The Browns got the rest they needed in Week 13 and came back Sunday with the big win they needed to keep pace in a jam-packed AFC playoff race.
Cleveland built a big lead in the first half and never let go on its way to a 24-22 victory to get some immediate revenge on the Ravens, who downed the Browns just two weeks earlier.
"Ultimately, we did what we set out to do," Browns coach Kevin Stefanski said, "which is come in here and get a win versus a good team in our division, and then we will set our sights on next week tomorrow."
The win moves the Browns to 7-6 and puts them right back in the thick of things in the AFC North. The division-leading Ravens lost their second straight to drop to 8-5.
It didn't come without a fight, especially in a dicey final few minutes as the Ravens nearly came back from a 21-point deficit.
Leading by nine, the Browns surrendered a touchdown to TE Mark Andrews with 1:17 to play and then gave the ball right back to Baltimore when they failed to secure an onsides kick. The Browns delivered the definitive stop of the game a few plays later when Denzel Ward tackled Rashod Bateman well short of the first-down marker on the Ravens' fourth-and-6 attempt with 56 seconds to play.
"I think it was a great play by Denzel, but it is indicative of when everybody does their job – coaches, we put those guys in position and then you get 11 guys to do their job," Stefanski said.
"Those are nail-biter situations. I do not think we wanted to be in that situation. Listen, that is the NFL, and that is certainly December football versus a good football team, a well-coached football team. Proud of the guys in going 1-0 today."
Check out photos of the Browns against the Ravens in Week 14
Myles Garrett spearheaded another impressive Browns defensive effort and made a little history along the way. Garrett set Cleveland's single-season sack record — with four games left to play, no less — when he strip-sacked Ravens QB Tyler Huntley late in the second quarter and scored his first career touchdown.
"I knew I was going to make a play," Garrett said. "I saw JD (DE Jadeveon Clowney) bobbling it, and I was getting ready to block. The ball was on the ground and nobody was going for it so I will take it."
Baker Mayfield, who came into Sunday's game saying he's felt as good as he has in a long time, threw two touchdown passes in the first half and finished 22-of-32 for 190 yards. His favorite target was Donovan Peoples-Jones, who caught five passes for 90 yards. Jarvis Landry chipped in with 41 yards on five catches and his first receiving touchdown of 2021.
"We did enough to win the game so check that box off," Mayfield said. "We got conservative. I think we need to put that team away. We got ahead early. We just need to capitalize when the defense is playing like that and holding them to points. We need to put it away."
Rushing yards didn't come easy for a second straight game against the Ravens, but Nick Chubb found a little more running room on his way to 59. Kareem Hunt suffered an ankle injury in the first quarter and did not return.
The Ravens were without Lamar Jackson for the final three quarters after the former MVP went down with an ankle injury early in the second quarter. He was relieved by Huntley, who finished 27-of-38 for 270 yards and a touchdown.
Cleveland's defense picked up right where it left off two weeks ago in Baltimore, where it forced four turnovers and largely shut down Jackson and the Ravens' potent offense. The Browns slammed the brakes on Baltimore's offense early and set the table for the offense to build a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
The Browns got on the board first with a 43-yard Chase McLaughlin field goal and then opened up on the following possession, when Mayfield capped an impressive possession with a 9-yard touchdown pass to Landry. Though Landry has found the end zone on the ground twice this year, it was his first of the season through the air.
I did not make it easy on him with ball placement," Mayfield said. "It was left inside to where he had to turn, but he did a little hesitation and made a great play. It is good to see guys like that get in the end zone. He deserves all of that for sure."
Cleveland maintained that momentum into the second quarter, as Mayfield found TE Austin Hooper on a 1-yard touchdown pass to extend the Browns' lead, 17-0, with 8:15 left in the first half.
Jackson went down on the first play of the second quarter after throwing a short pass to Andrews. Huntley, who came into Sunday's game with one career start, took over for the remainder of the game.
The Browns extended their lead further when Garrett made one of the biggest plays of his Browns career.
With 58 seconds left in the half and the Ravens facing a second-and-10 from their own 20-yard line, Garrett stripped Huntley as he threw, picked up the bouncing ball and ran 15 yards for his first NFL touchdown. It was the absolute perfect way to set the Browns' single-season sack record, and it staked Cleveland to a commanding 24-3 advantage.
"We have not turned any sacks into fumbles this season. Hopefully, that turns a corner on that one for us," Stefanski said. "Just a great play by a great player. He is very difficult to block – just ask our offensive linemen when they have to go up against him in practice. For him to be ball aware in that moment was something we have been talking about and emphasizing just to get it out, and then to recover it and run it back in, I thought was again a great player making a big play in a big moment."
The Browns' offense went cold in the second half, but the defense kept the Ravens largely at bay until the final few minutes. The Ravens sliced into Cleveland's lead with 8:56 to play in the game on a 1-yard Latavius Murray touchdown run, but the Browns stood tough on the two-point conversion attempt to maintain a nine-point, two-possession lead.
"It is a good team. They are well-coached. They have great players," Stefanski said. "Ultimately, we got the ball there and we did not sustain drives certainly on offense in the second half like we needed to. We went on some long drives in the game, but there in that second half, we just did not do it a couple of times."
The Browns are back in action Saturday when they host the Las Vegas Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"The standard is being set, and we have to be consistent," Garrett said. "We are reaching the height of our abilities and talent. We cannot just be paper champs. We have to prove it on the field. Once I say something and bring intensity, I feel like they match it every time so I have to bring it every time."