In gusty, comeback fashion, the Browns managed to stun the Ravens at home on Sunday with a late-game pick six and a game-winning field goal. They handed the Ravens just their third loss on the season, while the Browns improved to 6-3. They are also now tied with the Steelers for second in the AFC North.
"Proud of the team for that one, to fight the whole way," HC Kevin Stefanski said. "It didn't start out how we wanted it to start out. When teams have gotten behind here at this place, it's hard to fight back, but I know the type of team we have. They fought their butts back. It wasn't perfect, [it] wasn't pretty all the time. We can learn from those things, but really proud of the effort for 60 minutes."
Let's look at three of the biggest takeaways from the 33-31 victory over the Ravens.
QB Deshaun Watson's play in the second half
Sunday did not start off as smoothly as possible for Watson, as he threw an interception on the second play of the game that the Ravens returned for a touchdown. He also struggled to connect with his pass catchers in the first half, as he threw 6 of 20 for 79 yards in the first half. After they went down by two scores in the first five minutes of the game, Watson said that offensively they pressed in the first half, trying to get back into the game and hit some go-balls.
RB Jerome Ford said that when they went into the locker room at halftime, Watson reiterated to the team that it's a four-quarter game, and that the game wasn't over at halftime. They still had an entire half.
That mentality led the way for the Browns in the second half. The Browns scored 16 of their 33 points in the fourth quarter alone. Watson controlled the offense in the second half, as he managed scoring drives on five of the Browns' six possessions, completing 14 of 14 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown in the second half.
"I feel like he played amazing. He played with guts, he never got rattled, wasn't worried about anything," RB Kareem Hunt said. "He played huge, breaking tackles, running all over the place, making first downs and we need him to do things like that and he's done them. Kudos to him."
Watson said that in the second half, he trusted what he saw in front of him and his reads, as well as what he had seen throughout the first half. That allowed him to make plays and get the ball into his receivers' hands.
Watson also played through an ankle injury in the second half. Yet, it didn't stop him from taking command of the offense.
"This was going to be a big moment for myself, because I didn't want to let my teammates down," Watson said. "I knew I had to put a lot more on my shoulders than what I should have, because we put ourselves in a hole. When I was ready and prepared for that moment, I didn't fear anything. I just focused on one play at a time, and that's what we did."
The Browns celebrate after a win over the Baltimore Ravens on November 12, 2023 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Browns defense makes critical defensive plays
The Browns run defense had a solid performance, as they limited the Ravens to 106 net rushing yards but gave up two rushing touchdowns. However, they struggled in limiting the Ravens passing game, as Jackson threw 13 of 23 for 223 yards and one touchdown.
While the defense had moments of faultiness on Sunday – which began with the 39-yard touchdown run from Ravens RB Keaton Mitchell – they also had pivotal defensive moments that played a role in their overall success.
DT Dalvin Tomlinson recorded the first sack of the day in the second quarter when he brought down Jackson for a loss of six yards that was overturned due to a defensive holding call. Two plays later, DE Za'Darius Smith and CB Greg Newsome II bring down Jackson for the split sack and forced the Ravens to attempt a field goal.
But then DT Jordan Elliott blocked the field goal attempt on special teams and LB Anthony Walker Jr. scooped up the ball and ran for 27 yards. That turnover eventually led to a field goal for the Browns on their next offensive drive.
"We play with that type of intensity every time," Walker said. "[Jordan Elliott] doesn't take a play off. A lot of guys on field goal block don't rush hard, but we've got a lot of guys that rush hard, and really take that play seriously. And you never know when your time is going to be called, and he was able to make a play."
With under a minute left in the second quarter, CB Mike Ford picked off QB Lamar Jackson's pass that was intended for WR Rashod Bateman and returned the pick for 10 yards. It was his first career interception.
Then, with less than two minutes in the third quarter, the Browns sacked Jackson, this time with a split sack by DE Myles Garrett and LB Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah for a loss of nine yards. On the very next play, Garrett sacked Jackson again for a loss of nine yards to bring a close to the quarter.
The Browns topped off their defensive efforts on Sunday with a pick six from Newsome with 8:57 left in the fourth quarter. Newsome picked off a pass intended for FB Patrick Ricard, returning it 34 yards for the touchdown. The interception was Newsome's first career interception. It also set the Browns up for their final offensive drive that would win the game.
"You saw a defense that was just going to go make a play however you could do it," Stefanski said. "Whether it's going to be rushing the passer, or balls in the air, and it belongs to us. No bigger play than Greg's [CB Greg Newsome II] touchdown."
The Browns defense recorded three takeaways and three sacks on Jackson. Even through some miscues throughout the game, the Browns demonstrated their resilience as a defense to work through difficult moments and make plays when it mattered.
"Wins like that define you," Garrett said. "They help set the tone for a season and a team, knowing that there is no game that we're out of it. So, we just got to continue to do what has gotten us here to this point of the season and continue to play the brand of football that we know we can play."
Backups handled larger roles against the Ravens
Entering Sunday's game, the Browns were dealing with holes on their offensive line. They were without T Jedrick Wills Jr. – who was placed on injured reserve earlier in the week with a knee injury – and T Dawand Jones – who was ruled out for Sunday's game with a knee and shoulder injury.
The Browns relied on James Hudson III at right tackle and called up T Geron Christian to fill in at left tackle. Stefanski said that early in the week they talked about their options at tackle, and then practiced Christian at left tackle throughout the week. They also practiced T Leroy Watson at left tackle and felt confident with their plan going into the game to have Christian start at left tackle.
"We knew the person that was going to be out there was going to be prepared and ready to go and he was going to fight," Watson said. "That's what those guys did."
The injuries continued into the game, though, as both CB Denzel Ward (neck) and S Juan Thornhill (calf) left the game with injuries and did not return. That's when CB Mike Ford Jr. earned a chance to step in and made an interception in the second quarter.
"I thought they did a nice job," Stefanski said. "Obviously, Mike's going to fight like crazy. The tackles, I thought the protection was pretty good throughout the day, all things considered. Again, really proud of the guys, all the guys, in terms of executing."