The Ravens know full well what is at stake when they travel to Cleveland to face the Browns Dec. 22. With a win, the Ravens (12-2) would secure the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the first time in franchise history. But never mind the Browns’ 6-8 record and the double-digit point spread favoring the Ravens. Because the Ravens also know full well what happened the last time they faced the Browns.
“They scorched us last game,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said.
Indeed, Nick Chubb ran for a season-high 165 yards — gaining 88 on one touchdown, the longest run ever against the Ravens — and Jarvis Landry caught eight passes for 167 yards as the Browns rolled to a 40-25 win at M&T Bank Stadium Sept. 29.
The Ravens surrendered 530 yards of offense and gave up 30 second-half points as the Browns built a 40-18 lead. The Ravens trudged off the field that day with a 2-2 record, looking nothing like a team that was about to reel off a franchise regular-season record 10 straight wins.
“We kind of grew a lot from that moment,” running back Mark Ingram said. “We were 2-2, and we pretty much said that our season could go one of two ways: We can change it and we can have success, or we can fold and fail. So we came together and we just went back to the drawing board.
“We kept working one day at a time, grinding one day at a time, one game at a time, and here we are, 10 wins later. … We feel like we’re a different team.”
In many ways, they are, especially on defense. The midseason overhaul of the Ravens’ defense orchestrated by general manager Eric DeCosta began after that loss to the Browns.
Within the next three days, the Ravens had signed free-agent linebackers Josh Bynes and L.J. Fort with an eye toward improving their run defense. They later signed defensive end Jihad Ward, traded for Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and signed defensive linemen Domata Peko and Justin Ellis. All have contributed during the Ravens’ winning streak.
In addition, defensive lineman Brandon Williams and cornerback Jimmy Smith both missed that Week 4 game with knee injuries.
They are back and healthy, meaning the Ravens defense that takes the field against the Browns this week could feature a half-dozen starters who were not in that role in Week 4, including safety-linebacker Chuck Clark, who has become the heart of the Ravens defense after replacing injured safety Tony Jefferson.
Linebacker Matthew Judon gave credit to DeCosta and his staff for “making these moves. They saw flaws or little weaknesses that we had, and they righted the ship. They got some people in here that helped us.”
Still, Judon said the players who were already here never lost faith in themselves, even though they heard plenty of criticism after the 2-2 start and the thumping by the Browns.
“We knew what we had in the locker room,” said Judon, one of a record-tying 12 Ravens named to the Pro Bowl roster. He acknowledged that back-to-back losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Browns led to “two long weeks.”
“We heard all the talk and all the chit-chatter [about] how bad we were. … We just gelled together as a team, and we came together as a team. I think that’s what helped us and sparked this run that we’re on right now.”
The additions on defense helped, as did the remarkable play of quarterback Lamar Jackson, the front-runner to win the league’s MVP award. Jackson threw two interceptions and was sacked four times in the loss to the Browns — one of just three games this year in which he’s thrown any interceptions.
Throughout the past nine games, Jackson has thrown 22 touchdown passes and one interception and has rushed for more than 100 yards three times en route to breaking Michael Vick’s NFL single-season record for rushing yardage by a quarterback. Jackson is at 1,103 and counting.
The ferociously competitive Jackson — 18-3 as a starter in his career — said he was annoyed by the loss to the Browns, and he recognizes that he and the Ravens go to Cleveland with a bull’s-eye on their backs.
“We know that want to sweep us,” Jackson said. “We’re the Ravens, and we’re having so much success this year. And that’s what everybody wants to do: beat us. We just have to go into Cleveland and have a good game.”
Jackson and others said the loss to the Browns feels like ages ago.
“The makeup of this team is different,” Judon said. “The energy and the feel is different, but it’s one game at a time. It’s one game each week, and we just have to become 1-0 this week.”
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