CLEVELAND @ BALTIMORE
The zebras came bounding down, eager to return to their natural habitat. Sounds like something out of a National Geographic special, but in this case you know I'm speaking about the NFL officials, who for the first time were cheered for the job they do. Heck, most were probably happy to see a game finish in less than four hours so that DVRs could finish the job recording it. Those who write and prognosticate football games know it's anything but an exact science. In this case, it's clear the true NFL officials were following my blog, because they apparently liked my script for this game and made it happen. The Browns showed up in a big way, holding Ray Rice scoreless and to less than 100 all-purpose yards while keeping him out of the end zone. Joe Flacco found that the way into the end zone was through the air, though he did score the first rushing TD against Cleveland's defense this year. Imagine if the Browns had CB Joe Haden, who has to be kicking himself for getting suspended for weeks 2-5. This Browns team, though 0-4 this season, is on the rise. We watched rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden stand tall in the pocket, and lead long sustained drives, despite starting with horrible field position all night long. Much like Minnesota, the Browns are in need of someone who can catch. Any time you see a box score that involves a receiver getting 10 targets and only four catches, you can surmise that either the QB has big accuracy issues, or the receivers just aren't great at catching the ball. While Weeden still occasionally misfires, his top receiver Greg Little may have the size and ability, but just doesn't have the hands. He dropped a few more passes, bringing his tally to at least 11 this year. Mohamed Massaquoi missed the game, but no one in Cleveland can be sure which M&M will show up. For all the pressure and lack of receivers, Weeden was sacked just once, and engineered drives of 94 yards, 53 yards and 48 yards. He also led the Browns on a possible game-tying drive from his own 10 yard line to the Ravens 33. However, his final pass had way too much gusto, the sign of rookie over-eagerness perhaps, and the Browns fell just short. The Ravens biggest concern was they were held to just three offensively-generated points in the second half, while Flacco's completion percentage in the clutch time of the fourth quarter is 57.9%, excluding last night's tally which saw Flacco complete three of six passes. Torrey Smith found the end zone for his second straight game, and even though Anquan Boldin led the way, Smith is slowly beginning to flourish in Cam Cameron's offense. New guy to start monitoring is RB Bernard Pierce, who while spelling Rice, rushed eight times for 48 yards. He's Rice's handcuff for sure, and showings like this might give him a few more touches per week.