The Baltimore Ravens managed to extend their winning streak over the Cleveland Browns to nine straight games Thursday night, when they recorded a 23-16 victory at the M&T Bank Stadium. The game ends a period that saw the Ravens play four games in just 17 days, and Head Coach John Harbaugh will likely be satisfied to have escaped the game with a victory, albeit a hard fought one, and allow his players some much needed time to rest.
The first quarter was fairly uneventful as neither team′s offense got themselves into rhythm, allowing defenses to dominate the game. Two notable plays came late in the quarter when a huge hit on Josh Cribbs on a punt return dislodged both his helmet and the ball, allowing the Ravens to dive on the ball and regain possession. Unfortunately for the home side however, their subsequent drive ended in quarterback Joe Flacco throwing an interception in the end zone by Craig Robertson.
Fortunately for fans of both sides, the game exploded into action in the second quarter. Flacco lead an excellent drive down the field, finding multiple receivers before linking up with Torrey Smith in the end zone for the opening score of the game. The score remained at 6-0 as holder Sam Koch could not take the ball cleanly on the extra point opportunity and the play collapsed.
Ravens kicker Justin Tucker added a 45-yard field goal later in the quarter before rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden took Cleveland on a 94-yard drive, which culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run by Trent Richardson.
If Flacco had been responsible for the Ravens first touchdown drive, then wide receiver Anquan Boldin was responsible for their second. Boldin was targeted successfully four times on the 89-yard drive, before Flacco ran into the end zone himself to re-establish Baltimore′s nine point lead.
Cleveland pulled back to within one score of Baltimore with a 51-yard field goal, but then gave momentum back to the Ravens at the end of the third quarter. Weeden threw an interception, which cornerback Cary Williams returned for a 61-yard touchdown, giving Baltimore a 23-10 lead heading into the final quarter.
The Browns cut the deficit to just seven points with two successful field goals, but the visiting fans were left wondering what could have been when wide receiver Greg Little was unable to connect with a Weeden pass in the end zone, as the ball seemed to slip through his outstretched hands.
An almost perfectly orchestrated drive from Weeden with just over a minute left on the clock came close to tying the game up and sending it to overtime, but clutch defensive moments from the likes of Ed Reed did enough to ensure Baltimore would emerge victorious with a score line of 23-16.
Cleveland put in a performance which belied their 0-4 record, and there were certainly positives for the Browns, even if it will be hard to take for their frustrated fans. Weeden looked calm and composed, and had his offensive line and receivers shown more consistency, then the game could quite easily have finished with a different result.
The Ravens will be pleased with the victory as they move to 3-1, especially with such a short turnover since their previous game against the New England Patriots. There are still concerns about both their pass rush and their pass defense. Whilst their secondary has not been diminished at all since last season, there is a general consensus that if Baltimore can improve their pass rush, the secondary will also improve as a result. Needless to say, the Ravens are praying for a swift return for 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs, especially given the destruction Haloti Ngata is causing amongst interior offensive linesmen.
Both teams will now have a lengthy break till their next games, allowing their injured players extra time to recover from their knocks. Cleveland will visit current Super Bowl champions the New York Giants, whilst the Ravens head west to play the Kansas City Chiefs, with both games on October 7.
Image Courtesy of The Official Cleveland Browns