8:02 PM EDT, September 15, 2013
It is two weeks into the regular season, and there is still a lot to learn about the 2013 Ravens because nothing much came out of Sunday's 14-6 win over Cleveland. The same weaknesses that were exposed last week against Denver showed up again against the Browns.
The only difference is that Denver, a championship contender, exploited the weaknesses. With Cleveland, if there is way to lose a game, the Browns will find it. If they can't, they will invent one.
The Browns are still the clowns of the NFL. So there was no real high-fiving, "we're back" mentality in the defending champions' locker room after the game, just a sigh of relief that they won and escaped going starting the season 0-2.
If the Ravens had lost at home to a team they had beaten 10 straight times, there should have been serious consequences like the NFL revoking the Ravens' license for getting beat by team the caliber of a Canadian football squad.
"We didn't talk about it at all, 0-2 never crossed our minds," Ravens fullback Vonta Leach said. "We knew the Cleveland Browns were coming in here and we had to get a win, we had to take care of business."
And they did, but this wasn't a strong effort. The Ravens played good defense, but there were gaping holes in the coverage. The Ravens finished with 296 yards of total offense including 174 in the second half, but never established a serious rhythm or consistency.
Thank goodness they were playing the Browns, a team that has only gone to the playoffs one time and had two winning seasons since football returned to Cleveland in 1999.
Both teams are in transition. The Ravens have six to seven new faces rotating in on defense and they are trying to revamp a passing game missing two top receivers from year ago in Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta.
The Browns have a new head coach and a new staff, and they also have some outstanding players, but the culture appears to be the same. The big difference is that the Ravens know how to win and Cleveland doesn't. A good team doesn't commit several delay of game penalties in third down situations.
A good team with a winning quarterback doesn't overthrow wide open fullback Chris Ogbonnaya sprinting uncontested at midfield down the left sideline late in the third quarter. Cleveland should have gambled on fourth-and-7 at their own 49 with 7 minutes and 24 seconds left in the game, and punted onfourth-and-10 at their own 22 with 3:09 remaining.
But that's why they are the dreadful, downtrodden bad news Browns.
"It was a hard fought AFC North game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought we played the kind of game we needed to play to win the game."
Translation: We weren't good, but the Browns weren't either, and we played hard enough to win.
It is going to take some time to build this team, and after Sunday's showing, it may take even longer than Harbaugh expected. The Ravens cornerbacks actually turned and knocked down some passes, but there were too many times receivers were open over the middle like the 53-yard reception to tight end Jordan Cameron on the Browns opening series or those crossing routs or flares in the flats.
Nearly a week ago, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning made the Ravens pay for those fundamental and communication mistakes.
On offense, the Ravens had only 99 yards rushing on 36 carries and quarterback Joe Flacco seemed only to look to receiver Torrey Smith in the third quarter after his receivers either dropped passes or couldn't get open.
"[Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell] was very patient and he wanted to get back to the run in the second half and he did a great job with that and stayed patient," Harbaugh said. "I think that's a mark of just a great coach."
Truth be told, Caldwell stayed with the run because Cleveland couldn't score and the Ravens had trouble pass blocking and holding onto the football. Caldwell stayed with the run out of necessity, not because it was a strength. And the Ravens pounded the Browns at the end after Cleveland virtually surrendered midway in the fourth quarter.
But there were some positives. The pass rush was relentless as the Ravens finished with five sacks led by outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. Suggs had his best game against Browns left tackle Joe Thomas who had controlled Suggs in the past.
"A new me with different training methods," said Suggs, laughing. "I've been wrestling Gators, running the pyramids in Egypt."
The Ravens controlled Browns running back Trent Richardson and held him to 58 yards on 18 carries. On offense, Flacco seemed more comfortable throwing to receivers Brandon Stokley and Marlon Brown late in the third and into the fourth quarters.
But on a day when kicker Justin Tucker missed field goals of 50 and 44 yards, the Ravens knew they were fortunate to walk away with a win. They know that on Tuesday morning, the worst they can be is tied for first place in the division with either Pittsburgh or Cincinnati.
And that isn't bad for a team that has yet to play well.
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