CLEVELAND — The Baltimore Ravens aren’t letting anything distract them from winning.
While there are still questions about how their handling of Ray Rice’s case, it’s clear the Ravens haven’t changed — on the field.
With Rice’s troubling situation lingering over them, they pulled off a comeback win Sunday as Justin Tucker kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired to give Baltimore a 23-21 win over the Cleveland Browns.
Tucker’s boot capped another challenging week for the Ravens (2-1), who continue to be dogged by their management of Rice’s domestic violence arrest and suspension.
But for the second straight game, the Ravens blocked out any external noise and knocked off another division rival.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh is impressed with his team’s ability to focus on the task at hand.
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“The best way to silence it (distractions) is handle it with class,” he said. “There’s always going to be in life, challenges and attacks and consequences and all those kinds of things that we’ll talk about I’m sure probably this week and ongoing forever. You just gotta stand up, be accountable and be who you are and try to stand for the right things.
“And our guys do that.”
Joe Flacco set up Tucker’s game-winner with a 32-yard pass to Steve Smith with 1:28 left. Smith beat Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden before hauling in Flacco’s pass and taking it to Cleveland’s 13. The Ravens ran the clock down before bringing in Tucker, who split the uprights and sent the Browns (1-2) to another tough loss.
It was the kind of play the Ravens expected from Smith, signed as a free agent in the offseason. And, it was typical Flacco, who finished 19 of 31 for 217 yards with one touchdown.
“We call him, ‘Joe Cool,’” Smith said. “Throughout the whole game, good or bad, Joe stays the same.”
The Browns blew several chances to put the Ravens away in the second half. Cleveland missed a field goal, had one blocked, committed 12 penalties and wide receiver rookie Taylor Gabriel fell after catching a long pass from Brian Hoyer, failing to score what should have been an easy touchdown.
“It’s going to be a long two weeks,” Hoyer said. “I know we’re going to watch this film and be mad at ourselves. We had some opportunities to put this game away and we didn’t do it. It’s on us.”
Following the game, Harbaugh addressed an ESPN report that claims he wanted the team to immediately release Rice in February after he was arrested for punching his then-fiancee. The report says Harbaugh was overruled by owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome.
“I can tell you this, we work together in our organization,” Harbaugh said. “Every single football decision we make, we work together. You get together, you hash it out. Everybody’s got their opinions. It’s not black and white. It’s never nuanced on anything. That decision was exactly like all the other ones. When we walk out of that room, we are united.”
Harbaugh said he thought the team handled the case the right way. “I felt like we did the right thing and I stand behind it.”
Hoyer completed 19 of 25 passes for 290 yards. Along with the blown opportunities, the Browns had a fake play in which backup quarterback Johnny Manziel fooled Baltimore’s defense negated by a penalty. Manziel started to leave the field and pretended to have a conversation with offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan.
The Browns quickly snapped the ball and Hoyer threw a pass to Manziel for a 39-yard gain, but the play was brought back by an illegal shift.
“It worked pretty well,” Manziel said. “They didn’t see it coming. Unfortunately we got a penalty on it.”
Ravens rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro rushed for 91 yards and one TD. He filled in for Bernard Pierce — Rice’s replacement— who sat out with a thigh injury. Smith had five catches for 101 yards.
Not everything went Baltimore’s way. Tight end Dennis Pitta was taken to a hospital after he appeared to sustain a serious hip injury in the first half. Pitta, who played in just four games last season after dislocating his right hip in training camp, went down without being touched after catching a pass.
The Ravens didn’t have a postgame update on Pitta, but his teammates were concerned for him.
“He’s a good friend, he’s a good teammate and he’s a hell of a player,” Flacco said. “No matter who it is, it’s tough to see that happen, especially when it looks like it might be serious.”
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