Ravens make final playoff push, host Browns

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(SportsNetwork.com) - Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco didn't hide his frustration after the Ravens' disappointing loss last weekend.

"We got our (butts) kicked, plain and simple," Flacco said following a 25-13 defeat to the Houston Texans.

As a result, the Ravens no longer control their playoff destiny and they'll need a victory this Sunday against the visiting Cleveland Browns and some help to reach the postseason for the sixth time in seven years.

The Ravens limited the Texans to 313 yards of offense, but the offense struggled all game in a costly setback that snapped a two-game winning streak and dropped Baltimore to 9-6 on the season.

The club now sits in third place in the AFC North at 9-6, a game back of second-place Baltimore Ravens and unable to catch the front-running Cincinnati Bengals, who are 10-4-1.

The Ravens now not only need a victory in this game, but they also need the San Diego Chargers to lose or tie in their road game at Kansas City this weekend.

Flacco put the blame on the offense for the setback to the Texans as he himself struggled in one of his worst NFL showings. He was just 3-of-18 passing in the first half with two interceptions and ended up getting picked off three times.

"We just got whopped man. There's no other way about it," said Flacco, who ended up completing 21-of-50 pass attempts for 195 yards. "Our defense played well. Our special teams played well, and we didn't do a single thing on offense. We just got beat up and whooped. It's part of being a NFL football player; being able to take this sometimes and move on."

Flacco completed a pair of touchdown passes to Torrey Smith, but running back Justin Forsett was limited to 19 yards on 10 carries.

Though the Ravens also are at the mercy of the Chargers, at least they have a favorable matchup this weekend.

Baltimore had an 11-game winning streak over Cleveland snapped in the second meeting of 2013, but defeated a hosting Browns team 23-21 back in Week 3 on Justin Tucker's 32-yard field goal as time expired.

The Ravens have won six in a row at home over the Browns, who have not won in Baltimore since 2007, and are 12-3 as the host in this series.

Cleveland will try to snap its skid in Baltimore and finish the season at 8-8. Though last Sunday's 17-13 setback to the Carolina Panthers was their fourth in a row, the Browns are still set to post their best record since going 10-6 in 2007.

First-year head coach Mike Pettine hopes to have his club headed in the right direction and will hope it can finish strong, but rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel won't play in the finale after suffering a hamstring injury late in the first half versus the Panthers.

He has already been ruled out for this game.

"It felt like something I hadn't experienced before and needed to get checked out," said Manziel. "Pretty frustrating."

Brian Hoyer, who started the first 14 games of the season before getting benched, threw an 81-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron, but did little else in racking up just 134 yards passing on the day.

Cleveland was outgained 404-228 in the loss.

"Offensively, not near good enough to win in this league," Pettine said. "Made the one big play but other than that, never seemed to get into much of a rhythm."

Now Pettine will not have Hoyer for this game as the quarterback is dealing with a shoulder and biceps injury. Undrafted rookie Connor Shaw will get his first start with Tyler Thigpen, just signed to the club on Tuesday, penciled in as the backup.

"It's a challenge, but at the same time we look forward to it," Pettine said. "If we go out and perform at all the other positions well, that's going to minimized the impact."


Flacco has put together a very solid season, but he'll need to bounce back in a hurry to keep Baltimore's playoff chances alive. He'll have to do so, however, without the services of tackle Rick Wagner, who left the game versus Houston with a foot injury and was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday.

That could leave to rookie James Hurst making the start in Wagner's place and fellow Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe is also hobbled with a foot injury.

Baltimore is averaging 126.0 yards per game on the ground, but has managed just 126 over the past two games total.

"They've blitzed the run game quite a bit," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh of what teams are doing against his ground game. "In some games, we've handled that and made them pay for it, and some games we haven't, and in (versus the Texans) we certainly didn't hurt them. We missed some throws."

Flacco, meanwhile, has matched his previous career high with 25 touchdown passes this season and the Ravens offense is 10 points shy of setting a single-season club record, surpassing the 398 set in 2012.

Flacco has a good chance to break some marks this weekend as he is 12-1 in his career versus the Browns with 2,715 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 90.5 passer rating.

The Browns do come in with the seventh-ranked passing defense and lead the NFL with 21 interceptions. They have picked off a pass in 11 straight, with defensive end Billy Winn keeping the streak alive versus the Panthers.

Cleveland's 21 picks are the most for the club since it had 23 in 2008 and the Browns have forced 24 turnovers in the past 10 games. That, despite talented corner Joe Haden sitting out last weekend with a shoulder injury.

Linebacker Karlos Dansby returned from a four-game absence caused by a knee injury to rack up 12 tackles versus Carolina, while former Ravens linebacker Paul Kruger is pacing the Browns with a career-high 10 sacks. That is the most by a Cleveland player since linebacker Kamerion Wimbley had 11 in 2006.

Cleveland was hoping to get one more look at Manziel before his rookie campaign came to a close, but now they face the reality of being without both the first-round pick and the man he replaced under center, Hoyer.

One would expect the Browns to lean on their ground game this weekend. They are the only team in the NFL to have a pair of rookies with over 500 yards rushing -- Isaiah Crowell (601) and Terrance West (579), and the club has rushed for 16 touchdowns on the season.

When Shaw does keep the ball, he'll have to be aware of the Ravens' talented linebackers in Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs.

Dumervil, who ranks third in the NFL in quarterback takedowns, remains one sack shy of a new career high of 18 and has 10 sacks in seven career games versus the Browns.

Suggs has faced Cleveland 22 times, racking up 15 sacks and seven forced fumbles.

Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley leads all freshman NFL players with 122 tackles, second-most in the AFC, as the Ravens rank ninth in total defense.


Given the favorable matchup this weekend -- at home versus the last-place Browns -- the Ravens weren't very happy to squander their meeting with the Texans. All the club can do now is win on the field and let the cards fall where they may.

"We lost control of our playoff destiny, and that hurts. We're in a tough situation. What we can control is how we prepare this week and how we play this Sunday," said Harbaugh.

"We left all that was bad for us in Houston, and now the total focus has to be on beating the Browns this Sunday in Baltimore."

Even doing so might not be enough for Baltimore, but it can't afford to scoreboard watch either. Cleveland has nothing to lose and more than a few players will be looking to impress the coaching staff for next season.

That being said, the Ravens can also count on their defense and Suggs should have his unit ready to go regardless of who is under center for the Browns.

Sports Network predicted outcome: Ravens 20, Browns 13