Finally, Browns vs. Ravens has something at stake
BALTIMORE — Since their return to the NFL in 1999 as the reincarnation of the Browns, underachieving Cleveland has sought to play the spoiler role against the franchise Art Modell took from the city to start anew in Baltimore.
Finally, when the Ravens and Browns meet Sunday, the stakes are for first place in the AFC North.
The emergence of quarterback Baker Mayfield and the addition of standout wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to a team that closed strong last season brought Cleveland into the national spotlight as a legitimate contender. Though the Browns (1-2) have not yet lived up to expectations, they can earn a share of the top spot with a victory.
Sure, it’s early. But a defeat will put Cleveland two games behind Baltimore (2-1) and in an all-too-familiar position: closer to last place than first.
“Baltimore has kind of been in the mix every year for so long, and they’re the defending champs,” Browns coach Freddie Kitchens said. “So, until somebody beats them, that’s what it is.”
Despite winning the AFC North last year, the Ravens were considered by some to be an afterthought behind a Cleveland team that appeared poised for greatness after a lengthy run of miserable seasons.
“It’s hype. You can’t really buy into it,” Baltimore defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. “You really don’t know what a team is until you see them on Sunday. So once somebody gets hit in the mouth, what’s the plan then?”
The plan, Mayfield said, “is finding out what is going on, eliminating the mistakes and playing to our strengths. The defense is playing great. It is our job to pick it up.”
Williams wasn’t the only member of the Ravens who grew tired of hearing all the preseason hype about the Browns.
“That’s just kind of the narrative the media created,” running back Mark Ingram said. “You have to play football at the end of the day. You could have as many players as you want to on paper, but if the guys don’t mesh and they don’t communicate well, they don’t play well together, it really doesn’t mean anything.”
Beckham had the best game of his career in his only matchup against Baltimore.
“Yeah, they played a lot of one-high man to man,” he said. “That’s why it doesn’t happen much. I get man to man, I’m just too confident in me. I’m going to win.”
Beckham won a lot Oct. 16, 2016, when he had eight catches for 222 yards and two touchdowns in his only game against the Ravens for the New York Giants.
Lamar Jackson has thrown for seven touchdowns this season for Baltimore and fired 221 straight passes without an interception.
Asked about it in the middle of the week, the second-year quarterback said, “That’s my job. I’m not trying to throw any interceptions. Don’t jinx me, though.”
Jackson was limited to 267 yards on a career-high 43 attempts last week in a 33-28 loss at Kansas City.