By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun
6:09 PM PST, December 24, 2011
The odds did not favor the Ravens.
After sleepwalking through Saturday's second half, the offense lined up on fourth-and-2 at the Cleveland Browns' 37-yard line at the two-minute mark of the fourth quarter. And although everyone at M&T Bank Stadium and watching on television knew the Ravens were trying to coax an offside call, someone forgot to tell rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who jumped into the neutral zone and gave the offense the first down it needed to run out the clock and cement a 20-14 victory.
"It's a big play, and you never know," center Matt Birk said. "We tried it the first time, and it didn't work. And then [quarterback] Joe [Flacco] did a good job of selling it and going through his cadence again, and it worked."
Not even Ravens coach John Harbaugh thought the play would work, according to Flacco.
"John was like, 'There's no way they jump.' And you never know," Flacco said. "So in that situation, we got fortunate. You [hope] it isn't going to come down to that. But, hey, it did come down to it, and that's what we needed today and that's what we got."
After the game, a natural question was whether the offense had a play in mind if Taylor hadn't jumped offsides or whether the Ravens were willing to absorb a delay-of-game penalty or call a timeout.
"I can't divulge that," Harbaugh said coyly. "That's a very good question, but I can't divulge that. I thought Joe was getting to a play there as the clock was running down. I thought he did a good job with the cadence. He did a tremendous job with the cadence in that situation. He did get them to jump. It's tougher than you think not to jump in that situation and try to get a run stopped. I'm proud of Joe on that one."
Flacco was a bit more revealing, without directly answering the question.
"Come on, you guys can figure it out," he said. "The play clock was at two seconds, and we hadn't snapped the ball yet."
Special teams falter again
The Ravens matched a franchise worst when they surrendered their third return for a touchdown this season, which ties a high set in 1998 and duplicated in 2002.
Free safety Haruki Nakamura and punter Sam Koch missed tackles of Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs, who took a punt 84 yards for the score — his third career punt return for a touchdown and his 11th career kickoff or punt return for a touchdown.
"We wanted to pin the ball over on the left sideline, and we didn't," Harbaugh said. "We kicked him a ball that we don't kick very often, and I think when you give a returner like that an opportunity like that in space, in those kinds of conditions, he made us pay for it. It was not good coverage, it was not a good punt and we have to do better than that. That's really what got them back in the game."
Graham enjoys debut
Shayne Graham's first game as a Raven went fairly well.
Starting in place of the injured Billy Cundiff (left calf), Graham made field goals from 48 and 43 yards and two extra points. Four of his five kickoffs did not reach the end zone, but Graham's 48-yard field goal was his longest since Nov. 29, 2009, when he connected on a 53-yard kick against the Browns.
"I hate to say it, but coming in here, I felt comfortable from Day One," said Graham, who was signed Wednesday. "Some of the coaches, we were talking that it was such a smooth transition that I felt like I've been here forever. So it's not really something that I've had to say that I've really had to adjust to so many things because I felt comfortable, like I was home. It was a nice feeling."
Evans held without catch
As expected, Lee Evans joined rookie Torrey Smith as the starting wide receivers against Cleveland, but that's about all the news the eight-year veteran made.
Starting in place of the injured Anquan Boldin (knee surgery), Evans finished without a catch despite having been targeted four times by Flacco. After the game, Evans blamed himself for not being more productive.
"The way I look at it and the way I've got to go about it is, it is on me because I don't really know any other way to do it," said Evans, who made his first start since Sept. 18 against the Tennessee Titans. "So I've just got to be where he wants me to be, when he wants me to be there, and make the plays when I get a chance. Today, I didn't do that."
First 8-0 home record
For the first time in the franchise's 16-year history, the Ravens completed an unblemished season at home, winning all eight games at M&T Bank Stadium.
After the victory over the Browns, Harbaugh awarded a game ball to the fans and pledged to find a spot at the team's training facility in Owings Mills to set up a display for what he called "that purple wall."
Inside linebacker Ray Lewis was equally impressed with the team's run at home, saying, "That's amazing because as good of teams as we've had here, we've always found [a way] to lose one or two, here or there. But I think this year, we really made our focus on taking care of home. And our team came in, and we did a great job of taking care of home."
The start of next Sunday's Ravens-Bengals game in Cincinnati has been moved from 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. ... In addition to Boldin, defensive end Cory Redding (right ankle) and Cundiff, the Ravens deactivated cornerback Danny Gorrer, outside linebacker Sergio Kindle, rookie wide receiver LaQuan Williams and rookie running back Anthony Allen. … The decision to sit Williams meant that rookie wide receiver Tandon Doss was active for the first time since Oct. 30 against the Arizona Cardinals. Doss, a fourth-round pick in April, has yet to make a catch. … Cleveland — as expected — deactivated quarterback Colt McCoy, who is still suffering from post-concussion symptoms. Four starters who had been listed as questionable — cornerback Joe Haden (thigh), wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi (foot), right tackle Tony Pashos (ankle) and fullback Owen Marecic (head/ankle) — were active. … In addition to McCoy, the Browns scratched wide receivers Jordan Norwood (head) and Rod Windsor, former Ravens offensive tackle Oniel Cousins, cornerback James Dockery, center Steve Vallos and defensive lineman Kiante Tripp. … Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, right guard Marshal Yanda and Nakamura represented the Ravens for the coin toss.
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