The Baltimore Ravens traveled to the state of Ohio to face square off with the Cleveland Browns for the second time in the last three weeks and nearly clawed all the way back from a double-digit halftime deficit before ultimately falling 24-22. Even though there is no such thing as moral victories in football they showed a legendary amount of grit against their AFC North foes in a game where there was some good, some bad, and some ugly.
Second half defense: After a rough first half in which they allowed touchdowns on back-to-back drives and 17 points altogether, the Ravens didn’t allow another score after halftime. They forced Cleveland to punt on three of their four true second-half possessions and yielded just 97 yards of total offense over the final two quarters, excluding the two kneel-downs at the end of the game.
Justin Tucker: The future Hall of Fame kicker continues to be the Ravens’ most consistently reliable and potent scoring weapon. He nailed all three of his field-goal attempts including a pair from 50 or more yards with a long of 55. Tucker also converted on his lone extra-point attempt but his biggest kick was the one that traveled the shortest distance as it became the first successfully recovered onside kick for the franchise since 2001.
Tyler Huntley: The second-year pro entered the game in relief of Lamar Jackson who was carted to the locker room and missed the entire second half with an ankle. As gut-wrenching as it was to see their star player go down, the offense surprisingly rallied around and behind Huntley who nearly led the Ravens back from the brink to victory. He did his best Jackson impersonation with the way he made plays with both his arm and his legs. Despite not entering the game until early in the second quarter, Huntley racked up 270 yards through the air, added 45 more on the ground, and led five scoring drives in just under three full quarters of action.
Interior defensive line: This particular unit deserves stand-alone recognition for the way they played in this game and have been playing as of late. They essentially played the Browns’ top-notch offensive line and running game without the services of veteran defensive end Calais Campbell again after the six-time Pro Bowler left the game in the first quarter with a thigh injury and did not return. While they didn’t limit Cleveland to the same meager 40 yard total that they did two weeks ago, they still managed to hold them to 100 yards exactly.
The combined efforts of veterans Justin Ellis and Brandon Williams as well second-year pros Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington minus their leader and best player were outstanding. The interior unit generated a significant portion of the defense’s total pressures and according to Pro Football Focus, Madubuike led the charge with four pressures that resulted in quarterback hurries. Washington played his best game as a pro to date, recording a career-high three total tackles and nearly caused a fumble on a quarterback hit.
Devonta Freeman: The veteran running back continues to get stronger and look more explosive each week now that he has seized the role of the Ravens featured player at the position. He led the team in rushing and recorded his third straight game of over 50 yards on the ground with a game-high 64 on 13 carries. Freeman also caught five passes but only added eight more yards to his scrimmage total.
Mark Andrews: The star tight end certainly earned even more consideration for First Team All-Pro consideration with his amazing outing in this game. He etched his name into the franchise record books with another potent performance where led the team in targets, receptions, and receiving yards. Andrews hauled in all 11 of his targets for his second-highest receiving total of the season with 115. He made clutch catches for key conversions to help keep the Ravens in contention and likely sparked their comeback efforts with a rugged display of violence on his second reception of the second half.
John Harbaugh on Mark Andrews going full Juggernaut here: “Pretty beastly.” pic.twitter.com/GiVFXp6uwk— Jonas Shaffer (@jonas_shaffer) December 13, 2021
Rashod Bateman: The first-round rookie showed the Ravens and the entire NFL just how impactful and dangerous he can be in the passing game with his breakout performance. He finished second behind Andrews in receptions, targets, and receiving yards but had the most explosive plays of 20 or more yards with three. He tied his career-high in catches with seven and eclipsed the century receiving mark for the first time with 103 yards.
2-point conversion attempt: For the second straight game, a failure to execute a two-point conversion cost the Ravens a chance at forcing overtime.
