Give John Harbaugh and the Baltimore Ravens credit for self awareness.
They have the best record in the AFC now, but at this point it's hard to deny that they have a lot of room for improvement.
“We're not perfect, but we're fighting to get there, right?” Harbaugh said to his team in a postgame speech posted on the Ravens' Twitter account. “The good news is, on the way there, we're winning.”
The Ravens never trailed in Sunday night's 16-10 victory over Cleveland. That alone was noteworthy after all the times they've had to rally this season. Still, this could be called an ugly win — if there is such a thing.
Baltimore's coach made his view on that clear Monday.
“One man's trash is another man's treasure. I think it was a beautiful win last night against a very good team,” Harbaugh said. “The Browns are well coached, they're tough, they're physical, they're playing for a lot. They're in our division. They're a rivalry.”
Baltimore overcame four interceptions by Lamar Jackson — the most of his career — and aside from Jackson, nobody on the Ravens made a big impact in the running game either.
Still, there's no disputing the significance of the end result, which kept the Ravens (8-3) a game ahead of Cincinnati (7-4) atop the AFC North and gave them some cushion over Cleveland (6-6) and Pittsburgh (5-5-1).
Only four of the 16 AFC teams are below .500, and five of them are just a game behind Baltimore in the loss column. So any slip-up can be costly this season, and the win Sunday — whatever the aesthetics — may have been the biggest of the season for the Ravens.
“Just the scores and the standings, and from one week to the next, what happens is sometimes shocking,” Harbaugh said. “It shouldn't be, because we've seen this league and we kind of know how it works, and we know how even it is.”
This game matched strength against strength — Cleveland's run offense against Baltimore's run defense. The Ravens won that battle handily, holding the Browns to 40 yards on 17 carries.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The Ravens did not have an easy time protecting Jackson from Cleveland pass rushers Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney. The Browns had only two sacks, but it took all of Jackson's elusiveness to keep some plays alive.
The linebacking group had a nice game for Baltimore. Patrick Queen had eight tackles despite a rib injury and Tyus Bowser had a sack.
As much as his passing has been scrutinized, turnovers haven't been a big problem for Jackson in his career. He had only six interceptions in the 2019 season and nine in 2020. He's already up to 12 this season.
“It’ll still be on my mind, because I’ll still be talking about it, but you have to move on — move on to the next job," Jackson said. "When you get another opportunity, just go out there and try to be right there.”
DT Calais Campbell missed the game because of a concussion. TE Nick Boyle, who recently returned from significant knee issues, wasn't a huge factor in this game.
“He’s still coming back,” Harbaugh said. "He’s still trying to get the knee stronger, and then (it was) probably part of the way the game played out, too. So, hopefully, it will keep getting stronger and he’ll be able to take more and more snaps as we go.”
219 — It's rare for a team to win with the combination of problems the Ravens had Sunday. In the Super Bowl era, teams had been winless in 219 games (0-218-1) when scoring fewer than 17 points, gaining fewer than 325 yards, throwing at least four interceptions and not picking off any passes themselves.
Baltimore's next two games are on the road. The Ravens play at Pittsburgh next weekend, then have a rematch at Cleveland on Dec. 12.
Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister
More AP NFL coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFL
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