NFL Nation: 2013 Week 9 BAl at CLE

Joe Flacco Rick Osentoski/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco was sacked a season-worst five times and hit a total of eight times against Cleveland.

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden was right that these Baltimore Ravens aren't the Ravens of old. You can start with the fact that quarterback Joe Flacco, one of the remaining pieces of last year's championship season, isn't the Flacco of old.

Flacco is getting paid to be an elite quarterback. He obviously isn't playing like one. The disturbing part is he doesn't play with the same confidence he carried in the Ravens' Super Bowl run earlier this year, which is one of the reasons why the Ravens looked lifeless at times in a 24-18 loss at FirstEnergy Stadium and why the defending champions are in a midseason free fall.

While this was the epitome of a total team meltdown, Flacco played a major role in his first loss in 12 meetings with the Browns. He sleepwalked through the game's first 29 minutes. He struggled to throw the ball deep. And he didn't show any killer instinct in the final seconds of the game.

This wasn't just a problem in Cleveland, where he was outplayed by a journeyman quarterback. This has been the case for week after painful week.

"It's obviously frustrating we just haven't been good enough," Flacco said.

The problem is, the Ravens wouldn't be a playoff team if Flacco was slinging the ball all over the field like Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees or any other quarterback in the NFL ritzy pay grade. The Ravens are a flawed team in every facet of the game. If you want to single out Flacco because of his $120 million contract, I can give you 120 more reasons why Baltimore has its worst record (3-5) at the midway point in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons.

The offensive line can't protect Flacco, who was sacked a season-worst five times and hit a total of eight times. The running game stalled so much that Flacco ended up as the team's leading rusher (25 yards). The defense couldn't get the other team off the field in the fourth quarter for the third straight game. And special teams are a mess as well, from Tandon Doss losing a punt at the Baltimore 13-yard line to Sam Koch shanking a 25-yard punt in the fourth quarter.

Asked if it's unfair to point the finger squarely at the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player, offensive tackle Eugene Monroe said, "Definitely. Everyone is a part of this."

Even when it has been bad for the Ravens, there have been two assurances with Flacco. They always win after the bye and they always beat the Browns. After watching the Ravens lose for the first time in both instances, it's difficult to have any confidence in the Ravens or Flacco.

This was a time when the Ravens should have had a sense of urgency. With the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals losing Thursday night, the Ravens would've cut their lead to 1½ games heading into Sunday's showdown. Instead, the Ravens produced another lethargic first half, which has been a trademark nearly the entire season.

Flacco started off as rusty as he has been all season, misfiring on 10 of his first 15 passes. He repeatedly threw behind his receivers and missed two big plays to Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson in the first quarter. At one point in the game, the Browns' Jason Campbell had two touchdown passes and Flacco had three completions.

This has been a role reversal from the playoffs earlier this year. Flacco had a 113.8 passer rating in the first half during the playoffs and averaged 9.1 yards per attempts.

His worst pass in Sunday's punch-in-the-gut loss, and perhaps the season, was an underthrown deep pass that was intercepted by Haden in the second quarter. The throw fluttered so high in the sky that it looked more like a punt than a pass.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Joe Flacco
Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports"Any time you make the quarterback uncomfortable, it changes everything for him," Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe said of Joe Flacco.
"It was just a terrible ball," said Flacco, who finished 24-of-41 for 250 yards and two touchdowns. "It didn't come out of my hand right or something. It was a really bad ball. I threw it up in the air and it just got caught up there and didn't do anything. It probably wasn't a great decision anyway."

Flacco was so off his game that it looked like he may have been hurt. He even underthrew Torrey Smith on a 46-yard pass that would have been a touchdown on a better pass.

But coach John Harbaugh said Flacco wasn't injured, and Flacco brushed off those suggestions better than he did the Browns' pass rush.

Asked if the hits were taking a toll on him, Flacco said, "I don't think so. Yeah, they hurt a little bit at the time. It is what it is. It's football. I thought I was able to escape the pocket a couple of times and try to make some things happen. They worked some times and they didn't work other times."

There were times when the Browns had clear shots at Flacco. The pocket collapsed almost immediately on third down in the fourth quarter, when Ray Rice missed a block. Flacco was sacked, ending a drive at midfield with the Ravens trailing 21-18.

"Any time you make the quarterback uncomfortable, it changes everything for him," Monroe said. "Even if you have the most poised guy in the world, if you're getting hit or pressured, you might look for that. Joe sits in there and he makes plays when we need him to. If he does get hit, he doesn't give any crap about it. He's a standup guy. We have to do our job to protect him. The better we can do that, the better the passing game will prosper from it."

Flacco got the ball back at his own 20-yard line with 13 seconds remaining. Unlike the last game in Pittsburgh, Flacco wasn't as aggressive. Needing a touchdown, Flacco decided to throw the ball short on his final two passes instead of chucking it deep like he did in the playoff game at Denver.

"The first one, we had the play where we throw the curl to Torrey and we're looking to pitch it all over the place," Flacco said. "On the second one there, I figured the same thing would happen. I figured I could get it to Ray [Rice] and he can make somebody come across the field and start pitching the ball."

Flacco isn't the only high-profile quarterback struggling these days. Matt Ryan, who received more guaranteed money than Flacco this offseason, has a 2-6 record. Two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, are a combined 4-12.

The Ravens didn't pay Flacco this offseason based on stats. They spent the money because he's a proven winner. But, halfway through this season, he has been part of the problem, not the solution.

"I think if I was an outsider, I'd be somewhat surprised that we're 3-5 right now," he said. "I wouldn't expect that. But we were out on the field and I know how we played today and I know we weren't good enough."

CLEVELAND -- Rob Chudzinski told his team on his first day as the Cleveland Browns coach that they should expect a certain approach.

He wanted to be aggressive, and he wanted his team to be aggressive.

“He hasn’t disappointed,” left tackle Joe Thomas said.

No, he has not. Twice in the 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens Chudzinski called for his team to go for the first down on fourth-and-1. Both were important moments in a close game. Both went the Browns' way.

[+] EnlargeDavone Bess
AP Photo/David RichardDavone Bess came up big on both of Cleveland's fourth-down conversion attempts.
That makes it 19 times this season that Chudzinski has gone for the first down on fourth down, a league high. (The Browns have made it 10 times.) Some coaches might not go for it on fourth down twice in a season; Chudzinski is doing it twice a game.

“That’s his mindset,” said wide receiver Davone Bess. “That’s his mentality.”

The Browns knew they’d have an attacking defense, but Chudzinski’s attacking approach on offense goes against the grain of almost every NFL coach. In a league where most talk about “managing the game” and “having a chance” to win, Chudzinski goes after it. That it came in a division game against the Super Bowl champions was even more noteworthy.

“We’ve been a kid brother in this division for a long time,” Chudzinski said. “You have to go play, and if you want to change that then you have to go do things to change it.”

Players love a coach who has faith in them -- especially when he’s not afraid to show that faith. Over time, the aggressive message seeps in and players start to believe as much as their coach.

Chudzinski shows this aggressiveness with a team that has not won six games in any of the previous five seasons, but heads into the bye week two games behind the Bengals in the AFC North with a 4-5 record -- a mark in Cleveland worth smiling about.

The first fourth down against Baltimore came in the first quarter, at the end of the Browns' second drive. The Browns got to the Ravens 1, and on fourth down Chudzinski went for the touchdown.

“I felt good about what we had game-plan wise to be able to score,” Chudzinski said. “I think it was important in this game for our guys to have the mentality to play to win.”

Jason Campbell was able to thread a pass to Bess for a touchdown.

In the fourth quarter, the Browns led by three and had a fourth-and-1 from the Baltimore 43 with 3:12 left. Again, the conventional thinking would be to punt, pin the Ravens deep and play defense. But often, that conventional thinking prevents a win. Chudzinski again went for the first down.

“We had the opportunity to take the game at that point,” he said.

Campbell had to scramble and throw back across his body, but he again found Bess for a sliding catch and a first down. Eight plays later the Browns kicked the game-securing field goal with 17 seconds left.

“It’s not just a matter of being reckless,” Chudzinski said. “But it’s a matter of being aggressive. Sometimes it’s going to work; sometimes it’s not going work, and I understand that.

“Fortunately it paid off today.”

Chudzinski has set the tone with his decisions, which have included fake punts and field goals. And he’s been consistent all season.

His attitude is aggressive, it’s determined -- and it’s refreshing.
videoCLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell played in Sunday's 24-18 victory against the Baltimore Ravens in extreme discomfort.

After the game, Campbell had X-rays on his ribs. He judged based on his experience that they were not broken, but results of the X-rays will be announced probably on Monday. The chance he has broken ribs remains.

