If the Baltimore Ravens go on to do great things this season, they could very well point to a play that in their 25-15 victory over the Browns on Sunday that was pivotal to that end.
Their coach, John Harbaugh, said as much.
Trailing, 15-14, with just over 8½ minutes left, and with their offense stuck in neutral and their lead in the AFC North in jeopardy, the Ravens stepped up with a play that Harbaugh called “a turning point.”
It was a 21-yard pass from Joe Flacco to wide receiver Anquan Boldin on a crossing route on second-and-10 from the Baltimore 19. That gave the Ravens their initial first down in two quarters, and flipped the game back in their favor.
With some new-found confidence and momentum, the Ravens drove 81 yards in nine plays for the go-ahead touchdown on Flacco’s 19-yard pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith with 4:26 remaining, which, following a two-point conversion on Flacco’s pass to Boldin, made it 22-15.
“When you’re struggling like we were, you always need a play to get going, and that was the play,” Harbaugh said of the 19-yarder to Boldin. “It got us the first down and got us going.
“There are a lot of turning points in a season, and that was definitely a turning point. There will be a lot more turning points before it’s all over, but that was a big play.”
Harbaugh had called the visit to Cleveland “a must game.” The Ravens were 5-2 and in first place by a game over the improving Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3), but they were coming off a 31-point (43-13) loss to the Houston Texans two weeks ago and then a much-needed bye week to figure out what went wrong.
The Ravens opened against the Browns as if they had gotten the message from their coach, playing almost a perfect first quarter in building a 14-0 lead. The Ravens had 152 total yards to just 22 for the Browns, and an 11-0 advantage in first downs.
A one-sided Baltimore win appeared to be on the way.
Then, the game turned. The Ravens got another first down with 8½ minutes left in the second quarter, then didn’t get another one for six straight possessions, until Flacco hit Boldin on the aforementioned play almost exactly two quarters later.
“Things got a little iffy,” Harbaugh said of the offensive struggles. “I was thinking, ‘It would be nice to get a first down.’ If you can’t get a first down, it’s hard to get into any rhythm offensively.”
Meanwhile, the Browns got going offensively and began moving the ball. While they didn’t get a touchdown, they did get five
“The Browns made adjustments,” said Ravens running back Ray Rice, who had 58 yards rushing in the first quarter en route to 98 overall.
Added Harbaugh, “You’ve got to tip your hat to the Browns. They’ve got an up-and-coming football team.”
Though staggered, the Ravens stayed upright. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs wouldn’t let them fall.
“He kept encouraging the offense,” Rice said. “He said to us, ‘We’ll hold them from scoring touchdowns. You guys just put a drive together to win the game.’”
With Suggs’ headiness came more of the same from Flacco, which enabled that game-winning drive to materialize.
“Joe was so calm; he never blinked,” Rice said. “That throw to Anquan was what we needed to get us going. When we got down there close (two straight 10-yard runs by Rice to the Cleveland 19), we knew we had three (a field goal). But then we got seven (a touchdown), and that really did the job.”
Or as Flacco (15-of-24 passing for 153 yards and one touchdown) put it, “We’ve been in a lot of games like this before. We know how to keep our heads about us.”
It wasn’t a work of art, but the Ravens also know that style points don’t matter.
“We’ve never been a fancy group, we’ve never been pretty,” Rice said. “But we always find a win. When you’re 6-2 and in first place, you won’t hear any complaining from us.”