Browns stay in playoff hunt with win over Ravens
BALTIMORE — The Cleveland Browns’ playoff hopes rested on their ability to move 92 yards in just more two minutes, without a timeout.
Some teams might have panicked. For the Browns, it was just another Sunday.
Tim Couch capped a frantic drive with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Mark Campbell with 29 seconds left, and Phil Dawson’s conversion gave Cleveland an improbable 14-13 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.
“This team has been in those situations all year long, and we’ve come out on top quite a few times,” Couch said. “As long as you have the chance to score and get back in the game, you’ve got to always believe.”
The victory kept the Browns’ playoff hopes alive. In the process, Cleveland practically eliminated its most-hated rivals.
The Ravens left the stadium still alive in the wild-card chase, albeit only mathematically.
“It was a great opportunity to prove something to a lot of people, and we were so close,” Baltimore quarterback Jeff Blake said. “To lose like that is tough.”
This was the Browns’ 11th game that came down to the final minute, and on this day Cleveland (8-7) pulled out a victory by torching a defense that dominated since the first quarter.
Down 13-7 and taking over on their 8 with 2:18 remaining, the Browns desperately needed a touchdown. Couch calmly jogged onto the field, supremely confident it was going to happen.
“We went out in the huddle and we knew our season was riding on that drive. It’s either you go down and score or you go home,” Couch said.
Cleveland needed only eight plays to reach the end zone. The key moment came when Couch connected with Jamel White with a 28-yard pass, and a late hit by Chris McAlister moved the ball to the 13.
“You’ve got to be smart. … It’s unfortunate to do that at that time,” Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
McAlister shunned reporters after the game.
Three plays after the penalty, Couch hit a wide-open Campbell to doom the Ravens (7-8), who were vying to get over .500 for the first time this season.
Instead, Baltimore’s dreams of reaching the postseason for a third straight year all but dissipated.
That made the victory much sweeter for the Browns, because Ravens owner Art Modell took his franchise from Cleveland to Baltimore before the 1996 season.
Ironically, the Browns’ hopes of reaching the playoffs now depend in part on the Ravens. If Tampa Bay beats the Steelers tonight and the Ravens defeat the Steelers next week, then Cleveland can win the AFC North by beating Atlanta.
“To stay in the playoff hunt, my team needed this,” Couch said. “We were 92 yards away and no timeouts and it just had to be done. We went out and did it.”
For 58 minutes, Baltimore relied on a stout defense and a conservative attack that featured the running of Jamal Lewis, who finished with 100 yards rushing on 21 carries.
More importantly, the Ravens didn’t lose a fumble and Blake did not throw an interception. But Blake was picked off following the Browns’ final touchdown, ending Baltimore’s comeback bid.
The Ravens turned a third-quarter interception by Anthony Mitchell into a 43-yard field goal by Matt Stover and a 13-7 lead. The drive was aided by a pass interference call against Corey Fuller, whose interception on the play was erased.
Baltimore then gave the game over to the defense, which did its part until the final two minutes.
The Ravens scored on two of their three possessions and rode a 10-for-12 performance by Blake to a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Browns took the opening kickoff and moved 82 yards in 15 plays, going up 7-0 on a 3-yard touchdown run by White. Couch went 5-for-7 on the drive, including a 16-yard completion to Quincy Morgan on a fourth-and-7 from the Baltimore 33.
The Ravens answered with a field goal, then moved in front 10-7 on their next possession when Travis Taylor caught a 17-yard touchdown pass to cap a 12-play, 84-yard drive. Blake completed all seven of his passes on the march.
Notes: Cleveland has converted 8-of-10 fourth-down tries this season. … Mitchell’s interception gives Baltimore 23, tying the franchise high set in 2000. … The Ravens lost for the first time this year when leading at the half. … Baltimore fell to 11-1 in games in which Lewis runs for 100 yards, including the postseason.