“I kept telling [the team] to just give me time because my ribs were really bothering and hurting me,” Campbell said. “It was bothering me on a couple of throws. I really wanted to cut it loose and it was kind of grabbing me. I couldn’t really get what I wanted to put on the ball as far as speed and accuracy sometimes.

“But this league is all about pressing on.”

Campbell was hurt in the first quarter when he scrambled for a short gain. At the end of the run, Baltimore's mammoth defensive tackle Haloti Ngata tried to jump over a teammate, but tripped and his momentum put his entire 340 pounds on top of Campbell. To make it worse, the ball was between Campbell and the ground, which exaggerated the blow.

“I felt that one,” Campbell said. “I’m not even gonna tell you what was in my mind. That one was big.”

Though Ngata was penalized, nobody thought the hit was dirty. Campbell said Ngata came to him after the game to apologize. Ngata told the Browns quarterback he jumped so his teammate didn’t hit his legs, which caused the hit.

“Haloti is in the air while Jason Campbell is in the air,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Jason’s running and because he ends up landing on him it’s hard for me to understand why that’s called.”

“He’s not a dirty player,” Campbell said of Ngata. “He’s a really good, standup football player.”

That Campbell had the game he did with the physical problems he had was all the more impressive. He finished 23-for-35 with three touchdowns, no interceptions and 262 yards. He guided the Browns on a 6:30 drive in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory. On the drive, he scrambled for a first down on third down, hit Chris Ogbonnaya for 17 yards on second down and found Ogbonnaya again for 14. He also scrambled from the blitz to find a sliding Davone Bess for a fourth-and-1 conversion at the Baltimore 40 with just more than two minutes remaining.

That pass was the biggest play of the game.

“I’m not even sure I call the play right,” Campbell said with a smile.

But on that play, Campbell was again hit in the ribs as he threw. As he lay on the ground in pain, running back Willis McGahee came over.”

“We’re the old guys on the team,” Campbell said. “All I could hear was him, ‘Get up! Get up! I’m hurting, you got to get up.’ I was like, ‘Give me 10 seconds. I can’t even breathe here.’”

If Campbell has an injury that lingers, he’ll have an extra week to heal because the Browns have a bye. That would be good news to the team, because Campbell has stepped into the quarterback spot and played beyond every expectation.

In two starts, he’s thrown for 554 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions.

More important, his calm demeanor combined with an inner confidence seems to bring something the team needs, and appreciates.

Which is why he’d be missed if he is hurt worse than he thought. Campbell is basing his diagnosis on his experience.

The Browns will hold their breaths on the results of the X-rays.

Locker Room Buzz: Cleveland Browns

November, 3, 2013
CLEVELAND -- Observed in the locker room after the Cleveland Browns' 24-18 win against Baltimore:

X-Rays for Campbell: Browns quarterback Jason Campbell went immediately to the X-ray room next to the locker room to have his injured ribs checked. Campbell said he had trouble breathing after Haloti Ngata landed on him, and that continuing to play was difficult -- but he was not leaving a game he called a “must-win.” Campbell said he didn’t think he had broken ribs, but asked if he could play in a week if the Browns were not off, he said: “Who knows?”

Also hurt: Wide receiver Greg Little never made it into the locker room after the game, presumably because he needed treatment on an injured shoulder. Little had one of his best games as a Brown, with seven catches for 122 yards, but left the game in the fourth quarter after hurting his right shoulder.

Confident crew: The Browns seemed almost arrogant heading into the game, but after they simply seemed confident. The defense has been a completely different crew since receiving a tongue-lashing from the coaching staff at halftime in Kansas City, and the Browns now are in second place in the AFC North. It’s been a long time since the Browns beat the Ravens (since 2007), but this win was complete, efficient and impressive.

Confused by the Ravens: Brown defensive tackle Phillip Taylor said it seemed like the Ravens changed their entire offense form a year ago. He said it seemed like fullback Vontae Leach only was in for a couple plays, then added: “Who knows what’s going on over there?”

Reaching out: Owner Jimmy Haslam reached into the huddle around Davone Bess to shake the wide receiver’s hand after his two-touchdown game. Haslam then turned around and crossed paths with Campbell and offered the quarterback a greeting -- two guys who played key roles in the win.

Locker Room Buzz: Baltimore Ravens

November, 3, 2013
CLEVELAND -- Observed in the locker room after the Baltimore Ravens' 24-18 loss at the Cleveland Browns:

No shows: The Ravens have a losing record at the midway point for the first time in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons. You would like to hear what the Ravens' leaders have to say about turning the season around. But linebacker Terrell Suggs declined comment while walking out of the stadium and running back Ray Rice was gone before reporters got into the locker room. It's time for players to stand up, not sneak out.

