The Baltimore Ravens jumped out to a 20-0 lead early in the third quarter and held on for a 20-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns. The offense gave the Ravens the lead but it was the defense that held onto it for the win. Of course, many would also give credit for the win to the absolutely horrible play-calling and clock management by the Browns coaching staff. However, let's give the credit to Baltimore and here are the top five defensive plays of the game, in chronological order:
1. On Cleveland's first drive of the game, they drove down to the Ravens 30-yard line. Facing a 3rd and one, instead of sticking the ball into the gut of RB Peyton Hillis, who would go on to gouge the Ravens defense for over 100 rushing yards, QB Seneca Wallace threw to the sideline where Lardarius Webb picked off his team-leading 5th pass of the season, leading to the Ravens first score of the game, helped out significantly by a 60-yard pass interference penalty.
2. Moments before halftime, the Browns had the ball second and goal at the Baltimore 3-yard line with no timeouts left. The obvious only play that should have been run was a pass into the end zone. Inexplicably, Cleveland decided to go with the run and when Hillis was stopped for no gain, the clock ran out without any time to either run another play or kick the field goal.
3. Early in the second quarter, Ravens LB Brendon Ayanbadejo sacked Browns QB Seneca Wallace for a seven yard loss, forcing a Cleveland punt to the Ravens own 18-yard line. By itself, a nice play but not that significant, except for what happened on the following drive. The ravens took over and after eight plays drove the ball to the Browns 42-yard line, QB Joe Flacco hit R Ray Rice streaking down the right sideline at the 25-yard line trailing by an over-matched linebacker for a 42-yard catch-and-run TD to give Baltimore a 17-0 lead.
4. Fast forward to late in the fourth quarter and by virtue of a punt return and long drive after a Flacco interception, Baltimore clings to a 20-14 lead. The Browns have the ball and face a fourth-and five from their own 45-yard line. Once again, the Browns leave everyone scratching their heads as Wallace throws short to Hillis, who is stopped for no gain and the Ravens took over the ball on downs.
5. While #5 is not "officially" defensive play, it certainly was an offensive play called for "defensive" purposes. After stopping the Browns on downs as detailed in #4 above, Baltimore faced a 4th-and-2 on the Browns 37 yard line, with two minutes left in the game. Rather than give the ball back to Cleveland for a final try at a come-from-behind upset, Flacco stood over center barking out signals with a staggered snap count, trying to draw the Browns offsides with no intent of actually snapping the ball. A horrible rookie mistake by Browns DT Phil Taylor had him jump offsides for the five-yard penalty, good enough for the first down. The Browns never got another chance, as three Flacco kneel-downs were enough to run the clock out.