BALTIMORE (AP) — The Cleveland Browns have received a lot of ridicule for the massive contract they gave Deshaun Watson last year.
That won’t go away because of one big game, but his second-half performance against Baltimore showed why they were so desperate to acquire the star quarterback.
Watson completed every pass he threw after halftime, and Cleveland made all the important plays down the stretch, rallying from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Ravens 33-31 on Sunday. Dustin Hopkins made a 40-yard field goal on the final play to win it.
“Big win on the road against a very, very good team — one of the top teams in the league, one of the best defenses in the league,” Watson said. “I think it was overall a great opportunity, not just for me but the whole offense — but this team too.”
Cleveland (6-3) trailed 31-17 before Watson threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Moore with 8:57 remaining. Then one of Lamar Jackson’s passes caromed high into the air and was picked off by Greg Newsome II, and he returned the interception 34 yards for a TD just 41 seconds later.
The Ravens stayed ahead 31-30 because Hopkins missed the extra point, but Cleveland got the ball back and drove 58 yards for the winning kick. The key play was a 17-yard pass to Amari Cooper on second-and-19 that got the drive back on track.
The Browns had edges in rushing (178-106) and time of possession (34:15-25:45) and by the end, Baltimore’s stout defense couldn’t protect the lead.
“That’s something that would have been very valuable in this game to stop the run better, and you get the run game going just a little bit better,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “But we weren’t able to do it. We tried, but we weren’t able to.”
Cleveland traded quite a few draft picks to acquire Watson before last season and gave him a $230 million, fully guaranteed contract. He was suspended 11 games last season for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after being accused by more than two dozen women of sexual assault and sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. The Browns went 7-10.
This season, Watson has been bothered by shoulder problems and missed three games, and the Browns owe much of their success to an excellent defense, but after trailing 17-9 at halftime in Baltimore, the multidimensional QB went 14 for 14 the rest of the way. He finished with 213 yards passing and 37 rushing, and his elusiveness was an issue for the Ravens’ vaunted pass rush.
“He’s a warrior. He battled through an ankle injury in the second half,” Cleveland coach Kevin Stefanski said.
Baltimore (7-3) had a four-game winning streak snapped, and the victory by Cleveland tightened the race in the AFC North significantly.
Despite the high score, the defenses — ranked No. 1 and 2 in the league entering the game — had their moments. On the second play from scrimmage, Watson’s pass was batted into the air by Kyle Hamilton, and the ball came right down to the Baltimore safety, who returned the interception 18 yards for a TD 40 seconds into the game.
Keaton Mitchell, an undrafted rookie who had no NFL carries before rushing for 138 yards on nine attempts the previous week against Seattle, scored on a 39-yard run on his first touch against the Browns. That gave Baltimore a 14-0 lead less than five minutes in.
Odell Beckham Jr., who played for Cleveland from 2019 until a drama-filled exit in 2021, caught a pass over the middle from Jackson and outran everyone for a 40-yard touchdown that gave the Ravens a 24-9 lead in the third, but after that, Baltimore’s defense couldn’t get off the field.
The Browns went 75 yards on 17 plays and capped the drive — which lasted more than 10 minutes — with a 3-yard TD run by Kareem Hunt. Watson ran for a 2-point conversion that made it 24-17.
The Browns were about to get the ball back when ex-Raven James Proche committed what seemed like a devastating gaffe, fumbling a punt to gift Baltimore possession at the Cleveland 12.
The ensuing drive was anything but simple despite the short field: A holding call on the Browns on third down kept it going. Then Baltimore had a touchdown called back for holding. Jackson appeared to have thrown an interception in the end zone, but another holding call on Cleveland negated that.
Gus Edwards finally scored on a 1-yard run to make it 31-17. It was far from over.
“These guys are tough, but down the stretch things start to slow down and guys kind of settled into things and we played the way we had practiced,” Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett said. “We made the plays we needed to make.”
The Browns not only pulled within a half-game of the Ravens in the standings, they also avoided a series sweep after losing 28-3 to Baltimore earlier this season when Watson was hurt.
Jackson and Watson certainly had their mobility put to the test. Baltimore had four sacks, including two by ex-Brown Jadeveon Clowney. Cleveland had three, including 1 1/2 by Garrett.
Garrett now has 11 sacks on the season. He joined Reggie White, John Randle, DeMarcus Ware, Jared Allen, Bruce Smith and Lawrence Taylor as the only players to have six consecutive seasons with at least 10 sacks.
It was a bruising game between division rivals. Cleveland was without both starting tackles from the outset. Browns CB Denzel Ward left with a neck injury, and S Juan Thornhill hurt a calf.
Baltimore T Ronnie Stanley exited with a knee injury, and CB Marlon Humphrey went down with an ankle problem. LB Trenton Simpson of the Ravens was evaluated for a concussion.
Browns: Host Pittsburgh next Sunday.
Ravens: Host Cincinnati on Thursday night.
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