Facing the 'challenge': The Ravens insist they're not panicking even though they've lost four of their past five games and fell to 3-5. "The math says it's going to be a challenge," Harbaugh said in looking forward. "We've got our work cut out for us. We're going to have to win some games. We're going to have to start winning close games. So, that's the No. 1 thing we have to get done. You do that, first of all, by not losing the game. You can't make the kind of mistakes that create opportunities for your opponent. We've done way too much of that throughout the course of the whole season."

Not a fan of Greg Little: Ravens safety James Ihedigbo had a jawing match with wide receiver Greg Little throughout the game. It got out of hand when Little ripped off Ihedigbo's helmet, which drew a 15-yard personal foul. "He's trying to be a tough guy," Ihedigbo said. "Some guys who aren't tough try to prove that they're tough."

Rapid Reaction: Cleveland Browns

November, 3, 2013

CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Cleveland Browns' 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

What it means: The Browns can think about competing in the AFC North. Only one team in the division is over .500, and that’s the Bengals. But they lost their best defensive player to a knee injury when Geno Atkins went down in Thursday night’s game. The Browns are 4-5, one-half game ahead of the Ravens and one-and-a-half behind the Bengals, with a game in Cincinnati after the bye. Cleveland is in second place and after everything that’s happened this season can actually think about doing something the final seven games other than playing out the string.

Stock watch: Jason Campbell is here to stay. Or until he gets hurt. Campbell shrugged off an early late hit when 340-pound Haloti Ngata fell on him after a scramble to throw three touchdown passes against a Ravens defense that should have been rested and organized after a bye week. Instead, Campbell played the same kind of calm, composed game he played in Kansas City. In two games, he has zero interceptions and five touchdown passes.

The swarm: The Browns' defense made the Ravens look pretty bad at times with their combination of pressure and blitzes. The Browns were aggressive against the run, and attacking against the pass. It made Joe Flacco look bad, and never let noted Browns-killer Ray Rice get going. If the Browns get consistent effort like that the rest of the season, they will be in a lot of games.

End of the streak: The Browns had lost 11 games in a row to Baltimore heading into the game. Coach Rob Chudzinski said the division had treated the Browns like a kid brother and it was time for the team to step up. They did, and despite trading their starting running back and using three different starting quarterbacks they are in second place in the division nine games into the season.

What's next: The Browns have their bye week and won’t play again until Nov. 17 when they visit Cincinnati to play the Bengals.

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

November, 3, 2013

CLEVELAND -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns.

What it means: The Ravens (3-5) fell into third place in the AFC North and 21/2 games back of Cincinnati. This continues a downward spiral for the Ravens, who lost for the fourth time in five games. It ended the Ravens' 11-game win streak over the Browns, who hadn't beaten Baltimore in 2,177 days (November 2007). The Ravens also lost for the first time after the bye in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons. The Browns (4-5) moved into second place in the division.

Collapsing on Flacco: Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was off his game, and it could have been the result of the hits inflicted on him. He was sacked five times (tying a season high) and hit a total of eight times. It was rough going for Flacco from the start, when he missed on 10 of his first 15 passes. He finished 24-of-41 for 250 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.

Stock watch: Rising: Marlon Brown. The rookie wide receiver accounted for 14 points with two touchdowns and a two-point conversion. Undrafted coming out of Georgia, Brown has a team-leading five touchdowns this season.

Major breakdowns: The Ravens gave up three touchdown passes to Jason Campbell after allowing four of them the past six games. Cornerback Lardarius Webb got faked out badly in the open field on Davone Bess' 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter, and no one covered tight end Gary Barnidge on a 4-yard touchdown pass. The secondary couldn't get the opponent off the field late in the fourth quarter for a third straight game.

Costly drop: With the Ravens trailing 14-10 in the third quarter, Tandon Doss let a punt go through his arms, giving the ball to the Browns at the Baltimore 11-yard line. The Browns needed only two plays and a bad penalty by the Ravens (12 men on the field) to get into the end zone. Doss was the NFL's second-best punt returner entering this game.

What's next: The Ravens play their first home game since Oct. 13 when they host the AFC North-leading Bengals. Baltimore has beaten Cincinnati the past three times at M&T Bank Stadium, but streaks don't seem to matter much when it comes to the Ravens this season.



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