The loss to the Bills on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium was deflating — for the fans. What looked like the best opportunity for a win in the first six weeks devolved into a 24-14 loss that ended with thousands of Buffalo fans occupying the stadium and voicing their delight.
Four days later the Browns (0-3) return to action tonight in Baltimore. While fans haven’t had enough time to fully express their angst and discuss dismantling the front office and coaching staff, the players are ready to move on.
“There’s so much negative vibe outside this locker room,” quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “It’s everywhere but in this locker room. My goal, I think the rest of the guys’ goal, is to keep the positive vibe in here. And I think that it’s good right now.
“Yeah, we’re all frustrated. We all want to be 3-0. But anytime you let all the outside frustration come into this locker room, it starts breaking guys apart. That’s a recipe for disaster. There’s a lot of football left to be played the rest of the year.”
Weeden hasn’t faced a challenge like the one waiting in Baltimore. The Ravens (2-1) are 13-point favorites, were one play from the Super Bowl last year and are coming off a 31-30 win over the Patriots.
He knows what an upset — the Browns have lost 11 straight inside the AFC North — would do for the morale of the team and city.
“We need to win a game to kind of flip it,” he said. “We all know winning cures everything. If you’re winning games, it cures from top to bottom this entire city.”
With the short week and its accelerated schedule of installing the game plan, captain D’Qwell Jackson didn’t have time to thoroughly school the rookies on the purple pandemonium of M&T Bank Stadium and the history of the rivalry, which was born when Art Modell broke Cleveland’s heart by moving the franchise to Baltimore after the 1995 season.
“Right now, they have to learn on the fly,” Jackson said. “They’ve obviously felt the intensity from the older guys and the coaching staff with the sense of urgency going into this week. It’s a big week.
“This one game could springboard us.”
Jackson’s been making the trip to Baltimore since 2006. The atmosphere is intense on Sunday afternoon, let alone in prime time.
“It’s hard to describe unless you actually get there,” he said. “The whole deal with (linebacker) Ray (Lewis) doing his dance, the fireworks, Thursday night game, they love a show. They love a show. And that’s what they’re going to try to give their fans — pregame at least.
“Hopefully our young guys have prepared as well as they can. Because if you’re not ready for all the cameras and the lights, it could take you by storm.”
The Browns are one of the youngest teams in the NFL, and the youth has shown up often in the form of missed assignments and wasted opportunities. Ignorance can also be bliss.
Running back Trent Richardson hasn’t lived through the eight straight losses to the Ravens — coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco are 8-0 — in which the Browns have been outscored 203-91. He said the two national championships at Alabama prepared him for the big stage.
“It’s another ballgame for us,” he said. “People say that we don’t have a chance, but I know we’ve got a chance. A lot of folks sleep on us. When people fall asleep on us, that’s when we come with our A-game.”
Richardson spoke to reporters and teammates last week about the importance of not falling to 0-3. But on Wednesday, he said the team had looked past Buffalo to the Ravens.
“I think we was trying to get more prepared for this game more than anything,” he said. “You got to take one day at a time and you got to have fun while you’re doing it.”
The Ravens make life miserable for visitors. They’ve won 12 straight at home in the regular season and 20 of 21. They’ve allowed 13.8 points per game and held quarterbacks to a 63.9 rating at home since 2008.
The Browns counter with nine straight losses and 12 of 13.
“I’m never intimidated,” safety T.J. Ward said. “It’s football.
“We’re just trying to get a win. We’re not trying to make any statements.”
The Ravens are getting older, especially on defense with future Hall of Famers Lewis, 37, and safety Ed Reed, 34. The loss of linebacker Terrell Suggs, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, with an Achilles’ injury has also had an impact.
The Ravens rank 27th defensively, including 28th against the pass, allowing 289.7 yards per game. That’s nearly 100 yards more through the air than in their best years.
“It’s still a real good defense,” center Alex Mack said. “They still generate a pretty good pass rush. They have big guys to kinda push the pocket. They get to the quarterback. No illusion to that.”
A layer was added to the matchup when Modell died earlier this month. He was beloved in Baltimore and the Ravens will honor him all season.
“We’ve gotta match the intensity,” Weeden said. “Mentally we’ve gotta be ready.”
Coach Pat Shurmur is charged with that, and he’s not conceding anything despite the 0-3 start and powerhouse opponent.
“You can go position by position and talk about how good they are,” he said. “I think we are, too, so we’re going to go down there and battle it out.
“It’s about winning games and that’s how you build. We’ve got 13 games left. Nobody in our division — and it’s about winning your division so you can get into the playoffs, right? — has won all their games. And so we’ve got a division opponent on the road with a great opportunity to get the ship righted.”