CLEVELAND — Did anyone really think it would be as easy as the Cleveland Browns made it look in the first half?
It never is. It’s not supposed to be. This is the AFC North and the Baltimore Ravens -- nothing is easy against this squad.
Even with the injuries to Lamar Jackson and Calais Campbell, you just knew it would come down to the very end. Ultimately, Browns’ cornerback Denzel Ward made the play that sealed the victory. It shouldn’t have come down to his big 4th down stop, but it did.
After the hard-fought 24-22, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters “Listen, that is the NFL, and certainly December football versus a good football team, a well-coached football team.”
With AFC North teams, no lead is safe. Just consider what we’ve seen in the last four days. Thursday night, the Steelers trailed the Vikings 29-0 late in the third quarter. The script was completely flipped in the final 17 minutes and the Steelers came within a dropped ball in the end zone and a two-point conversion of forcing OT.
Sunday, the Bengals trailed the 49ers 20-6 with 9:30 to play. Suddenly the Bengals’ previously inept offense came to life scoring two late touchdowns before losing in overtime.
The Browns watched their 24-6 lead nearly evaporate before finally closing out the two-point win.
The AFC knows how to make interesting football, not just in games but for the entire season. With four games to play, the standings are absurd. All four teams are within a game and a half of each other in the standings. The Ravens are in first place, but are hardly a lock to win the division. After starting the season 5-1, Baltimore is now 8-5 as they have lost four of their last seven games.
Simply put, the Browns win against the Ravens -- coupled with the Bengals and Steelers narrow defeats -- has this team well positioned to make a serious run at the divisional title.
With the Raiders coming to town for a Saturday game off a crushing 48-9 loss to the Chiefs, the Browns might be catching Las Vegas at the right time. After the Saturday home game against the Raiders, the Browns will play at the Green Bay Packers on Christmas afternoon. That all comes before the Monday night game at Pittsburgh and season finale at home against the Bengals.
It isn’t an easy path for sure, but if they can continue to play the kind of defense we have seen the last three games, they will have a chance.
This is go time. It’s December. It won’t be easy, but it’s not supposed to be. This is where teams earn their reputations. It’s there for the taking. That did not seem possible after the crushing loss to New England, but here we go.