Flacco helps Ravens survive scare from Browns

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BALTIMORE | On an afternoon in which the esteemed Baltimore defense was rather ordinary, Joe Flacco and his retooled receiving corps carried the Ravens to a surprisingly difficult victory.

Flacco threw three touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin, and the Ravens survived an outstanding performance by Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis in a 24-17 win Sunday.

Baltimore allowed its first touchdowns of the season, failed to force a turnover and permitted Hillis to run for a career-high 144 yards.

It didn’t matter because of Flacco, who had come under fire after throwing four interceptions one week earlier in a defeat at Cincinnati.

“Obviously I’m happier this week than I was last week,” he said. “Those games happen, man.”

Boldin made himself right at home in his first game in Baltimore since coming to the Ravens (2-1) in an offseason trade with Arizona. The standout wide receiver caught eight passes for 142 yards and had a potential fourth score wiped out by a defensive play that bordered on interference.

“If we’re not shutting a team down, we have to be able to score some points and keep our defense off the field,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I thought our offense carried themselves really well.”

Especially Boldin, the featured piece in an upgraded collection of receivers that includes T.J. Houshmandzadeh and a now-injured Donte’ Stallworth.

“I think this week we had a different mentality going into the game. Everybody (was) taking it personal, especially on the offense, with the performance we put out last week,” Boldin said.

Boldin repeatedly victimized cornerback Eric Wright.

“He’s obviously a good player, but I didn’t play up to my ability, anywhere close,” Wright said. “It’s unfortunate because you have 10 other guys on the field that are doing their job and really depending on me to be a certain type of player. I wasn’t that player by a long shot.”

Flacco completed 22 of 31 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. He did not throw an interception after committing six turnovers in his first two games.

His last TD, a rainbow toss of 27 yards to Boldin in the middle of the end zone, gave Baltimore a 21-17 lead. Billy Cundiff added a 49-yard field goal with 5:29 to go.

That was enough to offset a Baltimore defense that surrendered 304 yards and made Hillis look like an All-Pro.

“It was pretty streaky and it was pretty disappointing to allow a team to come out and pound the ball like that,” Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said.

Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said, “We felt it in their body language. They weren’t jumping and screaming. We were running the ball directly at them.”

Cleveland (0-3) passed the ball pretty well, too. Seneca Wallace went 18 for 24 for 141 yards and a score while subbing a second straight week for injured Jake Delhomme.

The Browns trailed 14-10 in the third quarter when Hillis burst through the left side on a 48-yard run. Tom Zbikowski threw Hillis down while both were out of bounds for a 15-yard penalty.

Josh Cribbs followed with a 19-yard run out of the wildcat formation. On the initial play of the fourth quarter, the Browns got their first points in the second half this season: a 1-yard pass to Benjamin Watson.

But the Ravens rallied behind Flacco, who was coming off the worst game of his three-year NFL career.

“We did a pretty good job of doing what we wanted to do,” Flacco said. “Guys made plays.”

On Flacco’s first throw, Cleveland safety T.J. Ward stepped in front of Derrick Mason on the sideline — and let the ball slip through his fingers.

The Browns then held the ball for 12 plays, the last a 38-yard field goal by Phil Dawson.

Baltimore answered with an 85-yard drive, culminating with an 8-yard touchdown pass to Boldin. It was the 600th career catch for Boldin, who reached the mark quicker than anyone in NFL history (98 games to 102 for Marvin Harrison).

The Ravens moved 93 yards in 10 plays to take a 14-3 lead. Flacco went 5 for 5 for 75 yards on the drive, including a 12-yard TD pass to Boldin.

Hillis scored from the 1 just before halftime to bring Cleveland to 14-10.

“I think we showed today that we can run the ball against one of the best defenses in the league. We played together today,” Hillis said. “I was proud of our guys.”

Notes: Ravens DE Cory Redding (concussion) left in the third quarter and did not return. … Johnson started his 100th consecutive regular-season contest. … Hillis‘ 22 carries exceeded his total in the first two games (17). … Baltimore has won five straight from the Browns.

 

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