The game wasn’t four minutes old when Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden dropped back on his team’s very first offensive play and hit tight end Jordan Cameron with a 53-yard pass that put the ball on the Ravens’ 7-yard line.
If it didn’t remind you of all the defensive breakdowns in the season-opening blowout loss to the Denver Broncos, you probably were watching the Washington Redskins game. The last thing the Ravens needed was a start their home opener with another lapse in the defensive secondary, but what happened after that set the tone for the rest of the afternoon.
The Ravens' red zone defense allowed just 4 yards on the next three plays and the Browns settled for a field goal by Billy Cundiff. It wasn’t the perfect outcome, but it was a lot better than the alternative.
“Very important,’’ Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Obviously, in the score of the game, as the game went along, it could have changed our thinking a little bit. The fact that we kept them out of the end zone might have been ... hey, there’s seven, eight, nine plays that win you games and that was probably one of them.”
The tide didn’t turn immediately, of course. The Ravens struggled through the first half and managed only a pair of field-goal attempts by Justin Tucker that both sailed wide right, but the defense stuffed the Browns' running game and sacked Weeden five times to hold Cleveland in check until Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense could get into gear.
“That was good,’’ Harbaugh said. “They kept their poise and Coach Caldwell is a calming presence and that’s a plus. I thought all of our coaches did a great job to continue coaching. They’ve got confidence in Joe, we’ve got a veteran offensive line that can kind of keep everybody understanding that everything is not going to happen right away, and you can’t panic. You have to keep playing and we did a good jot of that.”
Flacco didn’t light up the scoreboard, but on the day that his second son was born 100 miles away, he delivered a solid performance that would have looked a lot better if his receivers had come down with a couple more catchable balls.
“We just had to take our time and be patient,’’ he said. “You know, it was only 6-0 [at the half]. No need to get all crazy, and we came out in the second half and just played really well. The third downs were huge in the second half, on the scoring drive that we had, so you have to just credit those guys for making those plays.”
The Ravens have never lost a home opener during the John Harbaugh era, but the squeaky victory isn’t going to remove all of the doubts that followed them back from Denver. The defense looked stout up front, but Weeden -- who will never be mistaken for Peyton Manning or next week’s opposing quarterback, Matt Schaub -- did complete 21 of 33 passes for 227 yards.
No doubt, the upcoming practice week will feature questions about the slow-starting offense, the hip injury suffered by Ray Rice and Tucker’s 0-for-2 field goal performance. The Ravens will not be able to burn an entire half trying to get in sync against the Houston Texans next Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, but the Ravens receivers did appear to be much more in tune with Flacco this week.
This reconfigured team clearly is a work in progress, and it made progress this week. Next week’s game, however, figures to be a much more revealing challenge.