The Baltimore Ravens may not be happy about having to play Thursday night, but they should be thrilled to see the Cleveland Browns on the other side of the field.
The Ravens have won eight straight over their AFC North rivals, and the Browns are the conference’s only winless team heading into this matchup at M&T Bank Stadium.
Baltimore (2-1) will be playing its third prime-time home game after Sunday night’s 31-30 comeback victory over New England. The Ravens have now won 13 straight in Baltimore including one playoff win.
“We’ve played Thursday after a Sunday but we haven’t played Thursday after a Sunday night,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Safety Ed Reed isn’t happy about the quick turnaround, making that clear in comments Tuesday.
“I never liked it when the Thursday night game came out,” Reed told the Ravens’ official website. “It’s all about money. Like I said, it’s out of my hands.”
Baltimore may be hosting the perfect opponent under these circumstances. Besides joining New Orleans as the league’s only teams without a win, Cleveland (0-3) enters on losing streaks of 11 straight in AFC North play and 11 on the road within the division.
The Ravens are downplaying all the streaks that are in their favor.
“It’s going to be a huge challenge for us,” Harbaugh said. “I know they’re going to come in here, a division game, a big rivalry game, always a big emotional game against the Browns. We’ve played a lot of tough games against these guys.”
If Cleveland wishes to turn around its fortune in this rivalry, rookies Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson likely need to be productive Thursday.
Weeden has thrown an AFC-high six interceptions, was sacked a season-high four times in Sunday’s 24-14 home loss to Buffalo and will now stare down a defense with perennial All-Pros Reed and Ray Lewis for the first time. Weeden’s 60.7 quarterback rating is the league’s third-worst.
The Ravens are limiting opposing rushers to 3.3 yards per carry for the league’s fourth-best mark as they get their first look at Richardson, who was held to a season-low 27 yards on 12 carries Sunday.
“It’s going to be an honor just being on the same field as Ray Lewis,” Richardson said. “I’ve looked up to him for years, still look up to him, especially to his leadership and how he handles things. But you know, it’s going to be like another game.”
Richardson’s counterpart, Ray Rice, is coming off his first 100-yard rushing game of the season and could be in for another Thursday. Rice ran for a combined 291 in last year’s two-game sweep of the Browns.
Baltimore, though, is wary of seeing Cleveland’s rookies break out Thursday.
“It’s a first time for everything,” Harbaugh said. “So you don’t know how they’re going to respond and they don’t know how they’re going to respond.”
The three days off may mean the most to Torrey Smith, who scored two touchdowns Sunday less than 24 hours after his younger brother was killed in a motorcycle accident as the Ravens rallied around him.
Smith is up to a team-high 235 yards receiving, and Joe Flacco is second in the NFL with an AFC-best 913 passing yards to go with a 101.1 QB rating. The Ravens have scored a conference-high 98 points.
“I’ve always been a Joe Flacco fan,” Cleveland coach Pat Shurmur said. “I thought he’s always been a good quarterback, a top-level quarterback in this league.”
Flacco has started every game in this win streak over the Browns. The quarterback, in truth, has been called upon to do little in those games, with Cleveland averaging 11.4 points in those eight defeats.
That kind of anemic production was expected to change with the additions of Weeden and Richardson, but Cleveland’s 57 points are tied for the league’s fifth-worst total.
The Browns last started 0-4 in 2009.
“I look and we’ve got 13 games left,” Shurmur said. “It’s about winning your division, so you can get into the playoffs. Nobody in our division has won all their games. We’ve got a division opponent on the road with a great opportunity to get the ship righted on Thursday night.”
Cleveland will be hampered with top receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and tight end Alex Smith unavailable. Massaquoi is bothered by a pulled hamstring and Smith has a concussion that also caused him to miss last week’s game.