Carroll County Times
Carroll County

Ravens continue to struggle, fall to Browns

CLEVELAND - Ravens coach John Harbaugh said earlier in the week that he felt like Baltimore was poised to "catch fire" despite all of the issues his team dealt with during its first seven games.
But the Ravens were the same flawed team Sunday as they were before their bye week. And with their 24-18 loss to the Browns, the defending Super Bowl champions will now have a difficult time merely making the playoffs.
"Right now, we're just not good enough," Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco said. "You go out there and put your head down, try to be successful and try to have good plays. And right now, we're just not doing that.
"I think if I was an outsider, I'd be somewhat surprised that we're 3-5 right now. I wouldn't expect that. But we were out there on the field, and I know how we played today, and I know that we weren't good enough."
The loss was the Ravens' first to Cleveland since 2007, snapping an 11-game winning streak. It was also the first loss for Baltimore following a bye week in its five-plus seasons under Harbaugh.
"Been the [same] story line all season," left guard A.Q. Shipley said. "We've been practicing well all year. [Since] training camp, we've been putting together good practices throughout the week. And the thing is that it's just not translating to the games."
The Ravens had a chance to move within a game-and-a-half of the Bengals for first place in the AFC North heading into next week's home game against Cincinnati.
Instead, Baltimore falls 2 1/2 games back in the AFC North and a game-and-a-half behind the Jets for the second and final wild-card spot.
Only four teams in the AFC have a worse record than the Ravens right now.
"It's going to be a challenge [to make the playoffs]," Harbaugh said. "We're going to have to win some games. We have to start winning some close games. ... And you do that first of all by not losing the game. You can't put yourself in position, you can't make the kind of mistakes that create opportunities for your opponents, and we've done way too much of that throughout the course of the whole season."
Mistakes like Tandon Doss' muffed punt return during the third quarter that led to a Browns touchdown, the blown coverage minutes later that left Cleveland tight end Gary Barnidge wide open for a short touchdown catch and Sam Koch's shanked punt during a critical point of the fourth quarter that gave the Browns much more favorable field position than they should have had.
But overall, the Ravens simply didn't play well enough to win.
Flacco played better in the second half, but he was bad for most of the first half. He was off target, held onto the ball too long, which led to sacks, and he also had an ugly interception during the first half that he later said was a product of both a poor decision and a bad throw.
But Flacco wasn't the only issue.
Baltimore still can't run the ball. Ray Rice had 10 yards on his first two carries Sunday.
After that, Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for just 18 yards on their final 15 carries.
The Ravens' offensive line struggled in the run game and also allowed five sacks.
There were the nine penalties.
And Baltimore's defense allowed journeyman quarterback Jason Campbell to throw for 262 yards and a career-high three touchdowns.
"We're not making the plays that we need to make enough," Harbaugh said.
Yet, the Ravens did have a chance to win late in the fourth quarter.
Five of Baltimore's first six possessions ended in either a three-and-out or a turnover, but Flacco's 19-yard touchdown pass to Marlon Brown with nine seconds left in the second quarter cut the Browns' lead to just 14-10 going into halftime.
The Ravens still trailed by that same margin midway through the third quarter and were about to get the ball back when Doss muffed a punt near Baltimore's goal line, giving Cleveland possession at the Ravens' 11-yard line.
Campbell threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Barnidge two plays later.
The Ravens cut the Browns' lead to 21-18 early in the fourth quarter with Brown's second touchdown catch and a successful two-point conversion, but the offense failed to score on their next possession, and Baltimore's defense then couldn't get Cleveland's offense off the field until all but 14 seconds had elapsed in the fourth quarter.
On that drive, the Browns converted both a third down and a fourth down and, in all, ate more than six minutes off of the clock while forcing Baltimore to use all three of its timeouts.
"I know our players are good enough to win these games," Harbaugh said. "There's no doubt about it. We just have to play better. The mistakes have got to get cleaned up. We have to make more plays."
But the same issues continue to be problematic, and time is running out to clean them up if the Ravens are going to have any chance of making the playoffs.