BALTIMORE — In a crucial divisional matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, the Cleveland Browns' defense stepped up in a big way. But the offense dropped the ball (a few times, literally) and they couldn't get a much-needed win.
The day seemed to be set up perfectly for the Browns. The Bengals beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and sent them to the basement of the AFC North, giving Cleveland a chance to start climbing towards a shot at the divisional crown—the easiest way for the team to make a playoff berth with tiebreakers not in their favor among many of the other AFC contenders.
But fate apparently has its limits, and the Browns' prime opportunity to turn their season around and regain dominance in their division was squandered with a dreadful offensive outing against the Ravens under prime-time lights, one the defense worked to overcome but ultimately could not do.
The Browns' defense was the star of the show Sunday night.
Ravens quarterback was intercepted four times. Ronnie Harrison Jr., John Johnson III, Grant Delpit and Denzel Ward all took the ball away from Jackson. Myles Garrett had his 14th sack of the season, tying a franchise season sack record in the process. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah showed his explosiveness and closing speed all night, sharing a sack with Jordan Elliott.
Cleveland's defense held the Ravens to 16 points. It should have been enough.
But those four interceptions only resulted in a total of three points. On the first interecption, the offense couldn't get all the way down the field but drove far enough for Chase McLaughlin to make a 46-yard field goal. The second resulted in a turnover when Baker Mayfield fumbled the ball after double-pumping the ball under pressure and not getting the pass off on Baltimore's 28 that seemed like it could have been a touchdown. The third and fourth interceptions both resulted in forced punts.
When the Browns defense delivered, the offense failed.
Donovan Peoples-Jones, Demetric Felton and Austin Hooper each missed catches they needed to make. Rashard Higgins was a healthy scratch and did not play. The pass threat did not exists and that hurt the run game as the Ravens stacked the box, not fearing the Browns' receivers.
Injuries impacted the offense, yes. Jack Conklin was carted to the locker room with a knee injury sustained in the first quarter and ruled out for the remainder of the game. Harrison Bryant, who had three receptions for 50 yards, sustained an ankle injury near the end of the first half and was unable to return. Head coach Kevin Stefanski said Kareem Hunt, who made his return from the injured reserve list Sunday night, was unable to be on the field for the final possession with the game on the line as the leg that he injured was "tight."
But the Browns can't keep leaning on injuries as an excuse for a lackluster performance by the offense. The offense wasted the opportunities provided by the defense Sunday, and now they'll enter the bye with a daunting task of winning out as they return to face the Ravens again.
"We all are very frustrated. It stings," Stefanski said. "Bottom line is we'll come in and we'll look at it, we'll learn from it and then we've got to get ready for a stretch run."
The season isn't over, but things are trending the wrong way. It'll be one long week for the Browns and for Browns fans wondering if things can turn around after the bye.
If nothing else, Browns fans, use the bye week to unwind. It may be a long rest of the season watching scoreboards, brace yourselves.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.
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