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Four takeaways help Ravens put away winless Browns, 27-10, stay on pace in AFC wild-card race

The anxious moments for the Ravens lasted a little more than five minutes in the second quarter Sunday afternoon. The Cleveland Browns turned away the Ravens with a goal-line stand and then went the length of the field to score a touchdown. Suddenly, the Browns had a lead and the home fans who decided to show up — and there weren’t many of them — believed that this Sunday could be different from so many others for the franchise.

“You know how these guys can be,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You let them hang around and they're capable of doing really good things.”

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Success for the Browns, though, is seemingly always fleeting. The Ravens got the ball back and scored a touchdown on a 2-yard run by Flacco. Two minutes and one Browns turnover later, the Ravens scored another touchdown as Flacco connected with tight end Benjamin Watson on a 33-yard strike.

The Ravens were never truly threatened again, running off 24 of the game’s final 27 points in a workmanlike 27-10 victory over the winless Browns that was short on style points but plenty effective. When it was over, the Ravens celebrated with the purple-clad fans that remained from an announced crowd of 56,434 and checked off one of the three possible wins they’ll likely need to get back to the postseason.

“Today we just handled business,” Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace said. “We knew they were going to fight. They are a good football team and they’re well coached. We know they want to get the first win. We couldn’t let them get it on us, not in this situation, not when we’re playing for a playoff spot. We came out, we did what we needed to do, and it’s on to the next one.”

Flacco threw for a season-high 288 yards, accounted for two touchdowns and didn’t turn the ball over.

The defense took the ball away four times, giving them nine forced turnovers in two games against Cleveland this season, and scored a touchdown on Brandon Williams’ fumble recovery of a strip sack by Za’Darius Smith. Sam Koch repeatedly set the defense up for success by putting three punts inside the Browns’ 5-yard line.

The Ravens (8-6) finished their road schedule with a 4-4 record, and know they would secure an AFC wild-card spot by beating the Indianapolis Colts (3-11) and Cincinnati Bengals (5-9) over the final two weeks of the regular season.

The Buffalo Bills also won Sunday to improve to 8-6, but if both they and the Ravens win out and finish with 10 victories, the Ravens would win the tiebreaker based on their records against common opponents. The Bills’ final two games are on the road, against the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins, so their road is much tougher.

“We kind of got to wear blinders. You’ve got to run your own race. You can’t be worried about what everybody else is doing,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You have to handle your own business. You take care of your own business and then you can look and see where you’re at. But you kind of got to run your own race and see how it plays out. We’ll see.”

At 0-14, the Browns took another step toward the ignominy of joining the 2008 Detroit Lions as the only teams to go winless in a 16-game season. The Ravens said all week that the potential embarrassment of losing to a winless team had no bearing on their preparation. They lavished praise on Cleveland’s young talent and its coach, Hue Jackson, a former Ravens assistant.

And the Ravens, who had suffered a gut punch of a loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers the previous Sunday, showed early that they were ready to play with only their struggles to finish drives standing in the way of the game becoming one-sided in the first half.

“I’m not going to lie. I was a little nervous how we were going to play,” said Ravens safety Eric Weddle, who had a first-half interception. “It’s a different group every year. It’s not like we’ve had five years of experience of losses and wins and playoffs. You don’t know how everyone is going to respond. I thought we had a great week of practice. I thought mentally everyone was in it and glued in, and wasn’t hanging too much on last week, especially on the defensive side. I was eager to see how we were going to play today. I’m proud of this group. I’m proud of the way we responded and just the belief and the character of our team from our head coach down to the players on this team, that we‘re going to fight.”

Leading 3-0 early in the second quarter, Ravens coach John Harbaugh kept his offense on the field on a fourth-and-goal from the 1. Running back Alex Collins, who didn’t get anything going on the ground all day, was stopped for a 3-yard loss.

On the next play, Browns running back Isaiah Crowell burst through the line for a 59-yard run. Four plays later, Duke Johnson Jr. scored on a 12-yard run to give the Browns the lead.

But the Ravens answered immediately, scoring touchdowns on their next two drives and the defense allowed only three points the rest of the way. Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was overmatched, completing 20 of 37 passes for 146 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions and a fumble.

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Any thoughts of a Browns comeback ended midway through the third quarter, when Smith knocked the ball loose from Kizer in the end zone after Koch’s punt had pinned the Browns deep in their own territory. Williams recovered the ball just a couple of inches outside the end zone and moved it across the goal line without being touched. It was the Ravens’ fifth defensive touchdown this season.

“I thought what turned the game were obviously the four takeaways, which led to 14 points. That’s big,” said Harbaugh, whose team leads the NFL with 33 takeaways. “It’s something that’s important for us and we were able to do that.”

Offensively, the Ravens didn’t get much going in the ground game until the fourth quarter, but they were able to move the ball by mostly relying on intermediate passes. Flacco completed 26 of 42 passes while being sacked just once. He connected with nine receivers after losing one of his top targets, Jeremy Maclin, early in the game to a knee injury.

His best throw of the day came when he hit Watson in stride for the 33-yard score that gave the Ravens a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter.

“The offense, we've definitely been better in the past few weeks,” Flacco said. “We've been working hard at it and we're starting to put some stuff together and do some good things. In a way, it felt good to leave some stuff out there today. It felt like we could have put more up — more yards, more points.”

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