CLEVELAND — The Ravens didn't expect Matt Schaub to be perfect in relief of an injured Joe Flacco. He hadn't started a game in 23 months, and his last extensive playing time for the Houston Texans in 2013 was characterized by him having interceptions returned for touchdowns in four straight games.
They simply wanted the 34-year-old to limit his mistakes and make plays when the Ravens needed them to be made.
On a chilly night in Cleveland, the Ravens got the whole Schaub experience, and it appeared that the quarterback's final mistake, coupled by the latest inexplicable late-game defensive meltdown, would cost the Ravens the game.
But in this zany Ravens season, nothing is ever that cut and dried. The Browns moved into position to try a game-winning field-goal attempt after Schaub's interception late in regulation. However, Brent Urban, in his first NFL game, blocked Travis Coons' 51-yard attempt. Ravens safety Will Hill scooped it up and returned it 64 yards for a touchdown, ending a wild Monday night matchup and giving the Ravens a 33-27 victory over the Browns.
"It was one of the great football games you're ever going to see in terms of excitement," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.
The Ravens improved to 4-7 on the season, and have back-to-back wins for the first time this year. Urban's block gave the Ravens a blocked kick or punt in five straight games.
"It's surreal, man. After being out for this long, it's crazy," Urban said. "I'm almost speechless. It's just a wonderful feeling."
It was the first time Schaub won a game he started since September 2013, though it wasn't pretty.
Schaub threw an interception that Browns linebacker Karlos Dansby returned for a 52-yard touchdown early in the third quarter. The score gave the Browns a 20-17 lead and completed their climb from out of a 17-3 second-quarter deficit. But Schaub answered immediately, leading the Ravens on a 12-play, 80-yard drive that he kept alive by hitting fullback Kyle Juszczyk for 15 yards on fourth-and-2.
Schaub ended the drive with a nice throw Kamar Aiken, who extended the ball over the goal line to complete the 15-yard touchdown pass. The Ravens led 24-20 and seemed to be in control of the game when Justin Tucker converted a 35-yard field goal to give them a seven-point lead.
But with starting quarterback Josh McCown out of the game with a shoulder injury and normal third-stringer Austin Davis in, the Ravens inexplicably allowed Cleveland to tie the game. Davis found Travis Benjamin all alone behind the Ravens defense and he hit him for a 42-yard touchdown pass. Coons' extra point tied the game.
"That play with Benjamin, I should have been right there. I was locked in on something else and made the wrong play," Hill said. "But I was praying. I said, 'If we get a block and it bounced my way, I'm going to take it to the end zone.' Luckily, it did.
"The ball bounced the right way. ... I wasn't paying attention to anything inside. I was just focused on not stepping out of bounds and making it to the end zone."
That set the stage for the dramatic finish.
"That was a special one. I've been a part of some crazy endings and some crazy games, but I think that was a first to end on a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown," Schaub said.
Said Harbaugh: "It was almost a game of redemption. Will Hill didn't do a very good job on that coverage. He got fooled a little bit, gave up a touchdown pass, and then comes back and picks it up and runs it in. All the guys on the field-goal block team that set the wall down the sidelines. It was just a thing of beauty."
The Browns' first Monday night home game since 2009 had a bit of a preseason feel to it. At kickoff, the seats at FirstEnergy Stadium were only about half full. ESPN started it's lead-in to the game with a segment on Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel, who was demoted to third string because of his off-the-field activity during the bye week, and wasn't even expected to play in the game.
The Ravens, were missing six key offensive starters, the most notable being quarterback Joe Flacco, who tore two knee ligaments in last weekend's victory over the St. Louis Rams. When Schaub took the first snap, it marked the first time a quarterback other than Flacco started a game for the Ravens since Dec. 30, 2007, when Troy Smith lead his team to victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So, the game not only featured two teams with the third lowest combined winning percentage ever for a Monday night matchup at least 10 games into the season, but it pitted two journeyman quarterbacks in Schaub and the Browns' McCown.
Despite that, the first half was compelling, if not well played. It started with a display of speed by Ravens return man Kaelin Clay, who returned Andy Lee's first punt of the game for an 82-yard touchdown. Playing in his second game as a Raven, Clay, who was claimed off the Detroit Lions practice squad, broke one early tackle and sprinted down the far sideline, where he went untouched before getting into the end zone.
The Ravens made it 10-0 on Justin Tucker's 49-yard field goal, giving them their first 10-point lead since Week 5, when they were beaten by the Browns, 33-30, in overtime.
After Travis Coons' 31-yard field goal got Cleveland on the board, Schaub answered quickly. He hit wide receiver Chris Givens for a 48-yard gain down the middle of the field. If Schaub had led Givens, the Ravens would have had a touchdown. But they settled for having the ball on the Browns' 12-yard line.
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Two plays later, Schaub found running back Buck Allen cutting across the middle, and the rookie broke about three tackles before muscling into the end zone for his first NFL score. The 13-yard touchdown pass was Schaub's first since December 2013, and it gave the Ravens a 17-3 advantage. The 14-point lead was the Ravens' biggest of the season, but it was extremely shortlived.
McCown, who torched the Ravens for 457 yards in the first meeting, found his rhythm in the second quarter and the Ravens could do nothing to stop him. During one stretch, he completed 13 of 14 pass attempts in leading the Browns on back-to-back scoring drives.
The first was a nine-play, 69-yard march that McCown finalized by hitting Marlon Moore for a 10-yard touchdown pass. McCown bought time with the scramble and Moore ran away from Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who got caught looking into the backfield and lost track of the Browns receiver.
The Browns then moved all the way to the Ravens 3-yard line in the final seconds before halftime. However, McCown threw three consecutive incompletions and Cleveland settled for Coons' 21-yard field goal. That made the score 17-13.
Schaub was an effective 7-for-9 for 86 yards and a touchdown in the first half. McCown, meanwhile, was 16-for-26 for 189 yards and one score. However, the Ravens clung to the four-point lead heading into intermission.