On its face, Monday night's game between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens looked like little more than a compelling argument for flex scheduling. Baltimore came into this game with a 3-7 mark, and its status as the only team in NFL history to have their first 10 games end with a margin of eight points or less rendered fairly meaningless. The 2-8 Browns hadn't made many headlines beyond their decision to bench Johnny Manziel for yet another series of off-field transgressions.
Two teams playing for nothing but pride, as the cliche goes. And in the end, as it sometimes happens, it was a pridefully played game from two teams with fairly major personnel miscues and injury situations. No matter who was playing on the field, though, you couldn't deny the thrilling nature of the finish, as safety Will Hill returned Travis Coons's blocked field goal attempt 64 yards for the winning touchdown. That gave the Ravens, who came into this game with so many key players out with injuries, a measure of vindication with a 33-27 victory.
“I was praying for a block,” Hill told ESPN's Lisa Salters after the game. “And a miracle happened. I saw as soon as the block came, the ball was coming my way, and I said, ‘If I pick it up, I'm scoring.’”
The Ravens needed all they could get, because with Joe Flacco out for the rest of the year, Baltimore put their faith in the talents of Matt Schaub, the one-time starter for the Texans whose pick-sixes turned him into a backup virtually overnight a few years back. And true to form, Schaub threw another interception for a touchdown in this game — this time to linebacker Karlos Dansby, who returned Schaub's errant throw 52 yards for a score with 12:16 left in the third quarter.
Give Schaub credit, though. He's been through enough of these blunders throughout his career to have a sense of selective memory about them. And in the end, he almost did enough to overcome that glaring error. He ended his night with 20 completions in 34 attempts for 232 yards and two touchdown passes. But it was the pick he threw to cornerback Tramon Williams with less than a minute in the game that seemed to at least have the contest headed to overtime, if not an outright win for the Browns. Cleveland had tied the game on a 42-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Austin Davis to a wide-open Travis Benjamin with less than two minutes left, and for once, the Browns seemed to have all the momentum.
Then, as so often happens with this franchise, the Browns blew the momentum out the door just as quickly as they had gained it. With 18 seconds left, Davis scrambled out of the pocket and slid down at the Baltimore 33-yard line, but he missed the sideline. Inexplicably, head coach Mike Pettine had to call a time out. Then, a handoff to running back Duke Johnson gained nothing, and it was time for Coons—who had made 18 straight field goals this season—to take his try for the win. Defensive end Brent Urban blocked the kick, and Hill, the undrafted free agent who once did time with the Arizona Rattlers of the Arena League, had the answer to end the game.
“I've been a part of some crazy ones, but this one definitely tops them all,” Schaub told Aditi Kinkhabwala of the NFL Network after it was all over. “Just a great team effort. Plays in every phase of the game, and we have them every opportunity to win the game with the turnover late, our defense made a couple plays, and the blocked kick was huge.”
The Ravens have proven, at least, that they will not go gently into the goodnight that has been their 2015 season. The Browns, who lost starting quarterback Josh McCown to a shoulder injury, have all kinds of questions along their roster and in their coaching staff for yet another lost season.
It was a game between two bad teams, but that doesn't always mean it's a bad game.