Offense shows spark, fanning hopes for a turnaround
Unit’s second-half surge a potential ‘turning point’
At long last, they popped some runs, turned some short passes into big gains, converted third downs and finished a few drives in the end zone. And when their streak of 17 consecutive offensive possessions without a touchdown was over and they finally had built some momentum, the Ravens celebrated. Quarterback Joe Flacco and fullback Kyle Juszczyk performed a choreographed handshake, tight end Darren Waller danced, and wide receiver Breshad Perriman struck a pose.
“The thing that made me happy was just seeing the offense have fun,” said Waller, whose 4-yard catch in the back of the end zone was one of the Ravens’ three second-half touchdowns in their 28-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but to see everybody smiling and see the energy transition into points down the stretch, that was a great feeling.”
Emerging from weeks of struggles and a six-point first half in which they were booed at times by the home crowd, the Ravens went to a hurry-up offense, gained Nov. 20, 1 p.m. TV: Ch. 13 Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: TBA
232 yards in the second half and then put the winless, weary Browns away with a 12-play, 90-yard scoring drive that ate up nearly 71⁄ minutes of the fourth quarter.
“Listen, this game didn’t look like it was going to be a game where we were laughing in the fourth quarter. It looked like it was going to be a typical Cleveland-Baltimore game that was going to be fought out till the end,” Flacco said. “So it’s definitely a little bit of a relief to be able to be over there in the fourth quarter and be 99.9 percent sure you’re going to win the game.”
Flacco, though, acknowledged the big question that hung over a victorious locker room late Thursday evening, one that will go a long way toward determining whether the AFC North-leading Ravens (5-4) are a legitimate playoff team.
Did the Ravens truly find something they can build on offensively, or did they simply take advantage of one of the league’s worst defenses? Even Flacco conceded he wasn’t sure.
“It’s tough to answer that because it still comes down to going out there next Sunday when we line up again and doing it, because we’re not going to be playing the Cleveland Browns,” Flacco said. “I think it does give guys confidence, and it can be a big plus, but it still comes down to how we go out there and respond to it.”
The Ravens, who entered the matchup against the Browns with the 27th-ranked offense in the NFL, still have yet to face a defense that ranks in the top 10 in the league. Starting Nov. 20, that could change. The Dallas Cowboys, who will host the Ravens after playing the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, rank 10th in total defense. The Philadelphia Eagles, who will be in Baltimore on Dec. 18, are allowing the sixth-fewest yards per game in the NFL, and another one of the Ravens’ December opponents, the New England Patriots, have a top-15 defense.
The Browns, meanwhile, rank last in third-down defense and second to last in total defense, rush defense, scoring defense and red-zone defense. Yet the Browns still held the Ravens to two field goals by Justin The Ravens’ Joe Flacco, left, and Kyle Juszczyk congratulate Breshad Perriman after his touchdown catch in the fourth quarter, the first of his career. Tucker in the first half and twice intercepted passes by Flacco in the red zone. Something clicked in the third quarter when Flacco, who threw just one touchdown pass in the three previous games combined, had three in a little over 18 minutes.
“I think we’re in a building process with our team, but most certainly with our offense, which has the furthest distance to go probably,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We just have to keep coaching, keep practicing, keep playing and keep deciding what’s going to be right for us to run offensively, and keep improving. Hopefully, we’ll all look back at this at the end of the season and say this was a turning point for the offense.”
Harbaugh said he and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg decided to go to the no-huddle offense “to shake it up a little bit and do something different, and see if we could find a rhythm.” The immediate result was the Ravens wearing down the Browns and Flacco looking as comfortable as he has all season.
Starting late in the second quarter, the Ravens were in the hurry-up on four consecutive possessions, and they scored on three of them (one field goal, two touchdown passes); the other resulted in an interception by Flacco in the end zone. After the game, Flacco sounded like somebody who wished the Ravens would go to the no-huddle offense more.
“Who doesn’t like it? You get the defense on their heels, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
There were other important takeaways that bode well for the Ravens offense. A two-headed running attack of Terrance West (Towson University, Northwestern High) and rookie Kenneth Dixon was reasonably productive as the Ravens gained 119 yards on the ground and were successful running out of the shotgun.
Flacco completed at least one pass to nine receivers, and he got players who had been nonfactors in recent weeks — including Dixon and Waller — involved in the passing game. The Ravens also were able to get wide receivers Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace and Perriman the ball in space on crossing and slant routes. Production on such plays has mostly been missing this year, aside from Wallace’s 95-yard touchdown on a slant against the Steelers.
Everything came together on the late 12-play drive, which started at the Ravens’ 10-yard line with 13:48 to play in the fourth and ended with Perriman’s diving catch in the end zone at the 6:30 mark. The Browns knew the Ravens, who were up two touchdowns when the drive began, were going to run the ball, and the Ravens still managed to get 44 yards on nine carries. Perriman and Kamar Aiken made first-down receptions underneath, and Perriman caught the deep pass for his first career score.
“Hopefully, this isn’t our best offensive performance this season,” tight end Dennis Pitta said. “Hopefully, we can take this momentum and understand the weapons we have and the potential we have and finally start to realize it a little bit.”