Ravens beat Browns 23-16 — but refs steal the show

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BALTIMORE — A game that featured nearly 800 yards in offense, an interception return for a touchdown, helmet-loosening hits and a thrilling finish may best be remembered for what it didn’t have: Controversy over the officiating.

The regular officials returned to the field Thursday night, and they nearly had to work overtime on their first day back. Rookie Brandon Weeden misfired on two passes into the end zone in the final seconds, allowing the Baltimore Ravens to escape with a 23-16 win over the Cleveland Browns.

It was an ending similar to that of the Seattle-Green Bay game just three nights earlier, when a Hail Mary pass was ruled a touchdown. That call created a furor among players and fans, and was a major factor in hastening negotiations that led to the end of the lockout and the dismissal of the replacement refs.

The regular refs were delighted to return, and the players and coaches were happy to see them.

“Awesome having those guys back. Good to see familiar faces,” Ravens safety Ed Reed said.

Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, who hugged referee Gene Steratore before the game, said, “It was the first time I really got excited about the referees. I’m glad we got to the point where it was settled because the game, as we saw, was suffering.”

Steratore couldn’t remember the last time he spent a September at home, and it wasn’t until he returned that he realized how much he loved his job.

“Just to come back and feel that again, it doesn’t take long to realize why you were missing it as much as you were missing it,” he said.

Before the pregame coin flip, Steratore greeted the players at midfield by saying, “Good evening, men. It’s good to be back.”

Many in the sellout crowd of 70,944 stood and roared their approval.

Afterward, Ravens coach John Harbaugh echoed the sentiment of the crowd.

“Welcome back to the officials. Good to have them back,” he said. “These guys are really good. The communication was good. I didn’t agree with every call, but they were excellent.”

Steratore and his crew had to deal with a wild finish before calling it a night.

Cleveland (0-4) began its final drive with 1:05 to go on its own 10. Weeden moved the Browns to the Baltimore 33 before a fourth-down pass into the end zone fell incomplete. But a personal foul penalty on Baltimore linebacker Paul Kruger gave the Browns one more chance.

That pass sailed out of the end zone.

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