Ravens beat Browns to keep playoff hopes alive
CLEVELAND — The Baltimore Ravens have thrived by pummeling opponents with an opportunistic defense and did it again Sunday to defeat the Cleveland Browns 27-10.
The ball-hawking Ravens (8-6) forced four more turnovers and converted two of them into touchdowns to earn a 2017 series sweep of the Browns.
The Ravens kept alive their playoff hopes as a wild-card team. They will clinch a playoff spot by beating the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals in Baltimore the final two weeks regardless what the other contenders do.
The Browns (0-14) have lost 16 straight games to division opponents dating back to 2015. The latest loss had Coach Hue Jackson lamenting another mistake-filled game. The Browns are 1-29 under Jackson.
“Turnovers at bad times have been the story of our season,” Jackson said. “As a football team, we’re not where we need to be yet. Today we took a step back.”
The Ravens began the day with 20 interceptions and nine fumble recoveries. Safety Eric Weddle and cornerback Brandon Carr added to the league-leading interception total with a pick apiece. The Ravens had five takeaways in a 24-10 victory over the Browns in the second game of the season.
Defense kept the Browns in the game in the first half, but the Ravens still led 17-10 at intermission.
The Ravens took the opening drive to the Browns 13, but had to settle for a 31-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.
Baltimore tried to expand the 3-0 lead in the second quarter and had first-and-goal on the Browns 4, but on fourth-and-goal from the 1, linebacker James Burgess tripped up Ravens running back Alex Collins for a 3-yard loss.
The Browns responded quickly. Running back Isaiah Crowell slammed through a hole at left guard for 59 yards on the first play after the turnover on downs. The Browns stayed on the ground and finished the drive with a 12-yard touchdown run around left end by running back Duke Johnson.
The Browns’ lead did not last long. The Ravens answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive capped by a 2-yard quarterback draw by Joe Flacco for a touchdown and a 10-7 lead.
The Ravens expanded their lead to 10 points by taking advantage of a fumble by Johnson after catching a pass from quarterback DeShone Kizer at the Browns 41. Johnson ran 4 yards and had the ball stripped by Ravens safety Tony Jefferson. Safety Anthony Levine recovered.
Three plays later, Flacco hooked up with tight end Benjamin Watson for a 33-yard scoring pass.
“We were in a two-minute situation,” Watson said. “It was a middle read. The safety was vacated and Joe threw a good ball.”
Watson started the day as the Ravens leader in receptions with 45 catches. He added four to that total on Sunday.
One reason the Ravens have been successful is Flacco distributes the ball evenly. Sunday was another example of that; he completed six passes to wide receiver Mike Wallace and six to running back Danny Woodhead.
A 45-yard field goal by Zane Gonzalez on the final play of the first half cut the Browns deficit to 17-10, but the Ravens, capitalizing on their third takeaway, stripped the ball from Kizer in the end zone. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams recovered at the 1 and slid the ball across the goal line for the touchdown and a 24-10 lead.
“The ball was outside a little bit and I had to switch arms and scoot over,” Williams said. “I’m just happy my teammate (linebacker Za’Darius Smith) hit the ball out of the guy’s hand and I was able to make a play on it. That’s just how our defense is. We play off one another.”
Williams said it was the first time he scored a touchdown since high school.
Kizer’s final turnover of the day was an interception thrown in the end zone. Carr intercepted the pass intended for running back Isaiah Crowell. Three Ravens were in the area.
“A lot of the mistakes made today were just inaccurate balls and locations,” Kizer said. “We were able to pick up a lot of these odd looks the Ravens were able to give. We were able to make sure we had the right run plays in. I think a lot of the bad throws today were simply based on mechanics. I have to make sure I go back and clean them up.”
Kizer is responsible for 25 of the Browns’ 36 turnovers this season. He has thrown 19 interceptions and lost six fumbles.
NOTES: Ravens QB Joe Flacco is now 17-2 against the Browns over a 10-year span. ... Ravens S Eric Weddle intercepted his sixth pass of 2017 in the first quarter. ... The Browns waived CB Darius Hillary and promoted DB C.J. Smith from the practice squad. ... A 59-yard carry by Browns RB Isaiah Crowell was his longest gain of the season.