By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Updated at 5:56 p.m.
No Ray Lewis. No Ed Reed. In the end, there was no Ray Rice for the Baltimore Ravens.
No problem for Joe Flacco.
The Ravens’ Super Bowl MVP quarterback demonstrated why the team paid him $120.6 million in the offseason and discarded several high-priced players to make room.
Flacco was tremendous in two second-half touchdown drives to lead the Ravens to a 14-6 win over the Browns in a defensive struggle.
The Browns, meanwhile, are facing a possible quarterback change due to injury. Brandon Weeden left the game with a sprained thumb on his throwing hand with 3 ½ minutes to go. X-rays were negative, but neither Weeden nor coach Rob Chudzinski were certain about Weeden’s status for Game 3 in Minnesota.
“We’ll just have to see,” said Chudzinski, who is looking for his first win as Browns coach.
The Browns are 0-2 for the fourth time in five seasons. Zero-and-two became 0-3 in the three previous slow starts.
The game began about 30 minutes after Flacco’s wife delivered their second baby. Flacco then delivered his team’s 11th consecutive victory over the Browns in a struggle that was the football equivalent of giving birth.
The Browns’ defense held Rice to 36 yards and a lost fumble before he suffered a flexor strain carrying the ball and left with 12 minutes to play. Flacco was victimized by three drops in the first half – two in the end zone on absolutely perfect throws – as the Browns held a 6-0 lead at halftime.
But, like in their opening-game loss, the Browns’ defense couldn’t finish the job. Flacco was 10 of 12 in the second half, including a five-for-five on third downs in the two scoring drives. He finished 22 of 33 for 211 yards.
“He came up big,” said Chudzinski. “That’s the player he is. He did a great job in clutch time.”
For the second game in a row, the opposing quarterback converted 8 of 16 third downs against the Browns’ defense. That figure is way too high.
Browns linebacker Paul Kruger, who wasn’t a large factor in his return to his former team on the day they celebrated their Super Bowl win, said, “It’s pretty frustrating. We didn’t get it done. We’ll see those guys again (on Nov. 3).”
The bright spot on defense besides another strong outing against the run (99 yards on 36 attempts for a 2.8 average) was the debut of rookie linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
Mingo scored a sack of Flacco on his very first time on the field, as he blasted past 352-pound Bryant McKinnie before the left tackle could step out of his three-point stance. Mingo also had a tackle of Rice to save a first down after a catch and deflected a pass by Flacco which he almost intercepted. On special teams, he nearly blocked a punt and forced a holding call to cause a re-kick.
Asked if he felt he made an impact in his first game, Mingo said, “It’s hard to say because we lost.”
It’s hard to say the Browns made progress on offense when they scored only two field goals. They converted 4 of 15 third downs (up from 1 of 14) but were still plagued by drive-killing dropped passes and missed throws. Weeden was sacked five times – one fewer than in Game 1 – and didn’t turn the ball over. Trent Richardson’s rush attempts were up to 18 (for 58 yards), but his long was for nine yards and his average was 3.2.
Greg Little had two more drops (and only four catches for 33 yards on 12 targets). Tight end Jordan Cameron again led the Browns with five catches for 95 yards – 53 coming on the Browns’ first play from scrimmage.
But that possession died at the 3 as Weeden threw the ball out of bounds when Davone Bess was covered. Weeden made two good throws in a hurry-up drive at the end of the first half to set up a 51-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff and a 6-0 lead at halftime.
(In the first half, Justin Tucker, who was the kicker who caused Cundiff’s release from Baltimore last year, missed field goals from 50 and 44 yards.)
The second half came down to Flacco making throws and Weeden not making them.
The Browns’ first possession ended with Bess catching a ball as he went out of bounds three yards short of a first down. On the second possession, a huge play was averted when Weeden failed to get the ball to third-down back Chris Ogbonnaya – playing on second down – who was all alone in the left flat around midfield with only one Baltimore defender within 30 yards.
“It looked like the pass went right off his fingertips. It looked like it might have been a touchdown,” Chudzinski said.
“I should have put more air under it,” Weeden said, shaking his head. “I just missed him. No excuse for it. We’ve got to score when opportunities are there.”
On the Browns’ third possession of the second half, a drive ended at the Ravens' 36 when a fourth-down pass to Cameron came up literally one inch short. The referee, measuring from his knees like in a bocce game, actually passed a piece of notebook paper between the ball and the first-down marker before giving the Ravens the ball.
Chudzinski’s replay challenge of the spot of the ball was disallowed.
This game had the intensity of a typical Browns-Ravens slugfest from the second play when tackle Phil Taylor head-slapped Rice after Rice apparently spat at him. Taylor drew a roughness penalty and was animated for several plays. He refused to come off the field when the Browns’ coaches sent out Ishmaa’ily Kitchen to replace him. When Taylor did return to the sideline, he received an earful from line coach Joe Cullen.
“Something happened, look at the film, you’ll see,” Taylor said, declining to directly accuse Rice of anything. “I still have to keep my composure.”
“It seems like we always play Cleveland hard,” said Baltimore guard Marshal Yanda. “It’s just a dogfight out there every time we play those guys. We had to fight every inch of that game to get the win.”
And for the 11th time in a row, they got that inch and the win.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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