BEREA — The Baltimore Ravens have an entirely different feel to them than they did Oct. 7 when the Browns defeated them 12-9 in overtime, and rookie Lamar Jackson becoming their starting quarterback is the main reason.
Jackson received the starting nod after Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury Nov. 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens have gone 5-1 since Jackson entered the starting lineup.
Now the Browns (7-7-1) are gearing up to face Jackson in Sunday's season finale in Baltimore. The Ravens (9-6) would capture the AFC North title with a victory.
"He's proven a lot of people wrong who thought he'd be a wide receiver [in the NFL]," Browns linebacker Joe Schobert said Wednesday of Jackson, the 32nd overall pick in April's draft who won the Heisman Trophy with Louisville in 2016.
Jackson's mobility is capable of giving defensive coordinators nightmares. He has rushed for 605 yards, most among all QBs this season, and three touchdowns on 127 carries (4.8 average). As a team, the Ravens are averaging a league-high 218.5 rushing yards per game since he became their starter in Week 11.
"All the quarterbacks who are mobile and running are getting around, but then they're sliding, and he's trying to dive for first downs," Schobert said. "He's not just running around and bouncing to get to the sidelines. I don't think there's anybody quite like him right now.
"He's probably the fastest or one of the fastest quarterbacks in the NFL. ... It stresses everybody on any given play, so everybody really has to come in locked in and laser-like focused."
The Browns want to force Jackson to beat them with his arm. He has completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,022 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions for a rating of 84.9. He has taken 14 sacks.
"Don't disregard his arm strength. He can throw it a long way, too," Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said. "They do a lot of good jobs in the run game, especially in the play-action run game, when you're compensating so hard in the run game that all of a sudden he understands how to fake a guy open and get somebody else open. He has been able to do a good job and improve each week with throwing the route concepts that they're asking him to do."
Even when Jackson faces an obvious passing situation, he's a threat to run for a first down.
"What they put on tape is that they're going to run the ball a majority of the time in every given situation," Schobert said. "Knowing they throw the ball, it's a lot of play-actions and it's leverage situations where the defense may be running up in the run gaps and you get easy passes over the top.
"What they don't want to do is get in third-and-long situations and do the straight drop-back passing and allow defenses to get there. But even with that, he'll start scrambling around and make the plays on his own. He's a different kind of threat in the pass game than what a lot of quarterbacks in the NFL are."
Racking them up
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield strengthened his candidacy for NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by winning two other awards.
He was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance in Sunday’s 26-18 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, and the local chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America voted him the Joe Thomas Award winner for player of the year.
"I think he’s the guy. When you find a quarterback that’s right, you kind of get that feeling," left guard Joel Bitonio said.
"Those are types of things that you’re supreme leader is supposed to be able to do," Williams added.
Mayfield completed 27-of-37 passes (73 percent) for 284 yards and three touchdowns without an interception and finished with a rating of 121.9 rating against the Bengals. He completed 15 consecutive passes during the game, tying the third-longest streak in team history.
He will enter the season finale with a record of 6-6 as a Browns starter. He has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 3,349 yards and 24 touchdowns with 11 interceptions for a rating of 95.1.
He's flirting with breaking the franchise record for completion percentage in a season held by Hall of Famer Otto Graham, who completed 64.7 of his passes in 1953.
He's third on the all-time list for touchdown passes thrown by an NFL rookie. He has 24 TD passes this season and needs two to tie Peyton Manning (1998) and Russell Wilson (2012) for the record.
Earlier this season, Mayfield was named the AFC Offensive Rookie of the Month for November.
His biggest competition for the league’s rookie of the year award is New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley, the No. 2 overall selection.
Mayfield (5-to-7) surpassed Barkley (1-to-1) this week as the favorite for rookie of the year at the gambling website Bovada.lv.
Bitonio was voted the PFWA Dino Lucarelli “Good Guy Award” winner for his cooperation with the media and the way he carries himself in the community and with his teammates. He won the same award last year.
Bitonio is the second Browns player to win the “Good Guy Award” twice. Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle who retired in March, received the honor in 2010 and 2013. But Bitonio is the team’s first player to garner the award in consecutive seasons.
"It's just something that I have been instilled with my whole life," Bitonio said. "It's something about respect. You respect people for the job they have to do, the job that [reporters] have to do. [They] are just trying to do your job. It's not hard to give [them] a day of the week or a couple of times a week to talk to [them]."
The Browns are playing one of their biggest season finales of the expansion era. Winning Sunday would secure the franchise's third winning record since the move to Baltimore.
For the team that left Cleveland after the 1995 season and became the Ravens, it's a chance to eliminate the Pittsburgh Steelers from the playoffs and win the division.
Being at home to face the Browns does not give Ravens coach John Harbaugh a false sense of security. He recalls a game in Baltimore last New Year's Eve in which the Ravens fell to the Bengals, costing the Ravens a playoff berth.
"We have been in a lot of big games," Harbaugh said during a conference call. "The ones you win, you kind of walk together forever in those. The ones you lose, it's kind of the same thing. They sting so much. You never forget them."
Harbaugh became Baltimore's head coach in 2008. The Browns' most memorable road win of the expansion era came in the regular-season road finale in 2002, when they won 14-13 at Baltimore. They clinched the expansion era's only playoff berth a week later by beating the Atlanta Falcons in Cleveland.
— Steve Doerschuk
Rookie cornerback Denzel Ward remained in concussion protocol and didn't practice Wednesday. Defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi (biceps), center JC Tretter (ankle) and linebacker Tanner Vallejo (hamstring) sat out, too.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns.