"It felt great," said coach John Harbaugh after his teams 28-7 win over the Cleveland Browns. "We haven't had one of those in a long time. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The decision was made even before the Ravens went into halftime trailing the lowly Cleveland Browns, their walk to the locker room greeted by a smattering of boos by the home crowd. At that point, the Ravens had gone 17 possessions without an offensive touchdown, a span of more than 77 minutes in football time that clearly felt far longer to the fans.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg talked it over and then delivered the plan to the offensive players. When the Ravens got the ball in the third quarter, they were going to get into their hurry-up offense.
It started with Joe Flacco's 20-yard completion to Mike Wallace on the Ravens' first offensive play of the third quarter, and essentially ended on Breshad Perriman's acrobatic touchdown catch midway through the fourth quarter. In between, the Ravens flexed the type of offensive muscle and firepower they've been lacking all season.
Flacco had only one touchdown pass in three previous games. In a span of 18 minutes, 20 seconds of the second half Thursday night, he threw three of them, leading the Ravens to a 28-7 throttling of the winless Browns in front of a prime-time television audience and an announced 70,921 at M&T Bank Stadium.
"It felt great," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh who improved to 16-2 in his career against the Browns. "We haven't had one of those in a long time. A lot of the players on the sideline, really led by Jimmy Smith, mentioned that we finally have one of these games where we can [exhale]. It wasn't until three minutes were left in the game that we had this conversation, but it was a good three minutes, that's for sure."
By the end of the game, the Ravens (5-4) looked like a team now in sole possession of first place of the AFC North, while the Browns took one more step toward a winless season. Leading by one at halftime, the Browns allowed the Ravens to score the game's final 25 points, as the visitors fell to 0-10 for the first time in franchise history.
It was a rare thorough beat down by the Ravens, who forced three second-half turnovers on Browns quarterback Josh McCown, who relieved rookie starter Cody Kessler in the third quarter and threw two interceptions and lost a fumble. Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs got the better of standout Browns left tackle Joe Thomas and directly forced two of them.
Continually getting opportunities because of a swarming defense that held the Browns to 37 total yards over the final two quarters and coming back after two ill-advised interceptions took away scoring opportunities, Flacco completed 13 of 17 passes for 163 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the second half.
"I think we ran the ball well, and when you make mistakes, it kind of puts you in a bad mood, and things don't tend to go your way," Flacco said. "We had a decent two-minute drive at the end of the first half. I think that probably talked us into going two-minute [no-huddle] to start the second half, and really for a handful of drives there, and until we got into the four-minute at the end. It worked well, gave us a spark."
Flacco's 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Darren Waller in the back of the end zone with less than 10 minutes to play in the third quarter gave the Ravens a 13-7 lead and culminated a 9-play, 64-yard drive. It was the first score of Waller's career.
Flacco hit Steve Smith Sr. for an 11-yard score with just more than two minutes to go in the third, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk's two-point conversion reception made it a 21-7 game. The touchdown moved Smith just three catches shy of 1,000 for his career.
Flacco, who entered the game with just six touchdown passes, then put the Browns away with a 27-yard touchdown to Perriman midway through the fourth. The touchdown, which was reviewed to see if the ball hit the ground, was the first of Perriman's career. It also ended a 12-play, 90-yard drive that was probably the Ravens' most impressive offensive possession all season.
"There were 13 or so plays in that drive, and there were nine runs," Harbaugh said. "We made yards in that drive. Based on the tape, I think what I'm going to see is that we really started blocking them really well. That was the key to close out the fourth quarter."
Flacco finished the game 30-of-41 for 296 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. His 97.2 quarterback rating was his highest since the season-opening victory over the Buffalo Bills. It has to be noted that it was against the Browns, who came into the game with a defense that ranked at or near the bottom of most defensive categories.
But that mattered little to the Ravens offense, which finally has some momentum and the weekend off before they get back to work next week in preparation for the NFC-leading Dallas Cowboys.
"The locker room, they are having a lot of fun in there," Flacco said. "It's a lot of fun to be part of winning football. It's one of the toughest things to do in the world, to win a game in the NFL. So when you win them, you enjoy them all."
The Ravens insisted they wouldn't look past winless Cleveland. In the locker room after Sunday's 21-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a win that broke the first four-game losing streak of the Harbaugh era and vaulted the Ravens into first place in the AFC North, several players said the win meant nothing if they didn't beat the Browns.
Smith seemed incredulous to even be asked during the week about whether facing the Browns was potentially a "trap game." Smith pointed out that at 4-4, the Ravens don't have the luxury of overlooking anybody.
As has been their pattern this season, the Ravens had their moments offensively in the first half, but they usually amounted to nothing because of ill-timed mistakes.
Justin Tucker's 25-yard field goal with 10:29 remaining in the first quarter gave the Ravens the lead, but was a disappointing result against the NFL's 31st-ranked run defense.
To that point, the Ravens defense had given up little ground to the Browns and their rookie quarterback. Kessler got things going, though, with a 14-yard completion to Terrelle Pryor and a pass interference call on Ravens rookie corner Tavon Young. He then found rookie tight end Seth DeValve for a 25-yard touchdown. DeValve beat Eric Weddle, and fellow safety Lardarius Webb was a step late to give him help.
But after taking a 7-3 lead, the Browns didn't score another point, and a quarter later, the Ravens offense finally broke from its malaise.
"It's really big for us," said rookie running back Kenneth Dixon, who had his best game as a pro with 38 yards on six carries and five catches for 42 yards. "Gets us one step closer to the playoffs, and that's what it's all about."