Ravens' robbing defense forces 4 turnovers to beat Browns
By TOM WITHERS
Dec. 18, 2017
CLEVELAND (AP) — There's nothing flashy about these Baltimore Ravens, who have more than a few flaws.
But, as has been the case in past years, they've got a larcenous defense capable of wreaking havoc in the playoffs.
They've got to get there first.
Baltimore took a step toward returning to the postseason after a two-year absence on Sunday with a 27-10 win over the Cleveland Browns, who have just two more chances to avoid an historic 0-16 season.
By forcing four turnovers , giving them a league-leading 33 takeaways this season, and scoring a defensive TD, the Ravens (8-6) took care of business and have a clear path to the playoffs. As long as they win upcoming home games against offensively challenged Indianapolis and Cincinnati, they'll be in the postseason.
"It was huge," said Ravens safety Eric Weddle, who had one of Baltimore's two interceptions against Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer.
"I'm not going to lie, I was a little nervous about how we were going to play. You just don't know. It's a different group every year. It's not like we've had five years of experience with losses and wins and playoffs.
"I was proud of this group and how we responded. Ultimately, what happened in Pittsburgh (a 39-38 loss last week) will make us a better team."
So should what the Ravens did in Cleveland.
It would have been understandable if they were overconfident against the Browns (0-14), who took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter on Duke Johnson's 12-yard TD run to cap a 96-yard drive.
But the Ravens kept plugging away, and while their performance wasn't aesthetically pleasing, it was more than good enough to keep their playoff path clear.
"I'm really pleased with the way we're playing," coach John Harbaugh said. "We're running to the ball. We're keeping the quarterback caged. We're getting to the quarterback. We're keeping the ball in front of us. Even last week, they made a few big plays on us. We weren't quite as tight in coverage as we wanted to be against a really good offense, but we went to work. We cleaned those things up. Our guys respond."
Joe Flacco threw a TD pass, ran for a score and improved to 17-2 in his career against the Browns.
Flacco scored on a 2-yard keeper in the second quarter when the Ravens scored 14 points in a span of 2:02 to take control.
Then, in the third quarter, Baltimore's defense broke the Browns.
Kizer was strip sacked by linebacker Za'Darius Smith and the ball was recovered near the goal line by Brandon Williams, who wiggled his massive body into the end zone for his first TD since high school.
"It's a freebie," Williams said. "You've got to take it when you can. I knew I was in. I had to do a little scooch but it was good. I'm happy they didn't call it back. I would have been upset."
PICKED APART: Kizer's decision-making has been an issue all season, and he made a couple of bad choices Sunday.
With the Browns trying to rally in the fourth, Kizer forced a throw into the back of the end zone where any of three Ravens defenders could have picked it.
"Those are the things that he has to really fight against," coach Hue Jackson said.
"That's one of the areas of the field where there have been some struggles, but there has also been some improvement. You want to keep it going that way. Today we took a step back."
Kizer has thrown six interceptions in the red zone.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Beyond their defense, the Ravens have one of the league's best kicking games.
Harbaugh awarded a game ball to punter Sam Koch, who pinned Cleveland inside the 5-yard line three times. Also, kicker Justin Tucker booted field goals of 31 and 43 yards.
Koch has a league-leading 37 punts inside the 20, and Tucker is 29 of 32 with two of his misses beyond 50 yards.
"That's the best trio in football," Harbaugh said, including long snapper Morgan Cox. "There's no question about it. Our special teams have been excellent all year. It starts with those three guys. Those three guys are what gives you a chance to be good on special teams and then you build from there."
JACKSON'S JOB: Despite Jackson's 1-29 record in two seasons, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has vowed he's bringing his coach back in 2018. Circumstances could change in the next few weeks, but Jackson, who has been linked to Cincinnati's job in the past, claims he's not leaving.
"I'm not running from this," he said. "I have never gone any place and left it worse than when I found it. I'm not going to run from this."
DECK THE HALLS: Cleveland got its first win on Christmas Eve last season, delivering an early holiday gift to fans. The Browns, who went winless at home for just the second time, can do it again with a win on Sunday at Chicago.
"This is a game we grew up loving and still love, but it has been tough — and it's all on us," said rookie safety Jabrill Peppers. "Sometimes the ball rolls your way, sometimes it doesn't."