And then, suddenly, everything went wrong for the Baltimore Ravens.
There were equal parts disbelief and embarrassment for the men of Harbaugh, who were holding their collective loins after getting their egos kicked in at home late by the Browns in a thud of a 33-31 loss.
In Cleveland, they’ll call it a second half masterpiece. Here in Baltimore, it’s a wake-up call for the Ravens that they’re not as good as those Power Rankings and clips from last week said they were and the same ones that I’m sure John Harbaugh never reads or watches.
The Ravens defense sure started believing it was something special and then DeShaun Watson’s tenacity showed up after 3 o’clock in Baltimore on Sunday and it was the Browns’ claim to “best defense in the land” that won the day and made the big play.
The Ravens have trailed for just 28:46 of clock time through 10 games but are now 7-3 and on short rest and long faces in the aftermath of such a dreadful, purple turd that also might’ve cost them cornerback Marlon Humphrey and left tackle Ronnie Stanley.
That look on the face of defensive tackle Justin Madubuike staring at the cameras in the postgame said it all: the Ravens got pushed around. They won’t admit it but they got beaten up on both sides of the ball at the line of scrimmage late in the game. The Browns shoved them around and beat them at their own AFC North game.
I’m not sure whatever happened to the “We Must Protect This House” mantra but Sunday’s late effort was a collective failure for all three units, including the special teams that wobbled.
A gimpy DeShaun Watson was allowed time and space to massage the ball down the field with a pedestrian running game and no Ravens’ pass rush later in the contest. The vaunted and celebrated Ravens’ sack attack never really started – and didn’t finish. And the Ravens got outbullied by badder bullies from Cleveland in the end.
Fox analyst Jonathan Vilma was looking for a name for the Browns offensive push in the final two minutes. How about the Brown ground down? Cleveland looked ready to play rugby by the end.
Browns kicker Dustin Hopkins, who missed the extra point that allowed the Ravens to believe they might escape with a one-point win, then hit the game winner earning his redemption as time expired.
It’s a good thing Harbaugh doesn’t have a whole week to lament this smoldering steaming steamer. I’ve been watching ‘em a long time and these kinds of losses don’t happen much around these parts and especially not to the likes of the Cleveland Browns. Coach HardBall was 25-6 against the Brownies since 2008 entering the game and the 14-point late lead put this on track for another garden variety beatdown of the hapless Dawgs.
But, now, this dud and its high cost sinks in.
Division loss. Home loss. Conference loss. Two touchdown lead in fourth quarter at home loss. Marlon Humphrey and Ronnie Stanley loss. Quite a loss. The only saving grace is the Bengals tripped at home against Texans and have to get on a plane Wednesday.
When you lose one like this it becomes a referendum on every aspect of the operation that cost the Ravens the game. And the officials played a role in botching some calls that opened windows and doors that the Browns ran through and finished on in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens couldn’t run the ball late, when they needed to run clock and hold possession with a two-touchdown lead. They didn’t finish, which is becoming a theme in close games. Without Morgan Moses and Ronnie Stanley, Lamar is getting eaten up in the pocket and the entire unit (and its backups) didn’t hold up well against the best defensive front in the NFL. And the notion that there’s going to be any massive progress or consistency in an intermediate or long passing game in this offense doesn’t feel realistic, unless you consider the kind of run after the catch we know all of the receivers are capable of delivering in space or if a first defender whiffs like that Odell Beckham Jr. home run scamper.
And the Browns came in two waves – the first one in the third quarter when the field tilted and former Ravens draft pick James Proche gifted his former offense a redzone possession on a botched punt that figured to vanquish any team wearing Cleveland uniforms. And even then, it took the Ravens a bunch of time and plays and even a hideous whistled-back Lamar Jackson end zone interception, to hit pay dirt with Gus Edwards to build a 31-17 lead with 11:37 left in the fourth quarter.
The notion of the Ravens losing at that point was almost laughable.
But the Browns got the last laugh and shoved the Ravens around the rest of the day, making that instant classic from Kyle Hamilton on the first play of the game seem like it happened back in September. It got dark early in the fourth quarter in Baltimore on Sunday.
DeShaun Watson did enough on one leg to show his pedigree but the Browns don’t have much in the running game and were also short on the offensive lineman. Amari Cooper is a real dude. And David Njoku is always a load as Geno Stone found out in the fourth quarter. Myles Garrett is the best defensive player in the NFL – a game wrecker. And Jim Schwartz still gets to say he owns a small piece of his hometown.
The lead story if the Ravens had won would’ve been the injuries. It goes without saying that losing Humphrey and Stanley greatly diminishes this team. The Bengals have a major advantage on Thursday if those guys don’t play.
There’s not much time for adjustment with the Cincinnati coming to town in a few hours. A few sleeps and it gets even more significant with Joe Burrow coming to Baltimore in search of a piece of home cooking in January.
Sure, the Bengals took on their own home embarrassment on Sunday in losing to the once lowly Houston Texans. But as the Ravens found out against the Browns, last week is a long time ago in the AFC North.
Both teams will be seeking to deodorize everything about a Sunday when they allowed the Steelers and Browns to sneak back into a legitimate division race in the toughest quad in the NFL.
Don’t blink, indeed.