Eight games, eight wins. The Baltimore Ravens achieved perfection at home for the first time, and now they’re looking to add to that ledger in the playoffs.
Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes, and the Ravens beat the bumbling Cleveland Browns 20-14 on Saturday to move one step closer to winning the AFC North.
Ray Rice ran for 87 yards and caught a TD pass for the Ravens (11-4), who led 17-0 at halftime and held on.
”I have never been perfect at home in 16 years of football. That’s amazing,” Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said. ”As good of teams we’ve had here, we’ve always found (a way) to lose one or two here or there. I think this year we really made a focus on taking care at home. This is the result, us being able to go 8-0 and being able to be sitting where you want to sit at the end of the day.”
The Ravens would win the AFC North by defeating Cincinnati on the road next week. That would also give Baltimore a first-round bye and a home playoff game – two if New England loses next Sunday at home against Buffalo.
”It’s big, man,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ”We are at our best when we are at (home) and our fans are rocking. So we definitely need a home playoff game, by any means necessary.”
Flacco went 11 for 24 with touchdown passes to Rice and tight end Ed Dickson. He also had a 33-yard run.
Josh Cribbs had a career-high 84-yard punt return for a TD for Cleveland (4-11). But the Browns generated very little offense and were guilty of questionable play calling, bad clock management and untimely penalties in their fifth straight loss.
Cleveland saved the worst for last. Having already burned their three timeouts, the Browns lined up on defense after the two-minute warning with the Ravens facing a fourth-and-2 at the Cleveland 37.
It appeared obvious that Flacco and the Ravens were merely hoping to draw the Browns offside.
As the play clock moved close to zero, Cleveland tackle Phil Taylor jumped across the line of scrimmage to give Baltimore a first down.
”It was the first hard count and we stayed onside,” Taylor said. ”The second time, I just jumped. Of course you feel bad, but you just got to move on.”
Said Flacco: ”I don’t know if I’ve ever been in position for that to happen. It’s never worked.”
The Ravens then ran out the clock on their eighth straight win over the Browns, including two this month.
”We knew this would be quite a challenge for us,” Cleveland quarterback Seneca Wallace said. ”We’re playing the Ravens at home, and they’re playing for everything. I should have played better, and I should have made better decisions.”
Wallace went 19 for 33 for 147 yards in place of Colt McCoy, who was out with a concussion. Peyton Hillis ran for 112 yards, but Cleveland’s offense mounted only one decent drive.
The Browns took the opening kickoff and moved from their own 26 to the Baltimore 30 behind the power of Hillis, who gained 30 yards on six carries. But on a third-and-1, Cleveland inexplicably went to the air, and Lardarius Webb intercepted Wallace’s pass for Mohamed Massaquoi.
Flacco immediately threw deep for Torrey Smith, who drew a 60-yard penalty for pass interference on Mike Adams to set up a 5-yard touchdown pass to Dickson.
Later, a 29-yard throw from Flacco to Smith led to a 48-yard field goal by newcomer Shayne Graham, signed in the middle of the week to take over for the injured Billy Cundiff.
After another Cleveland punt, Flacco directed an 82-yard drive that gave Baltimore a 17-0 lead. Rice slipped behind linebacker D’Qwell Jackson on the right sideline, caught a soft pass in stride and sprinted into the end zone to complete a 42-yard scoring play.
That made Flacco 5 for 5 for 94 yards and two touchdowns on third down.
Cleveland moved deep into Baltimore territory late in the first half, thanks in part to a 30-yard pass interference call against Chris Carr. But with the clock inside 10 seconds and the Browns without a timeout left, Wallace handed off to Hillis instead of spiking the ball, and Hillis went nowhere.
Wallace took the blame, and so did Browns coach Pat Shurmur.
”I need to communicate it better, OK?” Shurmur said.
Time expired before Cleveland could get off another play, and the Browns headed to the locker room after being held scoreless in the first half for the second time this season. The other time it happened was also against Baltimore.
Graham kicked a 43-yard field goal in the third quarter to make it 20-0.
The Browns finally scored when Cribbs took a punt on the right sideline, escaped an arm tackle and broke toward the center of the field before outrunning three defenders into the left corner of the end zone late in the third quarter.
”I was wondering where all the defenders were,” Cribbs said. ”I saw all the great blocking around me. From there, it was easy. It was just a walk in.”
Cribbs also contributed to Cleveland’s next touchdown, catching a 23-yard pass from Wallace as part of an 80-yard drive that ended with a 9-yard TD throw to Evan Moore midway through the fourth quarter.
The Browns forced a punt, but on a fourth-and-4 from the Cleveland 45 with 4:03 left, a pass to Hillis did not produce the necessary yardage.
Taylor’s jump across the line of scrimmage soon followed.
NOTES: Ravens KR David Reed hurt his left knee and declared himself out for the season. Also, Baltimore OT Marshal Yanda (chest) and CB Cary Williams (concussion) did not play in the second half. … Shurmur said the Browns sustained no serious injuries. Cleveland closes the season next Sunday against Pittsburgh.