What We Learned
Three things we know after the Browns' 27-17 victory
By Don Banks, Sports Illustrated
BALTIMORE -- Proving that their Oct. 21 upset of the defending Super Bowl champions was no fluke, the Cleveland Browns outlasted the turnover-plagued Baltimore Ravens 27-17 on Sunday at PSINet Stadium. Here are three observations from the game:
1. At times Tim Couch can look superb, and at other times he can look scattered. But the real problem is that far too often the Browns' third-year quarterback can look both, all in the same game.
Couch was at his absolute best in the first half against the Ravens. He was calm, cool, and as accurate as you can get. In staking Cleveland to a 20-7 lead at the break, Couch completed 13-of-16 passes for 109 yards, with no touchdowns or interceptions. His quarterback rating was a fat 95.1 and he played with the confidence that helped the Browns upset Baltimore 24-14 four weeks ago in Cleveland.
Then the second half began, and Couch was a different quarterback, especially in the third quarter. On Cleveland's first four second-half possessions, the Browns went interception, punt, interception, interception, self-destructing in ugly fashion. In the third quarter, when Baltimore closed to 20-17, Couch was just 2-of-8 for 12 yards, with two of his three interceptions.
But in an important development for a team that had lost its last two games in overtime, Couch steadied himself and his fellow Browns in the fourth quarter. Some of his best work of the day was Cleveland's 12-play, 68-yard game-clinching touchdown late in the fourth, which culminated on Jamel White's 1-yard touchdown run with 4:21 remaining.
On the drive, Couch was 3-for-4 for 21 yards, with a key third-and-6 conversion, and three other first downs. For the game, Couch finished 19-of-30 for a modest 144 yards, no touchdowns, three interceptions and a 35.3 rating. But the Browns’ fifth victory of the season -- matching their combined total in Couch's first two seasons -- was the only statistic that lingered.
2. Missing both Jamal Lewis and Terry Allen, the Ravens' running game is still alive and breathing behind unheralded first-year man Jason Brookins.
When Allen went down last week at Tennessee with a broken hand, the Ravens opted to not hit the phones looking for another free-agent running back to bring in. Brookins, out of little Lane College, made that non-move look good Sunday against the Browns.
Running a game-high 21 times, Brookins gained a game-best 89 yards, including 61 yards on 14 carries in the second half. His 22-yard third-quarter scamper put the Ravens into position to challenge the Browns 20-14 lead -- moving the ball to Cleveland's 26-yard line -- but Baltimore's fifth turnover ensued two plays later.
Brookins ran consistently hard against Cleveland, and while he doesn't have the speed necessary to make the corner in the NFL, he is fast becoming an effective insider runner. When the weather turns colder and the running game becomes even more important down the stretch in the playoff race, Brookins could turn into a poor man's version of Lewis, who dominated in last year's second half. Brookins' 454 yards on 112 carries this season leads Baltimore and gives him a solid 4.0 average.
3. With the Ravens losing at home to the Browns, there are officially no sure things left in the tightly bunched AFC Central.
Before Sunday, Baltimore had not lost at PSINet Stadium in almost a year -- a streak of eight consecutive victories. The Ravens had been 3-0 at home this year and hadn't been beaten there since Jacksonville managed it Nov. 28, 2000. Before the Browns, the Jaguars were also the last AFC Central team to sweep the Ravens in a season series (in 1999).
But anything goes in this year's AFC Central. The Ravens (6-4) have won at first-place Pittsburgh (7-2), but lost at Cincinnati and Cleveland. The Steelers have lost at last-place Jacksonville (3-6), but won at the Browns (5-4). Cincinnati knocked off the Browns at home, but couldn't beat the Titans at Paul Brown Stadium. Go figure.
Baltimore's loss and the Steelers win Sunday widened the gap a bit in the six-team Central, but the top five teams are still all within three games of one another, from the Steelers to the fifth-place Titans (4-5). No other division has more than four teams that remain in the playoff race.