Browns, Ravens meet in game with playoff implications
The Cleveland Browns are fresh off a statement victory and now search for another big win when they host the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night.
The Browns (9-3) are aiming to end a 17-season playoff drought and they took a step in the right direction with last week’s 41-35 win over the Tennessee Titans, a team that played in last season’s AFC title game.
Next up are the Ravens (7-5), who went 14-2 last season but are now in close to must-win mode as they look to crack the postseason field for the third straight campaign.
The matchup qualifies as the next step for a Cleveland club that has clinched its first winning season since 2007. The Browns enter with a four-game winning streak for the second time this season.
“There’s a lot of excitement — I’ll say that,” Browns receiver Rashard Higgins said. “But there’s still this feeling in the locker room that, yeah we’ve won, but we haven’t accomplished anything yet.”
Baltimore should serve as a dark reminder to Cleveland as the clubs’ Week 1 matchup might have been called early if it were a boxing match.
The Ravens served up a 38-6 knockout of the Browns as quarterback Lamar Jackson passed for 275 yards and three touchdowns and added 45 yards on the ground.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh expects a much tougher game in the rematch and he reminded reporters on Thursday that he predicted swift improvement for Cleveland under first-year coach Kevin Stefanski.
“I said after the season opener that that was a good football team and a lot of you guys just rolled your eyes as I recall,” Harbaugh said. “It was pretty easy to see where they were going and what they were building. They’re a good football team, they were a good football team then.
“I think Coach Stefanski’s done a great job. All their coaches have done a great job. They’ve been building this team for a long time. There’s a lot of really high draft picks on that team to be honest with you. Just a ton of them. They’ve got a lot of good players.”
The Browns rebounded from the crushing loss to average 37.5 points while winning their next four games. After losing two of their following three games — Cleveland scored seven and six points in the losses — the Browns won four straight by a combined 16 points.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield, who passed for four touchdowns and a season-high 334 yards against the Titans, notes an area in which the team needs to improve.
“The next step for us is consistency,” Mayfield said. “Whoever we are playing, we have to be able to go out and do our job. It doesn’t matter who, where or when it is, we have to be able to do our job.”
Inconsistency also has been an issue for the Ravens, who roared to a 5-1 start before dropping four of their next five games. Baltimore hopes it is headed back in the right direction after a 34-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys on Tuesday night.
Jackson was activated off the reserve/COVID-19 list a day before the game and looked fresh despite passing for just 107 yards. He rushed for 94 yards as the Ravens dominated the trenches by racking up 294 on the ground.
More importantly, the frustration he was feeling — and displaying — during the 1-4 stretch was nowhere to be found.
“I did have fun coming back. I missed my guys,” Jackson said. “It’s win or go home for us right now. Just going out there and putting it all on the line for one another, that’s joy for me. Being around my guys, being back out there … it felt like a whole new year.”
The Ravens are close to putting a COVID-19 outbreak behind them as only three players remain on the list. One of them is receiver Dez Bryant, who was put on the list Thursday. The Ravens removed star outside linebacker Matthew Judon and tight end Mark Andrews from the list on Wednesday.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin), who missed the Dallas game, has a chance at returning on Monday. Smith sat out Thursday’s practice.
Cleveland hopes cornerback Denzel Ward (calf) returns after a two-game absence. Center JC Tretter and right tackle Jack Conklin were limited in Thursday’s practice due to knee ailments.
–Field Level Media