When the Ravens needed a stop late Sunday night as their attack just could not push them over the finish line, they showed Ray Lewis on the video board inside the M&T Bank Stadium.
This is the Lamar Jackson era in Baltimore, but sometimes the original recipe works just as well as the new-fashioned stuff. On an evening with the worst of his career for Jackson, it was the Ravens defense that was the difference in yet another wild primetime victory.
When they needed to keep the Browns out of the end zone during the final 70 seconds of the game, the Ravens did not even let Cleveland get past their first-down mark. Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, a star all night, stopped tight-end David Njoku 3 yards from the sticks with 54 seconds left to secure a 16-10 victory.
The Ravens’ defense and specialty team was the difference on an evening where Jackson finished 20-of-32 for 165 yards, a touchdown and a career-worst four interceptions. He became the first quarterback to throw four interceptions in a win since 2013.
With the win, the Ravens held their lead in the AFC North over the Bengals, who had opened Sunday’s roster by throttling the Pittsburgh Steelers in Cincinnati. And when the Tennessee Titans fell to the New England Patriots, the Ravens took their place at the top of the AFC. The New England Patriots (8-4), Titans (8-4), Kansas City Chiefs (7-4), Bengals (7-4) and Buffalo Bills (7-4) are breathing down their necks.
Jackson improved to 5-1 as a starter against Cleveland (6-6). Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have won 23 games against the Browns, giving the Patriots the most games against one team in that time. (New England’s bounty has, not surprisingly, been the New York Jets.)
Even without defensive end Calais Campbell, who for the first time this year was put on the sidelines by a concussion, kept the Ravens running backs Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb, the leaders of the NFL’s most productive rushing attack, to a combined 36 yards on 15 carries. The Browns’ longest carry in the game went on just 9 yards.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who may have played his last game in Baltimore with the Browns, finished 17-to-33 for 240 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry had six catches for a game-high 111 yards.
Jackson came out in the second half without his black sleeves and with some old magic. In the first half, he had finished 10-to-17 in 74 yards and thrown three interceptions. In the first drive of the second half, he went 4-for-4 in 63 yards and a touchdown.
His last two finishes were vintage Jackson. At third-and-4 near midfield, Jackson jumped to the sideline before throwing a high-bow pass to tight-end Mark Andrews, who sprinted down the field on an impromptu route toward safety Ronnie Harrison Jr. Andrews not only pulled the pass interference penalty when he got back to the ball, but also caught it with one hand.
Three games after finishing on 39 yards, Jackson bought just enough time to start one in the end zone. First, he sidestepped a diving Jadeveon Clowney. Then he fell back, and farther back and farther back, until he was 15 yards past where he had taken the shotgun. He swung around just before the defensive end, Myles Garrett was able to line him up for a sack, so Andrews revealed and threw to the goal line.
Andrews’ diving grip gave the Ravens a 13-3 lead and Jackson a chance to breathe. With the touchdown secured after 20 yards of scrambling, he pointed both hands at Garrett, who stared at him in apparent disbelief before coming over to embrace the Browns’ star. There was a lot to tackle.
Cleveland finally took off and responded. Aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on Bowser, the Browns covered 87 yards in five games. Mayfield found tight-end David Njoku a sliding 20-yard catch that was maintained after a long review. With just over a quarter of an hour left, the Ravens’ lead was down to 13-10.
The first half Sunday was not the offensive explosion that was the teams’ last primetime meeting, a 47-42 instant-classic Ravens victory in Cleveland in December last year that had 35 points in the fourth quarter alone. It was instead a showcase for quarterbacking inequality.
Jackson tied his career with three interceptions in a five-pass span. On the first, wide receiver Rashod Bateman tipped a pass to outside linebacker Malcolm Smith, who deflected it to cornerback Denzel Ward. On the other, safety Grant Delpit stepped in front of a telegraphed pass over the middle to Andrews. On the third, safety Ronnie Harrison took advantage of Jackson’s apparent miscommunication with Andrews, who ran one way when Jackson threw the other way, to Harrison.
The Browns’ revenue in the first half was fewer, but more creative. Late in the second quarter, with Cleveland on the edge of the field-goal range, Landry took a shotgun and waited for someone to open. He quickly got into trouble. Ravens outside linebacker Odafe Oweh tracked him down for a strip-sack, and inside linebacker Patrick Queen threw himself over the fumble after the turnover.
Two drives later, after Cleveland utilized Jackson’s first pick for a short field-goal drive, it was Mayfield who ended up as the punchline. On yet another drop in field-goal reach, Mayfield backed and backed and bought time by Oweh and safety Chuck Clark. When he finally ended up throwing, he did so without the ball. Oweh fell on the fumble at Ravens’ 49; their defense was credited with a team firing.
Most of the Ravens’ attack could get the whole half, though, was a field goal. Before taking a 6-0 lead late in the second quarter thanks to Justin Tucker, the Ravens started their final set of setbacks on Cleveland’s 3-yard line. They had the ball at 1 a game later. But the Ravens could not hit it, and Tucker got the call on fourth down only after right guard Kevin Zeitler’s foul start penalty of 2.
Crucial injuries did Cleveland no favors. The Browns lost All-Pro right tackle Jack Conklin, and got his first start since an elbow injury in Week 8, to a knee injury in the first quarter, after Oweh drove him over on a bull rush. Harrison was briefly put on the sidelines. It was Clowney, too. And tight-end Harrison Bryant left with an ankle injury in the first half.
RAVENS @ STEELERS
TV: Chs. 13, 9 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens with 3
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