Final recap -- Ravens 24, Browns 17 (click here for the box score)
The Browns flirted with pulling off a huge upset in their first AFC North game of the season, but the Baltimore Ravens refused to let their home opener be spoiled in front of 71,119 fans Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The Browns (0-3) eliminated their most glaring problem from their first two games -- turnovers -- but still lost. They can't even use penalties as an excuse this time because their eight for 60 yards was matched by the Ravens (2-1). And in a new twist, the Browns actually scored in the second half. Improving in all those areas, plus a superb effort from running back Peyton Hillis (22 carries for a career-high 144 yards rushing, including a 1-yard touchdown) and a solid performance from quarterback Seneca Wallace (18-of-24 passing for 141 yards and a touchdown), kept Cleveland in contention for nearly the entire game. The Browns even gained a 17-14 lead and held it until wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught the go-ahead touchdown, his third of the day, from quarterback Joe Flacco with 9:13 left in the fourth quarter. In the Browns' first two games of the season, the defense had been the team's strength while the offense struggled. This time, though, the defense, and specifically cornerback Eric Wright, had no answer for Boldin, who finished with eight catches for 142 yards. Boldin caught a high pass over Wright for his first touchdown (8 yards). He caught his second one (12 yards) when Wright was caught out of position in the end zone. Finally, he burned Wright for the ultimate dagger, a catch in stride in the back of the end zone. This might go down as Wright's worst performance as a professional. He's supposed to be one of the Browns' best defensive players, but he appeared to be confused, slow and completely overmatched. In the end, Boldin's dominance and the Browns' missed opportunities overshadowed the strides made by Cleveland's offense. Here are some of the Browns' notable missed opportunities in chronological order: 1. Rookie safety T.J. Ward nearly intercepted Flacco's first pass of the game, but Ward said he dropped the ball because he got too excited as thoughts of a pick-six rushed through his head. 2. The Browns became the first team to score a touchdown against the Ravens this season, trimming their deficit to 14-10 when Hillis ran off the left side for a 1-yard score with 13 seconds left in the second quarter. They got the ball back to start the second half, but instead of using the momentum they had gained to their advantage, Wallace was sacked twice -- first by linebacker Terrell Suggs for no gain and then by safety Dawan Landry for a loss of 10 yards. The Browns had to punt after those lapses. 3. After the Browns took a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter, they couldn't stop the Ravens from countering with a 10-play, 69-yard scoring drive. On third-and-13 from Cleveland's 46-yard line, Flacco hit tight end Todd Heap with a 14-yard pass that Browns defensive back Mike Adams said he thought he had knocked away from Heap. Three plays later, the Ravens took the lead with Boldin's third touchdown catch. 4. During the first play from scrimmage of the ensuing drive, Wallace pitched the ball while Hillis was expecting a handoff. Wallace recovered the fumble, but the Browns went from first-and-10 at their own 20 to second-and-27 at their own 3. They couldn't generate any offense and had to punt. 5. The Browns got the ball back with 5:29 left, but they went three-and-out. On third-and-2, Wallace's deep pass to Cribbs fell incomplete, the Browns had to punt, and they never got the ball back.
End 1Q: Ravens 7, Browns 3 -- 1. Phil Dawson made his first field goal of the season, a 38-yard attempt, to give the Browns a 3-0 lead with 6:14 left in the first quarter. 2. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught an 8-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco. Billy Cundiff's extra-point kick was good, giving the Ravens a 7-3 with 1:29 left in the first quarter. Boldin's touchdown catch was his 600th career reception. He reached the 600-catch mark in 98 games, the fastest in NFL history. Former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Marvin Harrison (600 catches in 102 games) held the previous record.
End 2Q: Ravens 14, Browns 10 -- 1. Flacco and Boldin connected for another touchdown, this time for 12 yards. Cundiff's PAT was good, and the Ravens took a 14-3 lead with 5:59 left in the second quarter. 2. Browns running back Peyton Hillis capped an 11-play, 83-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run off the left side. Dawson's PAT was good, trimming the Browns' deficit to 14-10 with 13 seconds left in the first half. Hillis' score was the first touchdown the Ravens have allowed this season.
End 3Q: Ravens 14, Browns 10 -- No scoring.
End 4Q: Ravens 24, Browns 17 -- 1. Seneca Wallace faked a handoff to Hillis and hit tight end Benjamin Watson with a 1-yard touchdown pass. Dawson's successful PAT gave the Browns a 17-14 lead with 14:54 left in the fourth quarter. 2. Flacco and Boldin connected for a touchdown for the third time. Boldin left cornerback Eric Wright in his dust again and caught a 27-yard scoring strike from Flacco in the back of the end zone. The PAT was good, and the Ravens took a 21-17 lead with 9:13 left in the fourth quarter. 3. Cundiff capped a 6-play, 11-yard drive with a 49-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 24-17 lead with 5:29 left in the fourth quarter.
Top storylines: 1. The Browns' depth will be tested today. Running back Jerome Harrison (thigh), quarterback Jake Delhomme (ankle), defensive lineman Shaun Rogers (ankle, hip), linebacker Marcus Benard (ankle) and wide receiver Brian Robiskie (hamstring) are among those out with injuries. Look for backup running back James Davis to get some carries today with Harrison out. 2. With Delhomme inactive, Seneca Wallace will start at quarterback for the second consecutive week. 3. After the Browns fell to 0-2, coach Eric Mangini issued a stern warning: Players who continue to commit penalties and turnovers will not continue to play. In their first two games, the Browns have had 14 penalties for 125 yards and five turnovers. It will be interesting to see how the players respond to Mangini's message. 4. The Ravens are coming off a 15-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. They'll certainly be hungry to beat the Browns in their home opener. 5. The Browns' connections with the Ravens keep growing. George Kokinis is back in the Ravens' front office after being fired by the Browns. He was Cleveland's general manager for part of 2009.
Inactive players: Browns -- QB Jake Delhomme, WR Carlton Mitchell, LB Marcus Benard, RB Jerome Harrison, OL Steve Vallos, OL Shawn Lauvao, WR Brian Robiskie and DL Shaun Rogers. Ravens -- WR Donte' Stallworth, CB Prince Miller, LB Tavares Gooden, DT Arthur Jones, DT Terrence Cody, T Jared Gaither, DT Lamar Divens and DE Paul Kruger.
Lineup changes: Browns -- Ahtyba Rubin will start in place of Shaun Rogers at nose tackle; Seneca Wallace will start in place of Jake Delhomme at quarterback; Josh Cribbs will start in place of Brian Robiskie at wide receiver; Peyton Hillis will start in place of Jerome Harrison at running back; linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (pectoral muscle) has been placed on injured reserve, and wide receiver Sam Aiken was signed to fill Jackson's roster spot. Ravens -- Marshal Yanda will start in place of Jared Gaither at right offensive tackle; Chris Chester will start in place of Marshal Yanda at right guard.