CLEVELAND — The way most figured it would have to go for the Cleveland Browns to beat the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday is the way it went. Jason Campbell finished drives with touchdowns, didn’t throw an interception and made clutch plays late. The defense was good all day and really good in key stretches. The struggling Ravens came off a bye and came searching for a spark but never sustained much of anything.
The Browns won, 24-18, and won in pretty thorough fashion. They were aggressive and efficient and finished strong. A week after Davone Bess couldn’t catch anything, he caught two touchdown passes and a huge fourth down pass in the final minutes that sealed it. In the type of situation that hadn’t gone the Browns way so many times — and not just against the Ravens — the Browns put together enough timely plays to make sure this one was different.
It was one the Browns needed, for today and tomorrow. It might be one that signals the start of something.
It’s just one win, but it’s the banner win for this newest new regime, one that might or might not matter in the scheme of 2013 but could mean plenty in the big picture. These Browns have been so bad for so long — not generally by accident — and just haven’t done much of anything well with any consistency. It wasn’t just the 11-game losing streak to the Ravens but what that stood for; how the Ravens have only changed coaches and quarterbacks once in five years and that combo had been to the playoffs every year, been to the mountaintop once and beaten the Browns every time they’d played.
Every. Stinking. Time.
The Browns might have won the first one, in Baltimore in Week Two, if they’d gotten anything resembling an NFL-level quarterback performance. The third quarterback they’ve played this season went 23-of-35 for 262 yards on Sunday. Even after the Ravens started to creep back in and doubt certainly creeped upon Browns fans, Browns coach Rob Chudzinski stayed on the gas, made gutsy calls and was rewarded with his biggest win.
The Browns are 4-5 and headed for a bye week feeling good about themselves. The Ravens are 3-5 and have lost three straight; they last won on Oct. 6.
“For the guys that have been here, fighting their butts off against Baltimore year in and year out, they’ve always been close,” Campbell said. “I’m happy for those guys.
“A sigh of relief. I’m just happy to be a part of it, be a part of this. It’s a growing situation. It was a must-win game.”
When is the last time a Browns player said something like that? Or even had the opportunity to say something like that? And actually meant it?
The Ravens are clearly struggling, but they’re still the defending Super Bowl champs. They’re still the Ravens, still carrying themselves like they expect to win, and on Sunday they did enough to hang around but saw the Browns make the game’s biggest plays.
“It’s a big win for us, for our organization and for the guys in the locker room,” Chudzinski said.
Just four days ago, Chudzinski admitted the Browns have been “the kid brother” in the AFC North division for a long time — it wasn’t exactly breaking news, but it was still a strong statement — and said it was time for that to change. One win isn’t enough to shed the label or blaze an entirely new path, but this one is a very good starting point.
Up and (mostly) down receiver Greg Little was among the heroes. Spencer Lanning, too. And the defense was as good as it’s been most of the season, getting big plays from veterans and from some seventh-rounder with a troubled past named Armonty Bryant. Joe Flacco threw for 250 yards, but he threw an interception and was sacked five times. The Ravens running game was non-existent, getting 55 yards on 21 carries.
Even if the Ravens don’t end up shaking this Super Bowl hangover and tough stretch, this still goes down as one the Browns earned, one they kept from ending like too many others had.
There were times it started to feel like a Browns game — one of those Browns games — and some boneheaded football in the final minute of the half allowed the Ravens to cut a 14-3 deficit to 14-10. But a T.J. Ward sack killed a good Ravens drive to start the second half, then Tandon Doss muffed a punt, the Browns took over at the Ravens six-yard line after a penalty and nobody covered Gary Barnidge on a pass into the flats that turned into a touchdown and a 21-10 lead. Even after the Ravens made it 21-18, the Browns recovered from being stopped with a stop of their own, then a 15-play drive that killed all but the game’s final 14 seconds. It might have killed the Ravens season.
More meaningful November Browns games await. Four and five, to this team, is just lovely.
Time will tell whether this year’s Browns can come close to keeping up with the 6-3 Bengals, whether Campbell can continue to play at a high level, whether Bess and Little will keep catching the ball and whether the flags and dropped punts will keep bouncing the Browns way. All that will be answered later. The Browns started November with as strong a statement as they’ve made maybe since the last time they beat the Ravens, back when Flacco was still in college.
Considering where this Browns team has been, there really is no place like second place.