CLEVELAND — Myles Garrett questioned the focus of Browns players and coaches a couple of days before what the All-Pro defensive end described as a “win or go home” game against the AFC North-leading Baltimore Ravens.
It wasn’t easy, but the Browns responded and sent a clear message on Sunday – don’t count them out just yet.
With their playoff hopes at stake, the Browns triumphed 24-22 over the Ravens in a pressure-packed game at FirstEnergy Stadium.
The Browns had lost 16-10 to the Ravens on Nov. 28 in Baltimore, then licked their wounds during a long-awaited bye week. While the Browns (7-6) rested, the Ravens (9-4) suffered a 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week at Heinz Field.
In other words, the Browns had advantages entering their rematch with the Ravens. Not only were the Browns playing at home, but they had time to regroup, self-evaluate and become healthier during the bye. They were also the more desperate team.
The Browns capitalized and are in the thick of the playoff race with four regular-season games left. They will need to win again Saturday when they host the Las Vegas Raiders, 6-7 after losing 48-9 to the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.
Filling in for injured starting quarterback Lamar Jackson in the final three quarters, Tyler Huntley nearly pulled off an incredible comeback with the Ravens.
Huntley’s 30-yard completion to rookie wide receiver Rashod Bateman over cornerback Greedy Williams on fourth-and-6 from the Cleveland 38 came a play before the backup quarterback threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Mark Andrews with 1:17 left to play.
Trailing by two points, the Ravens then recovered the ensuing onside kick after it deflected off fullback Andy Janovich.
But the Browns’ defense came through in the clutch.
On fourth-and-6 from the Baltimore 45, Browns cornerback Denzel Ward tackled Bateman immediately after he caught a 2-yard pass, forcing a turnover on downs with 1:17 remaining and sealing Cleveland’s win.
The Browns prevailed in large part because of two defensive plays in the first half.
With the Ravens trailing 10-0, 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player Jackson was knocked out of the game with a right ankle injury and never returned. As Jackson passed to tight end Mark Andrews, rookie linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah hit him with 14:52 remaining in the second quarter. Jackson came up limping, was examined in the medical tent on the sideline and had to be carted from the sideline to the locker room with 14:20 left in the second quarter.
Later in the second quarter, Garrett delivered the best play of his stellar career.
On second-and-10 from the Baltimore 20, Garrett rushed past left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and hit the ball with his right hand as Huntley tried to pass. The result was a strip-sack. Garrett picked up the ball and returned it 15 yards for a touchdown with 49 seconds left before halftime.
With his 15th sack in 2021, Garrett set the official single-season franchise record for sacks and scored his first NFL touchdown on the same play.
The Browns went ahead 24-3 courtesy of Garrett, and held on for the dramatic victory despite the Ravens relentlessly charging until the end.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at [email protected].