Mike Preston: Ravens, exposed as work-in-progress in loss to Browns, can’t be trusted yet | COMMENTARY

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Ravens fans made a mistake if they booked airline and hotel tickets for the Super Bowl in Las Vegas.

Most fans became giddy last week when the Ravens routed the Seattle Seahawks, but that perspective changed Sunday after a 33-31 loss to the Cleveland Browns before an announced crowd of nearly 70,000 at M&T Bank Stadium.


After last week, the Ravens had supposedly become this monster with a quarterback who was going to win the NFL Most Valuable Player award and a record-setting defense that was as good as the famed 2000 group that led the team to a championship.

But the voice of reason kept saying, hold on, be patient, and let’s see where this ends. So, if you’re out of a few hundred to a thousand dollars, you can always get a refund.


Or better yet, be patient.

Some thought the Ravens started to peak a week ago, but it’s way too early. Sometime in December we’ll find out exactly how talented this team is and how far it can go in the postseason.

But right now, don’t trust the Ravens.

They lost to the stumbling, bumbling Browns on Sunday, even though they had a 24-9 lead early in the third quarter and a 31-17 advantage with 11:34 left in the fourth.

They lost to a team that committed 10 penalties for 55 yards, fumbled a punt that led to a Ravens touchdown and missed the extra point attempt that should have tied the score at 31 with 8:16 left in the game.

They lost because the defense gave up a six-play, 75-yard touchdown drive and a 12-play, 58-yard march in the fourth quarter, the latter of which resulted in a 40-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins as time expired.

To quote former New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora in one of the most famous sound bites of all time: Playoffs?

How about just winning the game and being consistent. That’s how good teams become champions.

A pass from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson sails past wide receiver Zay Flowers (4) as Browns safety Juan Thornhill (1) covers during the second quarter Sunday.

“Yes, you get put in a situation where it’s kind of a dogfight, [and] it’s a close game; these are the types of games that you’ve got to win [and] you’ve got to be great at,” Ravens tight end Mark Andrews said. “Everyone has got to lock in. No matter what happens in the first half, third quarter or however much you’re up by, when it comes to that fourth quarter, it’s time to go.”


The Ravens aren’t there yet. The Browns tried to give the Ravens the game, but they gave it back. Few players will say it, but they got outhit Sunday. It’s one of the few times since John Harbaugh became coach in 2008 you can say that a team was more physical than Baltimore. When the Ravens played in Cleveland earlier this season and won, 28-3, they were the ones who delivered the beatdown.

Cleveland had 373 yards of total offense Sunday, including 178 on the ground. They had the ball for 34:15, nearly nine minutes more than the Ravens.

In the fourth quarter, the Browns marched up and down the field, including the final drive that started on their own 15-yard line because of a false start.

Outside linebacker Odafe Oweh strip-sacked quarterback Deshaun Watson on first-and-10 from the Cleveland 31 with 3:02 to play, but the Browns recovered the fumble. On the next play, Watson threw a 17-yard pass over the middle to wide receiver Amari Cooper, and Cleveland ran the ball five straight times to set up the game-winning field goal.


That never would have happened to the 2000 Ravens. On Sunday, the Ravens’ zone defense was soft up the middle against both the run and the pass.

“Yes, we didn’t play our specific zone coverages there — our split safety coverages very well — and that’s what happened,” Harbaugh said.

“A big part of the emphasis in the plan was to keep [Watson] in the pocket, retrace [and] tackle him coming back in the middle. When he took off — we call it the front door — that’s when he ran, and we didn’t want to let him get out of there, but he still did it. So, that’s something that was disappointing.”

Those are the things that can be fixed in the second half of the season, but that’s another reason why it was too early to have the Ravens penciled in the Super Bowl or lauded as a great team.

Offensive coordinator Todd Monken is still learning how to use quarterback Lamar Jackson. Jackson is a great athlete who can hit short to intermediate passes, but he struggles throwing the long ball and usually commits a turnover when he gets rattled.

That came with 1:02 left in the first half. On first-and-10 at the Ravens’ 25, Jackson scrambled to the sideline for 9 yards before being hit out of bounds by cornerback Mike Ford Jr., leading to some pushing and shoving between the teams. On the next play, Jackson underthrew receiver Rashod Bateman and Ford picked off the pass.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh looks on in disbelief regarding a call during the fourth quarter Sunday.

This has happened quite often throughout Jackson’s career. Monken also needs to realize that when Jackson is out of rhythm, the ball has to be taken out of his hands and the Ravens need to run the ball.

And what happened to speedy halfback Keaton Mitchell? The rookie had a 39-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and a 32-yard reception minutes later that led to a 37-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.

Then, poof, he disappeared faster than Houdini. Mitchell had two carries for 32 yards in the first half but only one carry in the second.

“It’s just kind of the way it went as far as the play calling,” Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t a part of the plan or anything like that.”

It’s all part of the learning curve. Monken will figure this out, and so will defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald. The Ravens are 7-3 and still lead the AFC North by half a game.

They get a chance to spit out this sour taste in their mouths by playing the Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore on Thursday night. The Ravens are a prideful group and will rebound.


But it’s still too early for anyone to make Super Bowl reservations. The Ravens can’t be trusted.

Not yet anyway. This loss to the Browns proved it.

Ravens running back Keaton Mitchell, left, drops a pass in the end zone while Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki defends in the first quarter Sunday.