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Ravens focused on bettering playoff chances, not avoiding the ignominy of a loss to winless Browns

The game was exactly 10 years ago from this Saturday, and yet Terrell Suggs, one of three current Ravens who played in it, remembers it vividly. He recalls the exact coverage the Ravens were in when lightly regarded quarterback Cleo Lemon hit wide receiver Greg Camarillo for a 64-yard touchdown pass in overtime to give the 2007 Miami Dolphins their first win in 14 tries.

“Ed Reed jumped Cover-2 [defense],” Suggs said after the Ravens’ practice Wednesday. “We called a play. Ed Reed, nine out of 10 times, he’s right. He was just wrong on that one. A [64-yard] slant to the crib. But, hey, that’s history, that’s past. We’re looking forward to playing some football.”

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Suggs said he’s yet to bring up that 22-16 loss to the previously winless Dolphins, which contributed to coach Brian Billick losing his job after a 5-11 season, to his current teammates, but the veteran outside linebacker didn’t rule out the possibility. He, however, doesn’t believe the Ravens need a reminder about the dangers of looking past a struggling team, especially with everything that’s at stake.

The Ravens will face the 0-13 Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, needing a win to improve to 8-6 and to stay in good position for an AFC wild-card berth. That, and not avoiding the ignominy of being the first team in 2017 to lose to the Browns is the team’s sole focus, the Ravens said Wednesday.

“We’re trying to win a game, and that’s all there is to it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’ve got a very tough opponent that we have to play, and their motivation or whatever it might be is really not any concern of ours. It’s our motivation that we’re concerned with, and we have a lot to play for. We need to play our best game. We expect to get their best game, but we expect that every week from everybody we play.”

The 2008 Detroit Lions are the only NFL team to go winless in a 16-game season, but the current Browns are flirting with that dubious distinction for a second straight year. After the Ravens, the Browns will close the season with road games against the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Last season, Hue Jackson’s team was 0-14 when it defeated the San Diego Chargers, 20-17, in Cleveland.

This year’s Browns have had a few near misses. They’ve lost four games by three points and two in overtime. On Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the Browns led by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter before they were ultimately beaten, 27-21, in overtime.

“It’s frustrating, but at the same time, we know that each week is a new opportunity. That’s what we have to look forward to, and that’s what our guys work toward every week,” Jackson said in a conference call with Baltimore-area reporters. “This league is tough. It’s hard to win in the league. I think we all get that. Every week presents a different challenge. This is going to be one of our toughest challenges because this is one of the better teams in the National Football League, and we get that. We don’t know when it’s going to break through, but we know at some point and time we will.”

In Jackson’s tenure, the Browns are 1-28, but their struggles long precede him. Cleveland hasn’t had a winning record since 2007. The Browns haven’t made the postseason since 2002, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 1994.

While those numbers perfectly capture a downtrodden franchise, they’re not particularly pertinent to the Ravens.

“I don’t think anybody is thinking about that,” Ravens safety Tony Jefferson said about avoiding the stigma of losing to a winless team in December. “We’re thinking about winning games, winning these last three. I don’t care who we’re playing. We’ve got to win these last three to be in the playoffs. Losing is not an option.”

Three days earlier, Jefferson sat slumped in front of his locker at Heinz Field with his head in his hands. With an upset victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in their grasp and a chance to tighten their grip on a wild-card spot, the Ravens blew a late nine-point lead and lost, 39-38. Jefferson took the loss particularly hard because he got beat for two touchdown passes in the game and was also the deep safety on Antonio Brown’s late 34-yard catch that set up Chris Boswell’s game-winning field goal.

Ravens players were off Monday before returning to the team facility Tuesday for workouts and meetings. By then, the players insisted that they had already moved on from the bitter loss to the Steelers and that their focus was on the Browns.

“It would be no different than playing any other team in the league at this point of the season,” safety Eric Weddle said. “We need a win to keep our playoff hopes alive. It just happens to be Cleveland and their situation, but we’re not really worried about them or the record. We’re worried about the players, scheme, what they’ve shown on film, that this is a really good team. Obviously, the record doesn’t show it, but it’s a talented team and we have to go out and play well against them.”

Suggs noted that this week’s situation against a winless Browns team isn’t all that comparable to the Ravens’ 2007 loss to the 0-13 Dolphins. The Ravens entered that game with no playoff aspirations, having lost seven straight games to fall to 4-9.

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Now, the Ravens are in near-must-win territory if they want to return to the playoffs for the first time in three years. They also understand that they are playing a division rival that has traditionally played them tough. The Ravens are 17-2 against the Browns in the Harbaugh and Joe Flacco era, but 12 of the past 15 matchups have been decided by 10 points or fewer.

In the past three trips to Cleveland, the Ravens have won by a combined 13 points. They expect another hard-fought, close game Sunday regardless of Cleveland’s record.

“It’s just another game against the Browns for us,” Flacco said. “Like you said, it’s always a tough opponent. We have a lot at stake right now, so we’re really just worried about winning the football game.”

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