The Baltimore Ravens had their starting quarterback throw for 307 yards, their franchise running back gain 104 more and their top wide receiver make 10 catches.
Somehow, though, those eye-popping numbers didn’t translate to the scoreboard Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Buoyed by the return of veteran linebacker Willie McGinest, the Browns provided a textbook example of bend-but-don’t-break defense in a 27-13 victory over Baltimore.
It may not have been an impressive win statistically, but aesthetically, it was as satisfying as they come.
“This is a low point for us,’’ Ravens tight end Todd Heap said. “We didn’t capitalize when we had opportunities, we turned the ball over and we gave the Browns opportunities.
“This is how the ballgame is going to go when you move the ball between the 20s and don’t capitalize.’’
And move the football Baltimore did, amassing 26 first downs to just 12 by Cleveland. The Ravens also gained 115 more yards on the day and were never forced to punt.
Those figures would seem to add up to a big Baltimore victory, yet what played out was exactly the opposite. The Browns dominated their guests from start to finish and deserved to win by an even bigger margin.
This must be the type of “fuzzy math’’ that President Bush once accused Al Gore of using.
“Our defense has been beaten down a little bit the last three games (allowing an NFL-high 105 points), but they helped us win today,’’ Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. “To hold a team to six points early, then 13 in the end is pretty good. We’re excited about where we are and we feel pretty good about the remainder of the year.’’
According to defensive captain Andra Davis, the Browns’ ability to keep Baltimore out of the end zone was directly related to McGinest playing in his first game of the season. He had missed nearly two months after undergoing back surgery.
“Mac is the leader of the defense and we feed on his enthusiasm and ability,’’ Davis said. “He’s a veteran presence that we really missed. We’ve got playmakers on this team, so now we can compete. Just thank God that we won.’’
Not only did McGinest take his first snaps of the season against the Ravens, he moved right into the lineup in place of Davis.
Crennel and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham opted to use Kamerion Wimbley, D’Qwell Jackson, Leon Williams and McGinest as their first four. That meant one-time starters Davis, Antwan Peek and Chaun Thompson came off the bench as part of a newly expanded rotation.
“It’s working well because we can stay fresh,’’ Davis said. “As players, we have to be unselfish. None of us has a big ego. That’s what you need in order to be successful in this league.’’
Teams also need to be able to turn it up a notch at the right moment, which Cleveland did extremely well. Baltimore advanced into Browns territory on each of its first eight drives, but scored only one touchdown and 13 total points.
Cleveland repeatedly switched defensive formations and personnel to keep the Ravens from getting comfortable, especially in the red zone, which aggravated them more and more as the game played out.
In other words, Baltimore’s players walked off the field with the same frustrated faces the Browns usually sport after games.
“I think this team is beginning to come together a little bit,’’ Crennel said confidently. “We’ve still got a long season to go, but we’re making progress. We’ve got some talent. And when they play good together — like they did today — they can compete with just about anyone in the NFL.’’
Contact Brian Dulik at email@example.com.