The Ravens looked to be headed toward another blowout victory.
Less than five minutes into a hugely important AFC North game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium, they were already up 14-0, courtesy of a wild Kyle Hamilton interception that he tipped to himself and returned for a touchdown on the second play of the game and an explosive 39-yard touchdown run by rookie Keaton Mitchell.
But the Browns also boast one of the league’s best defenses, their own dynamic quarterback and a tough ground game, which shredded the Ravens for 178 yards. All of it, along with some self-inflicted errors by Baltimore, was enough for Cleveland to rally from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit and win, 33-31.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
Ball security continues to be a problem
The Ravens came into Sunday just plus-one in turnover differential, and with quarterback Lamar Jackson having more fumbles (10) than touchdown passes (9) this season. That unsettling trend continued Sunday, with Jackson throwing two costly interceptions.
Baltimore did intercept Deshaun Watson once and recover a fumble by former Ravens receiver James Proche II on a muffed punt return, but Jackson’s ill-timed turnovers cost them dearly.
The first interception in the final minute of the first half at the Browns’ 37-yard line ended any chance Baltimore had of burying the Browns, who they already led 17-3 at the time. The second midway through the fourth quarter, a deflected pass to fullback Patrick Ricard in the flat that cornerback Greg Newsome II snatched out of the sky and returned 34 yards for a touchdown, pulled the Browns to within a point.
“The guy [Browns defensive end Ogbo Okoronkwo] just tipped the ball,” said Jackson, who completed 13 of 23 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown. “Saw Pat was open in the flat. The guy tipped the ball, and the ball just flew 10 yards in the air. He made a great play on the ball and just scored.”
The first interception, on a pass intended for Rashod Bateman, Jackson accepted full responsibility for.
“I have to put more power behind the velocity on that ball,” he said. “It was an underthrown pass.”
They were just the fourth and fifth interceptions Jackson has thrown this season, but combined with his six fumbles lost he has turned it over 11 times in 10 games.
Keaton Mitchell is the back the Ravens have been missing
Offensive coordinator Todd Monken said Thursday that rookie running back Keaton Mitchell had earned more opportunities after he racked up 138 yards and a touchdown on nine carries last week.
He quickly made the most of them against the Browns with a 39-yard touchdown run on the Ravens’ sixth play of the game. The holes were huge on the left side of the line, but Mitchell’s game-breaking speed was evident as he turned the corner and flew past the angling Browns defenders in pursuit, hitting 20.99 mph on the run, according to Next Gen Stats. He also became the first player in franchise history to have a touchdown run of at least 35 yards in consecutive games.
Yet, the Ravens mysteriously went away from him in the second half, with Mitchell getting just one touch.
“It’s just kind of the way it went as far as the play calling,” Harbaugh said. “It wasn’t a part of the plan or anything like that.”
Perhaps Mitchell should have been more of the plan.
The undrafted rookie out of East Carolina has 12 carries for 172 yards and two touchdowns. He also has three catches for 37 yards, including one that went for 32 yards against Cleveland.
“When I got the ball, I just saw a big hole, and I let my speed work,” Mitchell said of his touchdown Sunday.
Inexplicably, though, Mitchell only got four total touches against the Browns, who struggled to contain him.
Meanwhile, Gus Edwards had 11 carries for 24 yards and a touchdown, and Justice Hill added two carries for 7 yards. Jackson also had eight rushes for 41 yards.
Kyle Hamilton continues to show his versatility
Coming into this season, the thought was that Hamilton, who played all over the field for the Ravens last year, would be utilized in a more traditional safety role. That hasn’t been the case, as Mike Macdonald’s deployment of the second-year star out of Notre Dame has been brilliant in optimizing his myriad skills and confusing opposing offenses.
Sunday, it took all of two plays to pay dividends against the Browns.
On second-and-6 from Cleveland’s 29, quarterback Deshaun Watson dropped back from the shotgun and tried to hit tight end David Njoku in the left flat. But Hamilton, playing up at the line, raced in unblocked, threw both arms up in the air and tipped Watson’s pass to himself before sailing into the end zone 18 yards for the score.
Hamilton finished with eight tackles, two passes defensed and a quarterback hit but was understandably perturbed afterward, saying, “It was a good start to the game, but it seems like it was a long time ago right now.”
“It’s another hard lesson to learn,” he said. “[We] just have to treat the scoreboard like 0-0 at all times. [I] feel like we could’ve done a better job of that, just intensity-wise, but [there’s] a lot of stuff to work on. Luckily, we have a game on Thursday to fix it.”
The Ravens have trailed for just 28 minutes, 46 seconds of this season — about 5% of the 600 minutes they’ve played — yet they’ve somehow managed to lose three games.
Zay Flowers is the Ravens’ best wide receiver
Much was made about Odell Beckham Jr. when the Ravens doled out $15 million for the former All-Pro wide receiver, but it’s Zay Flowers who has easily been Baltimore’s best receiver and was again Sunday.
The rookie out of Boston College had five catches for 73 yards, but the numbers don’t come close to telling the whole story. His playmaking ability is, outside of Jackson, the best on the team.
Midway through the fourth quarter and with the Ravens clinging to a one-point lead on third-and-8 from their own 27, Flowers hauled in an 11-yard pass to extend the drive. In the third, he had an 18-yard grab working his way open in the middle of the field. In the second, he had consecutive catches of 16 and 14 yards in which he picked up a handful of yards after each catch thanks to quick feet and shifty moves.
And even when he didn’t have a catch he showed how dangerous he could be, breaking free on a deep route up the right sideline in which he was open but Jackson overthrew him.
Flowers’ five catches and six targets led the team, and the Ravens need to continue to find ways to get him the ball.
Special teams issues crop up again
The Ravens have now had an extra point attempt, punt and field goal try blocked this season after defensive tackle Jordan Elliott got his hand on Justin Tucker’s 55-yard attempt in the second quarter Sunday. Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, is also just 1-for-5 this season on attempts from beyond 50 yards.
The block ultimately led to a Browns field goal with just over a minute left in the first half and, as it turned out, one that ultimately proved to be extremely valuable in the end.
It was just the latest of a handful of issues that have popped up for a usually reliable unit.
There was the punt return for a touchdown the Ravens gave up against the Bengals in Cincinnati in Week 2. There was the “miscommunication” of a fair catch on a free kick against the Colts in Week 3. There was the blocked punt for a safety against the Steelers. There was the onside kick the Ravens failed to recover before hanging on against the Arizona Cardinals.
Whether it’s been a lack of execution or miscommunication, this is another trend, much like a lack of ball security, that is concerning.
Bengals at Ravens
Thursday, 8:15 p.m.
TV/Stream: ABC/Prime Video
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 2 1/2