In September, even an ugly win is a win

The Ravens have many things to fix before good teams come to town

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh discusses the team's 23-16 win over division rival the Cleveland Browns and welcomes back the officials. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun video)

OK, it wasn't pretty, but it was effective.

At this time of the year, that's all that counts. If the Ravens play in December like they did Thursday night against Cleveland, then they have problems. But after playing four games in 18 days, who cares if they squeaked by the Browns?

In September, a win is a win.

For both teams, Thursday night's game was basically a gut check. Both teams had only one day to prepare because it was their second game in four days.

The game went as expected. I thought the Ravens might win by more points, but I didn't think it was going to be a blowout. I expected the Browns, regardless of not winning a game this year, to play hard against the Ravens — and they did.

It was a good win under the circumstances. The Ravens still had an explosive offense and it was good to see veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin step up and make big plays in the second half. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron still needs to use the running game more, but hopefully he'll adjust like he did in the second half of last season.

Defensively, there is still concern and that probably won't go away for the rest of the year. The Ravens just give up too many yards, and they can't stop the run or the pass consistently. If the Browns had better receivers, they might have beaten the Ravens Thursday night.

But they don't, and they lost. At the beginning of the season you'd probably been happy if the Ravens were 2-2 after four games, but they are 3-1 which puts them on track to win 10 or 11 games.

They still have a lot of work to do, but the Ravens are in first place in the AFC North and still considered a top contender to win the conference.

At this point, an ugly win is a good win.

Other observations

•The Ravens put running back Jamal Lewis into the Ring of Honor Thursday night and the team might never find a better runner. Not only is Lewis the team's all-time leading rusher, he changed the tone of a game with one of those vintage mid- to long-range runs where he'd run over a couple of defenders.

Those runs would excite the defense, especially middle linebacker Ray Lewis. The two often spoke to each other on the sidelines and challenged each other to take over games. It was the Lewis boys against the rest of the NFL.

•At this point, it is basically a foregone conclusion. Once this season is over, the Browns will fire Coach Pat Shurmur and President Mike Holmgren will probably be dismissed as well.

The Browns are a minor-league operation with minor-league talent. Before Thursday night's game, the Browns had dropped 11 passes in the first three games. They dropped three more in the first half.

•The NFL Network made too big of a deal about the regular officials returning Thursday night? Did we really need to see them dressed in street clothes coming into the stadium? Did we really need to see Ray Lewis, who never met a camera he didn't like, hugging them?

Officials should never be bigger than the game or the players. On Thursday night, they were bigger than life thanks to the NFL Network.

•Sometimes, Joe Flacco gets away from proper mechanics like throwing off his back foot when he doesn't have to. He did it midway in the second quarter and missed an easy touchdown throw to tight end Dennis Pitta down the left sideline.

Flacco didn't have any pressure.

When his pass for Boldin was intercepted in the end zone by linebacker Craig Robertson with 3:21 left in the first quarter, Flacco stared at Boldin the entire time which is why Robertson stayed in the area with Boldin. With cornerback Dimitri Patterson, the Ravens easily doubled Boldin.

•There might not be a better running back in the league at running screens than Ray Rice. Once he gets out in the flat behind those offensive linemen, he is hard to find and even harder to bring down.

If he gets a one-on-one with a defender, Rice wins almost every time.

•The Ravens offensive line has done a decent job so far this season, but I still say the starting groups should be Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, Kelechi Osemele at left guard, Matt Birk at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Michael Oher at right tackle.

This group has more experience and is more physical. I'm still not sure Oher will be a quality left tackle in the NFL, and he sure wasn't Thursday night. Osemele didn't have a good game either. Both tackles have trouble with speed rushers.

•Flacco will never be confused with Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick when it comes to running a football.

It seemed to take him forever to turn the corner on his 1-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. Forget a stop watch. You needed a calendar to measure his speed.

•The best player on the field was Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who destroyed Browns center Alex Mack and both guards, Jason Pinkston and Shawn Lauvao. Nagata controlled the run and collapsed the pocket several times to either force quarterback Brandon Weeden to step up, or get sacked by someone else.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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