Somehow, Harbaugh convinced his players that the winless Browns could actually pull off an upset. He stressed the importance of treating this game as if it was tossup, and insisted that a complete performance was necessary for Baltimore to remain unbeaten.
Taking that notion to heart, the Ravens gained control from the outset Sunday and cruised to a 34-3 victory.
"They understood this game for what it was and they took care of business," Harbaugh said. "And they did it right out of the gate."
Baltimore (3-0) ended Cleveland's first drive with an interception, then converted the turnover into a touchdown with less than five minutes elapsed. It turned out to be all the points Baltimore needed to beat the punchless Browns (0-3).
"Coach Harbaugh put in our heads that we've got to out and start fast and finish strong," said Ravens running back Willis McGahee, who scored on touchdown runs of 7 and 15 yards. "Right there, we sent a message to the Browns."
Joe Flacco threw for a career-high 342 yards to help the Ravens more than justify their role as a two-touchdown favorite.
"That's what you have to do as an NFL team. You can't take anybody more light than the other guy," Flacco said. "Cleveland had two losses and had a lot to play for. We knew that, so we had to make sure we came out ready to go from the beginning."
After Baltimore held the Browns to 78 yards while building a 20-0 halftime lead, Cleveland coach Eric Mangini pulled quarterback Brady Quinn in favor of Derek Anderson. The switch did nothing to turn around the fortune of a team that has been outscored 95-29 this season.
"I thought that at that point D.A. might be able to give us a spark. That's what I was hoping to accomplish coming out of halftime," Mangini said.
Quinn went 6 for 8 for 34 yards and an interception. Anderson, who lost his starting job to Quinn last year, was 11 for 19 for 92 yards and three interceptions.
"I was a little rusty. It's been a while since I've been out there," Anderson said.
Mangini wasn't ready to decide who will start next week against Cincinnati.
"We're going to look at it," he said. "I'll make the decision early [this] week."
The Browns have scored one offensive touchdown in their last nine games dating back to last year.
Not only is Mangini winless in his first season as Cleveland's head coach, but he received unwanted headlines by fining one of his players $1,701 for not paying the hotel bill for a $3 bottle of water.
Players union spokesman George Atallah said the NFLPA has filed a formal grievance over the fine.
"I've dealt with a lot of football players over time and I feel very comfortable with my ability to deal with people," Mangini said. "I think it's an important thing to be able to teach and coach and to demand high expectations from the people that play for you, and that's something that I fundamentally believe in."
Harbaugh also expects plenty from his players, and usually gets the desired results.
"We came out really smoking, right out of the tunnel," he said
Flacco went 25 for 35 with a touchdown, and McGahee's two TDs gave him six in three games. Baltimore is 3-0 for only the second time in franchise history, thanks heavily to an offense that is averaging 34.3 points per game.
Derrick Mason caught five passes for 118 yards, including a 72-yard TD that made it 34-3 with 8:05 remaining. His third reception made him the 23rd player in NFL history with 800 career catches.
Baltimore set the tone when Domonique Foxworth intercepted a Quinn pass and McGahee followed with a touchdown run to make it 7-0. The 31-yard drive was extended when Flacco ran for 2 yards on a fourth-and-1.
The Ravens added two field goals, then covered 80 yards in eight plays -- seven of them passes by Flacco -- before McGahee ran in from the 15 for a 20-0 lead.
Anderson completed his first two passes, then threw an interception to set up Ray Rice's first career touchdown, a 9-yard run that made it 27-0.
- Jerome Harrison, who started in place of Lewis, finished with 52 yards, including a 17-yarder that was the longest against the Ravens this season.
- Brendon Ayanbadejo's third-quarter interception was his second in seven years in the NFL.