Nothing is easy in the AFC North. You don't have to tell that to either the Browns or the Ravens, who have played two extremely competitive games over the past three weeks. The Browns, who lost a 16-10 decision in Baltimore two weeks ago, returned the favor with a 24-22 win over the Ravens on Sunday.
Cleveland had to hang on for its seventh win of the season after leading 24-6 at halftime. Ahead 24-9 after three quarters, the Ravens scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns and had a chance to win the game after Chuck Clark recovered an onside kick with 1:15 left. The Ravens, who lost Lamar Jackson to a high ankle sprain in the first half, were unable to get Justin Tucker into field goal range, however, as Tyler Huntley's pass to Rashod Bateman was completed well short of the first down on Baltimore's final offense play.
Cleveland held a commanding halftime lead on the strength of Baker Mayfield's passing and a defense that neutralized Jackson, who left the game after sustaining his injury on the first play of the second quarter. Jackson was replaced by Huntley, who surrendered a touchdown after Myles Garrett scooped up his own forced fumble and rumbled 15 yards for the score near the end of the first half.
Aided by two pass interference penalties that totaled 48 yards, the Browns scored the game's first points on Chase McLaughlin's 43-yard field goal on Cleveland's second possession. The Browns increased their lead to 10-0 on their ensuing drive on Mayfield's 9-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry.
The second quarter started with Jackson leaving the game after he was hit by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The Browns then stretched their lead to 17-0 on Mayfield's 1-yard touchdown pass. On the Browns' first four drives, Mayfield went 14 of 16 with 126 yards and two touchdowns. Mayfield connected on 10 straight passes before he was picked off by cornerback Anthony Averett on Cleveland's fifth possession. Averett's pick set up Tucker's 50-yard field goal that got the Ravens on the board with 3:30 left in the first half.
The Ravens drove to the Browns' 12-yard-line on the first drive of the second half before Takk McKinley forced a fumble off Huntley that was recovered by Ifeadi Odenigbo. The Ravens drove to the Browns' 33-yard line on their next drive before penalties forced Baltimore to settle for a 55-yard field goal by Tucker.
The Browns had a chance to make it a three-possession game at the start of the fourth quarter. But McLoughlin's 41-yard field goal attempt hit the right upright, thus keeping it a two possession game. The Ravens responded by scoring their first touchdown on Latavius Murray's 1-yard score that was up by Bateman's 36-yard catch, plus two catches for 33 yards from Andrews. It remained a two-possession game, however, when Huntley's two-point attempt was picked off by Grant Delpit. Baltimore found the end zone again when Huntley hit Andrews for an 8-yard score with 1:17 left. The touchdown was set up by Bateman's 30-yard reception on fourth down on the previous play.
Cleveland's defense, which came up with several key stops throughout the game, received a sack from Jadeveon Clowney on the Ravens' second play following the onside kick. Huntley then completed a 14-yard pass to Andrews before Denzel Ward tackled Bateman well short of the first down on the Ravens' final play.
The Browns are 7-6 and have moved ahead of Pittsburgh for third place in the AFC North. The Ravens are now just a half-game ahead of the Bengals for first place in the division.
Here's a closer look at what transpired in Cleveland
Why the Browns won
Cleveland dominated the first half and was able to make enough plays to hold off the Ravens in the second half. Cleveland received an efficient game from Mayfield, who went 22 of 32 with 190 yards with two touchdowns and an an interception.
Defensively, the Browns held the Ravens to just 1 of 12 on third down. They recorded four sacks of Ravens quarterbacks while forcing two key Tyler Huntley fumbles. Cleveland's defense received strong individual efforts from Garrett, Delpit (11 tackles), John Johnson III (six solo stops), Troy Hill (three tackles for loss), Clowney (1.5 sacks), and McKinley (one sack, one forced fumble).
Why the Ravens lost
Losing Jackson clearly hurt, but the Ravens were already down 10 points when the former league MVP left the game. Huntley played well in relief of Jackson, as the rookie went 27 of 38 for 270 yards while rushing for 45 yards on six carries. But his two fumbles proved costly for the Ravens, who lost to the Bengals for just the fifth time in John Harbaugh's 14 seasons as Baltimore's coach. Huntley had success getting the ball to Andrews (11 receptions for 115 yards) and Bateman, who recorded his first 100-yard game after pulling down seven passes for 103 yards. And while Huntley was consistency hounded by the Browns' defense, the Ravens' defense failed to register a single sack of Mayfield.
Penalties proved extremely costly for the Ravens, who were flagged 10 times for 125 yards. Harbaugh's decision to try for the two-point conversion after the Ravens made it a nine-point game with 8:56 left also contributed to the loss.
It appeared that the Ravens were going to make it a one-possession game following Murray's touchdown run. But instead of kicking an extra point that would have made it a 24-16 game, Harbaugh kept his offense on the field for a two-point try. Delpit thwarted the Ravens' pass attempt when he picked off Huntley's pass in the end zone. Needing two scores to win, the Ravens scored once before turning the ball over on downs on their final drive.
Play of the game
Garrett strengthened his case for Defensive Player of the Year with his sack/forced fumble/fumble recovery for a score that made it a 17-3 game in the second quarter. Along with recording his first career touchdown, Garrett set a franchise single season record by registering his 15th sack of the season.
"I've got a ton of faith in our defense, to be honest with you. Unfortunate that they got that onside kick, but that's why we pay those guys, and that's why they play like that. We believe in them. That's a huge a stop against a team that was building momentum. Very proud of those guys." -- Mayfield, to CBS Sports' Melanie Collins, on his defense being able to come down with the game-winning stand.
"You do it at that point in time because you're going to have to win a two-point conversion. So you understand, if you don't get it early, where you're at from there, how many possessions you're going to need, what you're going to [have] to do. If you wait until the last two-point conversion and don't get it, the game's over and you've lost." -- Harbaugh on his decision to go four two points after the Ravens cut the deficit to nine points with 8:56 left.
The Browns will stay at home with a game against the Raiders, who fell to 6-7 after losing a 48-9 decision to the Chiefs on Sunday. Baltimore will return home to face Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who are vying to earn the NFC's lone playoff bye.