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PRESTON: One of the wildest wins in Ravens history was also one of their most important

MIKE PRESTON
The Baltimore Sun (TNS)
Baltimore Ravens kicker Justin Tucker (9) celebrates after kicking a field goal during the second half of an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Cleveland. The Ravens won 47-42. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

In recent weeks, the Baltimore Ravens suffered the kind of losses that would tear any team apart.

But on Monday night, the Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns, 47-42, in a win that can give them momentum and set them up for a strong run to end the regular season. They make movies about the type of victory the Ravens had.

More importantly, the Ravens kept their playoff hopes alive and can clinch a postseason berth with three more victories against weak opponents in the Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals.

The win was different from most the Ravens had in 2019, when they went 14-2 and blew out just about every team they faced. The Ravens took the best Cleveland had to offer and rallied to score 11 points in the final 1:55 as Justin Tucker hit the game-winning 55-yard field goal with two seconds left.

But let’s go deeper than Tucker’s heroics.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) looks to pass the ball during an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Monday, Dec. 14, 2020, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Kirk Irwin)

Beat-up team shows heart: The Ravens were a beat-up football team before their last two drives.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith left the game in the second quarter with an injury. Fellow cornerback Marcus Peters had been in and out of the game with leg injuries. Starting fullback Patrick Ricard was battling an injury and was on the bench on the Ravens’ last touchdown drive.

And then there was quarterback Lamar Jackson. He left the game in the fourth quarter with cramps and didn’t return until there were two minutes left. At that point, the Ravens were down 35-34 and faced a fourth-and-5 at the Cleveland 44.

On the do-or-die play, Jackson scrambled to his right and hit receiver Marquise Brown for a 44-yard touchdown pass to put the Ravens ahead, and J.K. Dobbins’ 2-point conversion made it 42-35 with 1:51 remaining.

Cleveland put together a four-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on is next possession to tie the game, but then Jackson took the Ravens 38 yards in five plays to set up Tucker’s field goal. On that final drive, Jackson completed passes of 14, 14 and 4 yards to Andrews, then threw a 6-yard pass to receiver Willie Snead IV to put Tucker in range.

Believing in each other: When these kinds of things start happening, players start to believe in each other.

“There was no doubt. There was no doubt,” Brown said once Jackson returned. “We know we have a chance whenever we get the ball with Lamar, so we just had to go out there and make a play.

“It says we have no quit. I think we’ve shown that the last few weeks — we have no quit. We’re going to fight until the end, and that’s what we did.”

That’s what you want.

“Of course. Of course, that’s plenty of time,” Tucker said after the Browns tied the game. “We’ve got Lamar Jackson, Trace McSorley. If they were going to have to put Sam Koch in at quarterback, I would have faith in my teammates to get us in position to win the game — no matter what the personnel, no matter what the circumstance. That all said, a minute is better than 30 seconds, is better than 10 seconds.”

There is one thing that has been true about the Ravens since John Harbaugh became the coach in 2008: They don’t always play well, but they always play hard. Last week, they ended a three-game losing streak with a win over the Dallas Cowboys, and they won Monday night on sheer guts and determination.

Things to work on: Now, they can start working on some things. For the second straight week, the Ravens found strength in the running game as they finished with 231 rushing yards. Jackson is playing like his old self, not worrying about being a complete quarterback and just making plays. He ran for two touchdowns in addition to his go-ahead score.

The Ravens defense broke down at times but played well enough to win. They gave up 493 yards of total offense and allowed 138 rushing yards, but they’ll get better once defensive end Calais Campbell and defensive tackle Brandon Williams fully recover from injuries.

But those are things to work on in practice this week.

Celebration time: Monday night was a time for celebration.

The Ravens still had some of the same problems, such as not being able to throw to the outside of the field and protect Jackson in the pocket. They played soft in the second half when Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield starting taking apart the secondary with short passes.

But the victory was a big one for this team, almost as big as any in the team’s 25-year history. A team that had been struggling pulled out a victory on the road, and the Ravens looked a lot like they did last year.

"Hearts of lions:" Maybe now they’ll play like it. They gained a lot of momentum Monday night.

“They have the hearts of lions,” Harbaugh said. “They really do. I have a lot of respect for football players, especially in the National Football League. It’s a tough sport to play, and this league is very competitive. That team [Cleveland] over there is a really good football team. They had great heart, too. So, for our guys to be able to do that and to make those plays at the end when it counted the most, it just says so much about their character and who they are, their trust and their belief.”