BALTIMORE - The Ravens remain a team with substantial question marks, but the end result Sunday was a win, one of great importance to Baltimore considering the manner in which it lost to the Denver Broncos last week.
The Ravens' offense sputtered for large portions of the game Sunday, and they now face the prospect of being without Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice for an extended period of time because of a hip injury, but the offense did play better in the second half.
And despite the first-half struggles, that improved play from the offense combined with a dominant defensive performance was enough for the Ravens to pull out a 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday.
"[It was a] hard fought AFC North game," said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who improved to 11-0 against the Browns. "I thought we played the kind of game we need to play to win the game. We overcame some adversity, overcame some trials, and we found a way to win the game."
That said, the Ravens are a team with question marks, especially offensively, although Baltimore was encouraged by how the offense moved the ball during the second half.
That doesn't erase the fact that the Ravens' offense struggled during training camp and the preseason, sputtered during last week's game against the Broncos and had problems during the first half Sunday.
But after being held without a single point during the first two quarters, and after picking up just three first downs during its final five drives of those opening two quarters, Baltimore's offense scored two second-half touchdowns and looked like an more cohesive unit than it had at probably any point during the early part of this season.
"We had to just take our time and be patient," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "You know, it was only 6-0 [at the half]. No need to panic or get all crazy, and we came out in the second half and just played really well."
Flacco had a particularly eventful day.
Shortly after his wife, Dana, gave birth to the couple's second child, Flacco threw for 211 yards and a touchdown without an interception and completed 22 of his 33 pass attempts.
His numbers weren't anything eye-popping, but they also could have easily been better. Baltimore pass-catchers had at least four drops Sunday. That includes wide receivers Marlon Brown and Torrey Smith, who were both unable to pull in would-be touchdown passes during the first half.
But Flacco and the receivers connected for several big plays during the second half.
The Ravens' opening possession of the third quarter went 80 yards in 12 plays and ended with a 5-yard Bernard Pierce touchdown run that put Baltimore in front, 7-6.
On the scoring drive, Flacco was 3-for-3 for 44 yards. Each of his three completions converted a third down of six yards or longer. One was a 23-yard pass to Smith. He also had a 10-yard pass to Brown and an 11-yard pass to Brandon Stokley that moved the Ravens to the Browns' 13-yard line.
"The third downs were huge in the second half [and] on the scoring drive that we had," Flacco said. "You have to just credit those guys for making those plays."
Brown, starting in place of injured wide receiver Jacoby Jones, had just one catch for 12 yards in the first half, but he had three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown in the second.
He played a key role on Baltimore's second scoring early in the fourth quarter. He had an 18-yard catch on a third-and-8 to move the ball to Cleveland's 6-yard line, and then he caught a 5-yard touchdown from Flacco two plays later to extend the Ravens' lead to 14-6 with just more than nine minutes left in the quarter.
"We just came back in the locker room and regrouped," Brown said. "We just focused more in the second half, and we made way more plays in the passing game and the running game."
But Baltimore's defense deserves significant credit for Sunday's victory as well.
After struggling as much as it during the loss to Denver last week, the Ravens' defense limited the Browns to just 259 yards and 13 first downs as Baltimore contained Cleveland running back Trent Richardson and had quarterback Brandon Weeden under constant pressure.
Weeden was sacked five times, and he threw for just 174 yards aside from a 53-yard completion to tight end Jordan Cameron on the Browns' opening play from scrimmage.
Richardson, meanwhile, had just 58 yards on 18 carries.
Cleveland's first drive ended with a field goal, set up by that long completion to Cameron, but the Ravens held the Browns to just three points on their final 11 possessions.
"You give up no touchdowns, that's a tremendous performance," Harbaugh said.
Baltimore does have question marks, and offensive players were admittedly frustrated with the first-half struggles Sunday, but the end result Sunday was a win and a game that did produce plenty that the Ravens were encouraged about afterward.
"We wanted to get rid of the bad taste of the Denver loss," Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "We went out there and did the job."