CLEVELAND (AP) — Joe Flacco’s return has the Baltimore Ravens looking more like themselves.
The Browns, well, they haven’t changed at all.
Flacco, whose 2015 season was cut short by a knee injury and surgery, overcame a pair of interceptions by throwing two touchdown passes to Mike Wallace, and the Ravens rallied from a 20-point deficit in the first quarter to beat snake-bitten Cleveland 25-20 on Sunday.
In danger of getting blown out early, the Ravens (2-0) blocked an extra-point and returned it 63 yards for a rare, two-point defensive conversion to ignite their comeback against a Cleveland team with 17 rookies on its roster.
“It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t great. We weren’t perfect,” said Flacco, who passed for 302 yards and led the second-largest comeback in Baltimore history. “Do you want to play that kind of game in September? Not necessarily, but every single game in January and come February, where we hope to be, is going to be like that. Over the years, these games have just taken us to that next level and really made us mentally tough so when we get into those games, we don’t blink.”
The Browns (0-2), meanwhile, are running out of quarterbacks .
Josh McCown showed his toughness by playing every snap despite an injured left shoulder, but the 37-year-old couldn’t lift his arm following the game and could miss time.
“We will see,” said McCown, who was replacing the injured Robert Griffin III. “My mindset is that everything will be all right and we will move ahead business as usual. It is just a matter of letting the doctors and trainers do their job, and my expectations are to play some ball.”
If McCown’s injury wasn’t enough, Cleveland also lost starting center Cam Erving, who suffered a bruised lung and will remain hospitalized.
Flacco’s injury was the final blow to a 5-11 finish last season for the Ravens, who are accustomed to playing in the postseason. But now with its cool-as-ice quarterback back, Baltimore is again a team to be reckoned with.
But the Ravens better avoid the kind of slow start they had in their first road game. Just over 10 minutes after kickoff, the Browns (0-2) got an 85-yard TD run by Isaiah Crowell and were up by 20, stunning not only Baltimore but more than 60,000 Cleveland fans who came expecting more of the same from the home team.
As the Browns built their lead, there was plenty of frustration on Baltimore’s sideline where wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. and linebacker C.J. Mosley threw their helmets and defensive coordinator Dean Pees huddled his players for a fiery lecture.
Flacco was never flustered, but he envisioned Ravens fans at home “sitting there cussing on the couch. We’re doing the same thing on the bench.”
He did something about it, though, as the Ravens trimmed Cleveland’s lead to 20-12 at halftime before Flacco connected with Wallace on a 17-yard TD pass early in the third to pull Baltimore within one. Justin Tucker then kicked two of his three field goals in the fourth quarter and C.J. Mosley intercepted McCown at the goal line with 13 seconds left.
“It was a good way to end it with the defense making the last play,” Mosley said. “That’s not the way you want to start.”
Here are some other things we learned as Baltimore improved to 15-2 against Cleveland under coach John Harbaugh.
CENTER INJURED: Erving was immobilized and taken by ambulance to University Hospitals after succumbing to cramps late in the fourth quarter.
The Browns announced Sunday night that Erving had a “pulmonary contusion.” It’s likely he will miss several games.
John Greco filled in on the final few snaps for Erving, a first-round pick who struggled last season.
PITTA’S RETURN: Slowed by hip injuries the past two seasons, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta appears to be back in form after finishing with nine catches for 102 yards.
Pitta twice dislocated his hip and his absence has deprived Flacco of one of his favorite targets.
“He looked like himself,” Flacco said. “I think he’s going to get more and more comfortable as the year goes on. We just have to keep him healthy.”
KESSLER ON DECK: If McCown can’t play, the Browns will turn their offense over to rookie Cody Kessler. The former USC standout said he has a better grasp of Cleveland’s offense and will be ready if called upon.
PRYOR’S PENALTY: The Browns may have gotten another bad break when wide receiver Terrelle Pryor was called for taunting with 27 seconds left, preventing McCown from taking a few shots at the end zone from closer range.
Pryor caught a pass while tumbling out of bounds at Baltimore’s 10, and as he got up, he flipped the ball toward Ravens defensive back Lardarius Webb, brushing his shoulder. While it appeared trivial, a sideline official felt it warranted a penalty and nullified the 20-yard pickup.
Pryor felt he was innocent.
“I’m just saying there’s other people that can catch a ball and spin it and look at players in the face,” Pryor said. “But if I get up and drop the ball — clearly I wasn’t trying to drop it on nobody.”