The Baltimore Ravens understand just how embarrassing it would be to lose to the winless Cleveland Browns in prime time.
They would rather focus on the benefits of a victory, which would thrust Baltimore into sole possession of first place in the AFC North, a half-game ahead of the Steelers.
Facing the Browns (0-9) tonight, the Ravens (4-4) have an opportunity to sustain the momentum derived from a win over Pittsburgh that ended a four-game losing streak.
“I think the fact that (the Browns) haven’t won yet does add to the challenge for us, because they’re going to be coming in here very determined to win a football game,” Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. “Their issues aren’t our issues. Our issue right now is to build on where we’re at.”
Still, the Ravens know a loss to Cleveland would be a severe blow to their reputation.
“When you’re a team that’s in front of the division — and with how the outside world looks at it — if the Ravens lose this game, it just looks bad,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “It looks bad because we lost to a team that doesn’t have any wins. That’s the reality of it. It just doesn’t look good.”
Here’s something that really doesn’t look good: nine straight defeats to open a season. That matches the worst start in Browns history, a dubious mark set by the 1975 squad that finished 3-11.
Cleveland has been outscored by 105 points, ranks 31st in total defense and has already sorted through a half-dozen quarterbacks.
“It gets tougher every week that you don’t get a win,” veteran tackle Joe Thomas said “Obviously, as those loss totals stack up, it is more difficult to be positive.”
The skid would have never gotten this far if the Browns would have capitalized on a 20-0 lead at home against Baltimore in Week 2. The Ravens rallied for a 25-20 win and now own a 26-9 advantage in this lopsided rivalry.
“We know how to start games; we have not been able to finish them yet,” first-year coach Hue Jackson said. “Our motivation is we need a win. We are a 0-9 football team, and we want to get on the other side of the ledger.”
Some things to know about this AFC North matchup:
LET ‘ER RIP, CODY
Browns quarterback Cody Kessler has shown improvement, but he’s 0-6 as a starter. He has excellent accuracy on short throws, but isn’t stretching the field with long passes.
Jackson wants him to be more of a playmaker.
“Cody’s done a good job of distributing the ball and he’s done a good job of putting the ball in the right places for the most part. But he knows now that in the NFL you have to take a few more chances to score points because the defenses are too good,” the coach said.
READY OR NOT
The challenge of playing a game with three days preparation is rarely easy, and this is no exception.
“You can never get used to it, especially when you play your division rival on Sunday and then have to come back and play another game Thursday,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
The good news is, there’s an extended break before the next game.
“It’s nice once a year,” Flacco said, “because at the end of the day, if you go out there and do your job you get another little bye week to give your body a rest.”
CAN’T STOP NOW
Although the Ravens ended their longest losing streak under Harbaugh by beating Pittsburgh, a defeat will make them just another sub-.500 team.
“We sit at the top of the division, but one loss and you are out,” safety Eric Weddle said. “This is a division game, a rival. They were up 20-0 on us and easily could have beat us, so we can look at many factors to remind ourselves that we can’t take anything for granted.”
Said Suggs: “You don’t want to take any steps backward, especially in the AFC.”
CENTER OF ATTENTION
Cam Erving’s second NFL season has been nearly as rough as his first.
The starting center sustained a bruised lung in Week 2 and was ejected on Cleveland’s opening drive in a 35-10 loss to Dallas last week. Erving got into a tussle with Cowboys defensive end David Irving, who punched him before getting his helmet ripped off.
Erving, who struggled at guard last season, hopes to rebound against the Ravens.
“We teased him. He has fresher legs than anybody,” Jackson joked. “You can’t be throwing helmets. He is looking forward to playing.”