in loss to Ravens

By Terry Pluto, The Plain Dealer

12:45 AM EDT, September 28, 2012

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I know, the Browns lost 23-16 to the Ravens -- and pro football is all about the bottom line.

Win or go home.

And the Browns returned home at 0-4 this season.

But let's be realistic about this game. The Browns were playing a legitimate Super Bowl contender on a field where Baltimore had won 20 of its last 21 games before Thursday night. Joe Flacco has matured from a good quarterback to one of the best in the NFL.

The Ravens entered the night averaging 33 points a game, and doing it against New England, Cincinnati and Philadelphia.

While Baltimore's defense has not been as dominating as in the past, these guys still hit you hard enough to make you grab for the aspirin, if only you can remember where you put it.

So I'll just say it straight: I feared the Browns would be embarrassed on national television.

Instead, they played with a lot of heart, keeping the game reasonably close and showing the country that Trent Richardson has a chance to be an impact running back.

Consider how he bolted around end for that 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Playing with no preseason and only six weeks after knee surgery, Richardson looked very strong against an angry, gifted and experienced Baltimore defense.

That touchdown run was the rookie's third rushing touchdown of his pro career -- and he did it for a team that had only four rushing touchdowns all of last season. Richardson is showing that he has a radar for the end zone, as he also has caught a screen pass for a score this season.

When general manager Tom Heckert traded up to pick the Alabama running back, it was with the idea that Richardson would make an immediate impact on the offense. Remember, the Browns ranked 31st in rushing last season.

Richardson had 47 yards rushing on 14 carries, which doesn't sound like much. But Baltimore stacked the line, forcing the Browns to pass.

Just as Buffalo did in its 24-14 victory over the Browns on Sunday, the Ravens wanted to stop Richardson from beating them.

You can say that mission was accomplished.

But you also can say Richardson showed another talent -- he can catch the ball out of backfield. He had four catches for 57 yards, a 14.3 average.

While Richardson is only six weeks away from knee surgery, you can see that the best is yet to come from him.

Brandon Weeden had an up and down night.

The peak was the Browns' 11-play, 94-yard drive in the second quarter, the one ending with Richardson in the end zone. It was one of the most impressive marches for a touchdown this season. It happened in Baltimore, in the rain, and against a defense that had been slamming Weeden to the ground.

But the rookie quarterback connected with Greg Little on a beautiful 43-yard laser down the sidelines. It was Weeden's longest completion of his rookie year.

Weeden was 25-of-52 passing for 320 yards.

He stayed pretty calm under lots of blitzes from different angles. He nearly completed a game-tying pass to Little in the end zone early in the fourth quarter. The game ended with Weeden taking three shots in the end zone and the Browns on the Baltimore 18-yard line.

I thought Weeden showed a lot of grit and promise. You can see the arm strength and how he can grow with Richardson and some of the younger receivers.

Now say this: 50-51-52.

Three kicks from Phil Dawson, three field goals from at least 50 yards in the rain. And two of them came into the same goal posts where the Ravens' Justin Tucker missed a 47-yarder.

Mr. Dawson already has four field goals from at least 50 yards this season. He is this generation's Lou Groza for fans of the orange helmets.

The Browns did a lot wrong in this game, which is why they lost.

But they also did some things very right, and that kept me watching intently all night.