Ravens squander big lead and lose cushion in AFC North with 33-31 loss to Browns

BALTIMORE (AP) — Vying for their fifth straight victory and looking to fortify their lead in the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens bolted to a quick two-touchdown lead and appeared on their way to another rout at home.

Kyle Hamilton scored on an interception retur n with 40 seconds elapsed, and a 39-yard run by Keaton Mitchell put the Cleveland Browns in a 14-0 hole Sunday before several of the grills at the tailgates had a chance to cool.

Given that Baltimore won its previous two home games by a combined 75-9 score, there was no reason to believe this matchup against the Browns — whom the Ravens beat 28-3 last month — was going to be any different.

Cleveland had other plans. Despite trailing for much of the afternoon, including 31-17 with 11:34 remaining, the Browns rallied for a 33-31 victory on a 40-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins as time expired.

“I think I can speak for everybody: When Kyle got that pick on the second play and Mitchell ran for a touchdown, nobody thought that they were going to win the game,” Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madubuike said. “But that’s what happened. It was definitely just shocking, frustrating.”

During their four-game winning streak, the Ravens (7-3) soared to the division lead and prompted some of the so-called experts to speculate about their potential to reach the Super Bowl.

Now, instead of holding a comfortable lead in the AFC North, Baltimore stands a half-game in front of Pittsburgh (6-3) and Cleveland (6-3), and just 1 1/2 games ahead of Cincinnati (5-4).

“This game meant a lot, and we didn’t play how we were supposed to play,” running back Gus Edwards said.

At times Sunday, Baltimore looked like a contender. Even after the Browns got within 24-17, the Ravens didn't blink, using a 1-yard plunge by Edwards to restore the 14-point cushion.

But the Browns closed with a 16-0 flourish behind Deshaun Watson, who didn't play in the first meeting between the teams on Oct. 1. In this one, Watson completed every one of his 14 second-half passes and kept the Ravens off guard with his ability to run.

In addition, Browns running back Jerome Ford had more yardage on the ground (107 yards) than the entire Baltimore squad.

“It would have been very valuable in this game to stop the run better, and get our run game going a little bit better, but we weren’t able to do it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We tried, but we weren’t able to.”

The Ravens led by 14 early, 24-9 in the third quarter and 31-17 late in the game. They forced two turnovers, sacked Watson four times and greatly benefitted from 10 Cleveland penalties.

And still they lost.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” Madubuike said, his voice only slightly louder than a whisper. “But every week you have to bring your best and we didn’t do that today. So we’ve got to get better.”

The team needs to get healthy, too. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley left with a knee injury and cornerback Marlon Humphrey left with an ankle issue. Harbaugh was unsure of the extent of their injuries when addressing reporters after the game.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson went 13 for 23 for 223 yards, and he was Baltimore's leading rusher with 41 yards. But he was picked off twice, including a game-changing pick-6 by Greg Newsome II that got the Browns to 31-30 with 8:16 remaining.

“We’re up 14 points, we have to finish — the way we’ve been doing,” Jackson said.

This script was nothing like Baltimore's 38-6 romp over the Lions on Oct. 22 and last week's 37-3 pasting of the Seattle Seahawks.

“It’s a long season in the NFL. You have games like this. You do lose games like this,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens won't have much time to reflect about this distasteful defeat because the defending AFC North champion Bengals come to town this Thursday night. Baltimore beat Cincinnati on the road 27-24 in September, but as this loss to the Browns showed, past performances are usually meaningless.

“There’s no time to dwell. No excuses,” Edwards said. "Thursday night is another big one for us, so we’ve got make the best of it.”