Ravens down Browns for 'iffy' win

CLEVELAND - For half the game, the Baltimore Ravens offense could do no right.

The Ravens played a nearly perfect first quarter, then the offense stalled. Thanks to some stout defense and a key fourth-quarter drive, Baltimore escaped with a 25-15 win before 65,449 at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday.

After their meltdown in Houston and a week off, the Ravens ran off a quick 14-0 lead after one quarter.

Baltimore (6-2) had 11 first downs in the first quarter, then nothing. It seemed like forever.

"The defense, they came over and motivated us to get to the next drive," Ray Rice said. "Terrell Suggs came over and said; 'We'll hold them from scoring touchdowns. You guys put a drive together, and let's win this game.'"

Both sides complied.

The Ravens defense never allowed the Browns (2-7) to get closer than the 11-yard line. Cleveland's Phil Dawson converted on five field goals, the last of which gave the Browns a 15-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

"I was thinking that probably wasn't good," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "I was thinking it would be nice to get a first down here."

After the fifth field goal, the Ravens put together their best drive since the first quarter, driving 81 yards to take a 22-14 lead on Joe Flacco's 19-yard pass to Torrey Smith and a two-point conversion to Anquan Boldin with 4:33 to play.

Harbaugh pointed to Flacco's 21-yard pass to Boldin that broke the 30-minute drought.

"The play to Anquan was the play," Harbaugh said.

That put the ball on Baltimore's 40-yard line. Cleveland's T.J. Ward was called for roughing the passer, giving the Ravens 15 crucial yards and Rice, who ran for 98 yards, but just 40 after the first quarter, had a 10-yard gain.

Two plays later, Flacco hit Smith, who dashed in for the score.

"It was all me," Smith said. "There were a few plays I felt like I could have made earlier in the game. I was frustrated by it, so I was glad we got to finish on the good side."

Flacco finished with 153 yards passing. In the last two games, he's been held to just 300. He converted on his first 10 passes, when missed eight of nine.

"It was tough to convert. They had it going, and we just didn't quite have it going at that point," Flacco said.

"I think that everybody does get frustrated. It's just a matter of how you handle it. I think all of us were frustrated when we couldn't move the ball on third down."

Cleveland moved the ball smartly down the field, but then there seemed to be a crucial Ravens defensive play.

"Our job is to keep them out of the end zone. We made plays down there," Ed Reed said. "Us coming off a bye week, there might be a little rust. A couple of mistakes got made. We know we're fine-tuning things for the long haul."

The long haul looks difficult for Baltimore. After a home game next Sunday against Oakland, the Ravens have a Sunday night game at Pittsburgh and a visit to San Diego before playing at home against the Steelers.

After that brutal three game stretch, the rest of December looks no easier, with games against Washington, Denver, the New York Giants and Cincinnati.

"We've never been fancy. We've never been a pretty kind of team. I think the way we are winning games is just the way we continue to win," Rice said. "When you're 6-2, there's just no complaining about it."

This followed narrow wins against Kansas City and Dallas and the debacle in Houston. The Ravens are now 5-0 after the bye in the Harbaugh era.

Baltimore began quickly. Rice scored on an eight-yard run and Bernard Pierce had his first NFL touchdown with a second left in the quarter. The 14-0 lead made it look easy, but it was anything but.

Dawson hit field goals from 32, 28, 29, 33 and 41 yards to give the Browns their only lead.

"We have to play better than this," Ravens safety Bernard Pollard said. "We left some plays out there."

Cleveland's 29-year-old rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden had just 176 yards passing on 20-for-37. He threw two interceptions, one to Cary Williams, early in the third quarter, where the corner reversed direction and netted 29 artful yards and another to Reed in the closing moments.

"Our offense has done a great job. All we've got to do is play defense," Pollard said. "If we're sitting down for a little bit, we're going to be monstrous."

Harbaugh goes home happy because the team won, but not satisfied.

"We are going to try and become a great football team," he said. "We're not there by any stretch."

He'll remember the long two hours without a first down.

"We started fast and we ended well. In the middle, it was like this," Harbaugh said, waving his hand. "It was a little iffy."