Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore Sun
What happened: Because of a scheduling conflict with the Orioles, the Ravens became the first defending Super Bowl champions in 10 years to play their opener on the road. The result was a roller-coaster performance that would foreshadow the rest of the season's first half. Quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos stormed through a 21-point third quarter, exposed a leaky Ravens secondary and forced Joe Flacco to throw a total of 62 times while playing a doomed game of catch-up through the air. Flacco threw two interceptions, tight ends Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark dropped multiple passes, and the offensive line gave up four sacks -- and those miscues don't even count the defense's matador impression. Performance of the game: If there were still any questions about Manning's age and allegedly weaker arm, they were quelled after the four-time league Most Valuable Player threw for 462 yards and seven touchdowns on 27-for-42 passing. It was the most touchdown passes ever allowed by the Ravens in a single game and tied the NFL record. Turning point: It's amazing to think that the Ravens were leading at halftime in what became such a lopsided affair. In the third quarter, Manning passed for three touchdowns in a six-minute span. The Ravens put up 10 points in the fourth but also gave up 14 to seal the blowout. Key stats: The Ravens averaged 2.8 yards per carry. Manning threw for 11 yards per attempt, while Flacco averaged 5.8 yards per attempt on 20 more passes. The Ravens secondary gave up passing touchdowns of 23, 24, 26, 28 and 78 yards. Quote: "We're better," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We can play better. We gave them too many things, too many open guys, too many things where we just need to get better at communication [and] things early in the season."
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Christopher T. Assaf, Baltimore Sun
What happened: It was far from pretty, but the Ravens eked out a win with an improved defense and a just-good-enough passing attack. They sacked quarterback Brandon Weeden five times while keeping the Browns out of the end zone. The Ravens offense had little success running the ball and was shut out in the first half. But Flacco led the team down the field for two touchdowns -- a 5-yard run by Bernard Pierce in the third quarter and a 5-yard catch by Marlon Brown in the fourth quarter. Performance of the game: Middle linebacker Daryl Smith, who spent nine seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars before signing with the Ravens in the offseason, led the team with 11 tackles. He added 1.5 sacks, a tackle for loss and two passes defended. Turning point: While defense set up the win, the Ravens had to score at some point to avoid what would have been a truly embarrassing loss and an 0-2 start. After the Ravens got the ball at the 11:03 mark of the third quarter, running back Ray Rice bolted for 14 yards on the left side, then Flacco hit speedster Torrey Smith (Maryland) for a 23-yard pass down the middle. After conversions on third-and-7 and third-and-8, the offense got the first touchdown of the game with Pierce's 5-yard run. Key stats: Cleveland's offense was 4-for-15 on third down and had 259 total yards. Ravens kicker Justin Tucker went 0-for-2 on field goals, one fewer miss than he had last season. Rice lost his fourth fumble in his last six games. The Browns went for it on fourth down twice but were stopped each time. Quote: "When Joe put up points, it was like sharks. It was blood in the water, and we pinned our ears back," Ravens defensive tackle Arthur Jones said. "We know that any time we put up points and the clock is rolling down, it's time to perform. It's time to get after the quarterback."
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Whether or not you believe in a "Super Bowl curse," there's no debating that the Ravens have appeared to be in a trance for much of their Super Bowl follow-up. The signs are everywhere: Three quarterbacks (the Seattle Seahawks' Russell Wilson, the Oakland Raiders' Terrelle Pryor and the Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick) have more rushing yards than Ray Rice. Only five quarterbacks have been sacked more times than Joe Flacco (20). And the Ravens are the first defending champ since 2006 to be under .500 after seven games. Yet amid the gloom remains a beacon of hope: the Ravens play in perhaps the weakest division in football. And they still have both games against the only team ahead of them in the AFC North. It'll be a while before we know whether the Ravens are cursed, first or something in between. In the meantime, here's a game-by-game look back at how they got here. -- Nicholas Fouriezos, The Baltimore Sun