Published December 04, 2011
CLEVELAND – Someday, Cleveland may rise up and challenge in the AFC North.
That day, appears to be far off.
As far as wide receiver Josh Cribbs is concerned, there's a breach between the Browns and the rest of the division.
"It's a big gap," he said.
And it seemed to grow Sunday as Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 204 yards, 67 on a momentum-swinging play in the fourth quarter as the Baltimore Ravens kept pace with Pittsburgh atop the North by embarrassing the Browns 24-10.
On a dreary, drizzly day, the biggest cheers inside the lakefront stadium were for a lost squirrel, which made an end zone-to-end zone dash during a timeout in the third quarter By the end of the game, only a few thousand loyal fans remained to witness the Browns falling to 14-43 against division foes since 2002.
Cribbs, who has spent the past two weeks stating his frustration at the losing, had no answer for how the Browns can catch up to the Ravens, Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals.
"I don't know what it's going to take," he said. "I am not the coach or the general manager. All I can do is play."
Rice and Ricky Williams had short touchdown runs and Lardarius Webb returned a punt 68 yards for a TD in the fourth for the Ravens (9-3), who toyed with the Browns (4-8) and should have won by a much larger margin. Baltimore racked up 290 yards rushing, and was in such control that quarterback Joe Flacco took a knee three times to run out the final two minutes.
"They just flat-out whupped us up front," said Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, who had 12 tackles. "They embarrassed us. It was a slap in the face. This is unacceptable."
More troubling for the Browns is that they'll have just three days to prepare for the Steelers. And if that's not bad enough, Cleveland has to play Baltimore and Pittsburgh again before the season ends.
Browns coach Pat Shurmur knows there's no time to dwell on the loss.
"You have to have thick skin and a short memory, and you move on," he said.
With Flacco's passes affected by gusty winds that pushed two of Billy Cundiff's field-goal attempts wide, the Ravens turned to Rice, who followed his blockers and posted the third-highest rushing total in franchise history.
"I give it all to the offensive line," Rice said. "I get the glory because I get the yards. But the line, what they do, that's how things happen"
The Browns lost for the fifth time in six games, and quarterback Colt McCoy took another pounding. He was sacked only three times, but McCoy was under constant pressure.
McCoy injured his right knee early, came back after missing one play and took several hard shots in the second half.
After throwing a short pass in the first quarter, McCoy was hit by Ravens defensive end Arthur Jones. At first, McCoy, whose white No. 12 jersey was smeared with grass stains and dirt, appeared to be seriously injured. Backup Seneca Wallace came in for one play, but McCoy returned the next time Cleveland got the ball.
"It think it's going to be all right," said McCoy, who didn't know if he'll have an MRI. "I don't know if someone hit it or it hit the ground. I think more than anything it stunned me."
McCoy finished 17 of 35 for 192 yards and a TD. But he fell to 0-7 in his career against division opponents, and did little to convince team management that he should be their QB of the future. He's got four games left this season to make a favorable impression, assuming he's healthy enough to play.
His teammates didn't help, dropping at least four passes. With the Browns down 10-0, tight end Evan Moore let a sure TD slip through his hands in the end zone.
"Crucial mistakes at crucial times," McCoy said. "I'm not pointing the finger at anybody. If you want to point the finger at someone, point it at me. I am the quarterback. Let's just keep plowing forward.
Browns running back Peyton Hillis also sustained an unspecified leg injury. The Browns don't believe it's related to the strained hamstring that sidelined him for five straight games.
Picking up huge chunks of yardage with almost every carry, the Ravens should have been up by three scores in the third quarter. But when Phil Dawson kicked a 21-yard field goal following a Baltimore turnover, the Browns were within 10-3.
Rice then broke their backs.
Taking the handoff from Flacco at his own 27, Rice swept left, found a seam and cut back to the middle of the field. He was able to pull away from a bunch of pursuing Browns near midfield, getting a big block from wide receiver Anquan Boldin before being pushed out of bounds at Cleveland's 5.
Williams then plowed in from the 1 to put the Ravens ahead 17-3, and Webb's return in the fourth made it a three-touchdown game.
McCoy threw a late 22-yard TD pass to Moore, but it didn't do anything but make the final score look at little less lopsided.
The gulf between Cleveland and Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Baltimore remains.
Notes: Browns RB Montario Hardesty was active after missing four straight games with a calf injury, but was in for only three plays. ... Browns rookie DE Jabaal Sheard had a season-high nine tackles, one sack and forced a fumble. He has 5 1-2 sacks, third most by a Cleveland rookie since the stat became official in 1982. ... Rookie WR Greg Little had three catches, but two more drops, giving him at least six in the past two games. ... Browns CB Sheldon Brown played in his 156th straight game.