Red zone off limits to Browns
CLEVELAND (AP) — The red zone was easily within the Cleveland Browns’ reach.
The end zone was way off limits.
Unable to score a touchdown on five trips inside Baltimore’s 20, the Browns settled for five field goals by Phil Dawson and lost 25-15 on Sunday to the Baltimore Ravens, who defeated Cleveland for the 10th straight time and sent their AFC North rivals searching for answers following another game that slipped away.
“It’s deflating every time you lose, but especially this one,” said cornerback Joe Haden, who was beaten by wide receiver Torrey Smith for a 19-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco with 4:26 left as the Ravens (6-2) rallied after blowing a 14-point lead and doing nothing on offense for two quarters.
The Browns (2-7) came in brimming with confidence after beating San Diego last week. At last, it seemed as if Cleveland had finally gotten past the mistakes that doomed it earlier this season. But this was another loss filled with missed chances, costly penalties, confusion and questionable strategy.
Several Cleveland players left the stadium feeling angry and frustrated. The typically upbeat Haden abruptly ended his postgame interview and walked out.
“I’m tired of coming up close and not getting over the hump,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, who played despite an assortment of injuries. “I’ve had my fair share of close ballgames and not pulling them out, just being fed up with it and guys have to understand if we want that feeling like we had after last week’s game, it’s not easy in this league.”
Smith caught Flacco’s strike and spun away from Haden as the Ravens won their 15th straight game following a loss, and eased some of the sting from a 30-point blowout at Houston two weeks ago.
Baltimore improved to 5-0 after a bye week under coach John Harbaugh, who has never lost to the Browns in 10 tries.
Harbaugh was relieved following a rugged division game that included hard shoves, kicking, taunting and the usual amount of animosity.
“Whew,” Harbaugh said. “That was a fight. That’s a really good football team. They are building something here. They are an up-and-coming AFC North-style team.”
But until the Browns figure out how to score TDs and clean up their mistakes, they’re destined to lag behind Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati.
The only time Cleveland got into the end zone, quarterback Brandon Weeden’s 18-yard TD pass to rookie Josh Gordon was nullified by an illegal formation penalty.
“It’s frustrating,” said running back Trent Richardson, who gained 105 yards. “But we can’t point fingers. We all have to be accountable for what we do. I’ve got to run harder. We gotta make better calls. We have to make sure we pick up blocks and catch the ball, and we have to do the right things.
“Once you’re in the red zone, you gotta score some kind of way.”
After Gordon’s TD was negated because running back Chris Ogbonnaya lined up improperly, Browns coach Pat Shurmur, whose play selection has been second-guessed for two seasons, called a draw to Richardson that was stopped for no gain. Dawson kicked a 41-yard field goal to give the Browns a 15-14 lead with 8:48 to play.
It was up to Cleveland’s defense to stop the Ravens again.
That was asking too much.
Baltimore went six straight possessions without a first down before Flacco completed a 21-yard pass to Anquan Boldin, igniting the Ravens.
“You need a play to get yourself going,” Flacco said. “That was a good one.”
Two plays later, Flacco threw an incompletion on second down, but Browns safety T.J. Ward was called for roughing Baltimore’s QB with a blow to the helmet.
“I was coming pretty fast,” Ward said. “He held it, he held it, he held it. He got rid of it at the last second. I pulled up. I don’t see what was wrong with the hit. I didn’t touch his head.”
Ray Rice picked up 20 yards on two carries and on third-and-10, Flacco fired a slant pass to Smith, who wheeled away from a flat-footed Haden and scored to make it 20-15.
The Ravens then converted the 2-point try with Flacco hitting a wide-open Boldin to extend the lead to seven.
Cleveland had plenty of time left and two timeouts. But facing a 4th-and-2 at his own 28, Shurmur, who chose to punt two weeks ago at Indianapolis in similar circumstances, decided to go for it with 3:53 remaining. However, Weeden’s pass for Greg Little was incomplete and the Ravens took over.
“I felt like we had a play that we liked and we didn’t execute it,” said Shurmur, who got defensive when pressed on his decision.
Baltimore’s Justin Tucker kicked a 43-yard field goal to put the Ravens up by 10.
The Browns’ last chance ended when safety Ed Reed intercepted Weeden, who went 20 of 37 for 176 yards with two interceptions. He didn’t play poorly, but Weeden couldn’t come up with a big lay Cleveland penetrated Baltimore’s 20.
“You don’t want to force it. I learned that earlier in the year,” said Weeden. “People can boo or do whatever, but Phil’s a hell of a kicker. You can’t force it and give them another possession.”
Dawson also made kicks of 32, 28, 29 and 33 yards for the Browns, who were minutes away from what would have been a momentum-building win only to lose again.
NOTES: Richardson, who ran for 122 yards last week, joined Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell (1958) and Earnest Byner (1984) as the only Browns rookies to rush for 100 yards in two straight games. He’s also the first rookie to gain 100 against the Ravens since Fred Taylor in 1998. … Dawson has made 23 consecutive field goals, 19 shy of the NFL record set by Mike Vanderjagt, who converted 42 straight for the Colts. … KR Josh Cribbs became the NFL’s career leader in kickoff return yards with one team. Cribbs has 9,638 yards with Cleveland. Brian Mitchell had 9,586 with Washington.
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