After veteran running back Latavius Murray’s one-yard touchdown plunge, Head Coach John Harbaugh decided to leave his offense on the field to go for two and try to cut the deficit to seven instead of sending out Tucker to get the nearly automatic extra point. This decision ultimately cost them an opportunity to try to go for two to tie the game after they scored their second fourth-quarter touchdown on an eight-yard pass from Huntley to Andrews. While the concept of going for two wasn’t the wrong one considering the way this game started and the hole they were trying to dig themselves out of, the timing of the decision, as well as the play call and execution of it, could’ve been better.
Early mistakes and miscommunication in the secondary: While the Ravens’ defensive backfield rebounded in the second half, their shaky first half was marred by many of the same flaws that plagued them all season. Even though they didn’t give up any long-scoring plays through the air, the unit did surrender several big gains as a result of miscommunication and over-aggressiveness.
The Browns were able to pick up 34 yards on a third-down pass to wide receiver Donovan Peoples-Jones where he was left wide open deep in Ravens territory because both Anthony Averett and Chuck Clark initially followed Jarvis Landry to the boundary on an out route. Landry wound up scoring the first touchdown of the game five plays later and the Ravens found themselves down 10-0 before the second quarter.
On Cleveland’s second touchdown drive of the first half and final of the game overall, Clark was the culprit again when he bit on the play-action fake at the goal line just long enough for tight end Austin Hooper to sneak behind him for a one-yard score. It was first and goal and the Browns might have gone on to punch it in regardless a play or two later but who knows what might have happened had Clark been able to make a play on the ball to keep them from scoring altogether with an interception or tip to a teammate at the goal line.
Tyler's turnovers: As impressive as Huntley looked at times making and extending plays, his lack of ball security inside and outside the pocket literally gave the Browns points and kept the Ravens from scoring more of their own. He lost a pair of fumbles in this game with the first being returned 15 yards for a touchdown and the second ending a very promising opening drive of the second half that saw the Ravens march 63 yards to the Browns’ 12-yard line in just six plays before his costly turnover ended it.
Offensive tackle play: The quality of play, or rather lack thereof, at arguably the two most pivotal positions on the offensive side of the ball after the quarterback has been an issue all season. Hardly anybody outside of the Ravens organization expected the underwhelming bookend tackle pairing of Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips to hold up all game long against the former first overall pick pass-rushing duo of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. However, they were consistently and woefully outmatched at critical junctures in the game that cost the Ravens dearly in the end.
Villanueva was the one that got beat around the edge by Garrett and gave up the pressure that wound up resulting in a defensive touchdown on Huntley’s first fumble. Phillips also struggled most of the day in pass protection and his inability to finish his block on Jadeveon Clowney on the Ravens final possession of the game led to a 10-yard sack that essentially doomed the game-winning drive.
Officiating: As if it wasn’t bad enough that the schedule makers stuck it to the Ravens by giving the Browns a bye week between their back-to-back matchups but the officials got in on the action too with their horrendously one-sided flag fest. The Ravens were flagged 10 times to the Browns four for a whopping 125 yards in penalties to just 42 for the home team.
The most egregious of all the questionable calls that they made in favor of Cleveland was on a pass interference penalty that was incorrectly called on Ravens cornerback Chris Westry when it was clear as a cloudless day that Landry was the one who committed a foul.
If a booth official can quickly communicate to an on-field official to correct bad calls (as we’ve seen this year), how did this DPI flag on Chris Westry not get picked up?— Ryan Mink (@ryanmink) December 13, 2021
The Browns got a field goal after this 30-yard penalty and won by 2 points. pic.twitter.com/SfnIyOx71q
This is also offensive pass interference. Defender is playing the ball and the receiver grabs and significantly hinders him. https://t.co/Xb0cSjnZ9e— Terry McAulay (@SNFRules) December 12, 2021
By blowing this call in a game that came down to a two-point margin of victory, the officiating crew essentially gifted the Browns an opportunity to advance into field goal range. Had the correct call been made, Cleveland would’ve gotten backed up 10 yards to make it first-and-20 from their 30-yard line.