Ravens record another win, raise more questions

You can choose to look at yesterday's 20-14 Ravens win two ways.

Option No. 1: It was a big victory which gave the Ravens a perfect 8-0 home record this season and leaves them one win away from locking up a division title and a first-round bye.

Option No. 2: What the heck happened in the second half?

Your selection might have a lot to do with how much holiday cheer you're feeling.

The Ravens got the "W" over the Browns yesterday afternoon, but it wasn't as easy as many of us thought it would be, especially after Baltimore jumped out to a 17-0 lead just 21 minutes into the game.

What once looked like a cakewalk turned into a nailbiter after Cleveland rattled off 14 unanswered second-half points, and if not for some atrocious clock management and a couple big mental gaffes by the Browns, things could have gotten even more interesting.

Joe_Flacco-fist-pump-tall.jpg"Sometimes we say it's not perfect, and it's not pretty, and it was not, but in this league and this environment against this football team, the Cleveland Browns - they made it tough on a lot of people this year - our guys found a way to win the game at the end, and that's what counts," head coach John Harbaugh said. "8-0 at home for the first time in the history of the franchise is a tremendous accomplishment."

It sure is. The Ravens got a lot of help from their home crowd yesterday, as the swells of noise coming from the fans forced the Browns to burn their timeouts earlier than they would have liked in both halves. That made a significant impact on the game, as Cleveland left points on the field by botching a goal-to-go situation late in the first half and then was unable to stop the clock when it needed to preserve time late in regulation.

Harbaugh presented a symbolic game ball to the fans after the win, which he said will be displayed prominently at the team's Owings Mills complex in recognition of the perfect home campaign.

"I've never been perfect at home in 16 years of football," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "But I think this year we really made our focus on taking care of home. And this is the result of it; being able to go 8-0, and sitting where you want to sit at the end of the day."

The Ravens are sitting pretty, with their goal of earning a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game very much within reach. A win in Cincinnati next Sunday would guarantee the Ravens their first AFC North title since 2006, and allow them to rest their bumps and bruises during a bye the following week.

But at this time of year, you'd like to see a team riding high and playing its best football of the season as it gears up for a postseason run. That's certainly not the case with this Ravens team.

They put up an absolute stinker in San Diego a week ago, getting dominated in every aspect of the game. Then, facing a four-win Browns team without its starting quarterback and with a serious aversion to playing smart football, the Ravens nearly gave the game away.

They allowed a 100-yard rusher for the second straight game, gave up their second punt return for a touchdown this season and got minimal contributions from their receiving corps.

Of course, you could argue that no team in the AFC is really playing great ball right now. The Texans have fallen off the map, the Tebows - err ... Broncos - have come back to earth, the Steelers got run over last Monday night and the Patriots needed a late comeback to beat the Dolphins yesterday.

The Ravens can acknowledge they haven't been clicking as of late, but multiple players said after yesterday's game that they don't feel like their best performance is far off.

"I was definitely disappointed out there just because it's not big things that we didn't do. It was just little things that we didn't do very well in the second half, and it could've gotten us beat," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "San Diego, we just kind of, we just got hit. They got us. It happens sometimes. In this game, I don't think we didn't play well. I just think we had a couple plays where we could have done the simple thing better, and we would have been perfect."

Here's hoping that you all have a perfect holiday weekend with your friends and family. Merry Christmas and happy holidays to all. As always, thanks for reading and contributing. You're a big part of what makes all this so fun.

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