The game appeared to be lost quickly. Unlike the first meeting between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens, the Ravens jumped ahead early and often and led by 17 points with 8:57 remaining in the first half.
It wasn't pretty. The Ravens showcased their speed and the Browns showed their lack of speed (coupled with their inability to tackle.)
The blowout appeared to be on. As expected, though, the Browns defense stiffened and helped Cleveland get back into the game. Over the last 15 games, only twice did an early-game deficit turn into a rout: the 31-13 loss to Tennessee on Oct. 2 and the 30-12 loss to Houston on Nov. 6.
Often it was the Browns defense that kept Cleveland within striking distance. The only problem is the Browns don't have any knock-out punchers.
Case in point: The Browns faced a third and five with four minutes, eight seconds left in the game at their own 45-yard line. The Browns trailed by six points. The Ravens blitzed. It forced an incomplete pass to the right flat. On fourth down, the Browns threw short left for no gain.
Two plays to get five yards and the Browns netted zero. Naturally, part of the reason for the offense's inability to get the first down was because the Ravens defense is one of the best in the NFL. But also it is because the Browns offense does not have playmakers.
This isn't groundbreaking news.
Here is what we do know. The Browns have lost 11 games in a season for three consecutive seasons. The Browns are one of the youngest teams in the NFL. The Browns' defense starts – when healthy – a first- and second-round draft pick from the last two drafts.
The offense needs to be addressed.
We can debate the quarterback situation all day long. Heck, it seems to be the debate started and has not stopped since Ty Detmer started the first game in 1999 over Tim Couch.
This season, defenses simply don't fear the Browns offense. A little pressure here, man-to-man coverage there and Brad Maynard trots onto the field.
Yes, the Browns' defense has its own set of issues. Ray Rice had another big day last Saturday totaling 135 yards. The Browns continue to give up chunks on the ground.
But in today's NFL, the best defense is a high-powered offense. Green Bay and New England are a combined 26-4 and their defenses rank 31st and 32nd, respectively.
Browns general manger Tom Heckert put pieces in place the last two drafts to help Cleveland's defense compete in an ultra-competitive AFC North. Now, he must know that it is time to focus on the offense.
Does it begin at quarterback? Or will a No. 1 wide receiver coupled with a fast running back do the job? Those are the debates that will rage in the next four months.
Whatever the answers, the theme must be finding a playmaker. Josh Cribbs showed the need for more than one playmaker. After he returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-7 against the Ravens, the Browns got new lift and momentum shifted. A big play can spark a team. Cribbs has done it (and mostly alone) for the past few seasons.
It is time to find that playmaker. It could have helped the Browns get a win last Saturday and it was the seventh time this season a playmaker may have helped the Browns snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
At the very least, it would help them get five yards on third down.