On a crisp fall afternoon, a light breeze matched the idle winds of change in the NFL, as dawn broke on a new season that began remarkably similar to its last.
The Ravens defeated the Browns, 38-6, at M&T Bank Stadium without breaking a sweat.
Cleveland’s opening possession began with promise on an 11-yard rumble by running back Nick Chubb, reminiscent of the Browns’ Week 4 decimation of the Ravens in 2019. However, Baker Mayfield’s fourth pass attempt was tipped by the debuting Calais Campbell in coverage, intercepted by Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Working with a short field, reigning league MVP Lamar Jackson drove the Ravens down the field, delivering a five-yard strike to the wide-open Mark Andrews in the back of the endzone for an early lead that Baltimore would never relinquish.
A second Cleveland turnover on an ill-advised fake punt by Jamie Gillan, put Baltimore in position for a 41-yard Justin Tucker field goal for a 10-0 lead. The Browns responded on the next possession with a 75-yard scoring drive, ending with a Mayfield connection to tight-end David Njoku at the one-yard line — but a missed extra-point by kicker Austin Seibert was a harbinger of things to come for Cleveland, with Baltimore’s defense pitching a practical shut-out for the remaining three quarters.
With blood in the water, the Ravens did what good teams do against bad teams, overwhelming the opposition in all phases of the game, and walking away with a convincing victory over their AFC North rivals.
Building on last year’s virtuoso performance, Lamar Jackson carved up last year’s seventh-ranked secondary, taking advantage of their patchwork unit for 275 yards and three TDs through the air, adding another 45 yards on the ground on limited carries.
As touted as Jackson’s leap in development was the excitement surrounding Baltimore’s new running back committee, led by veteran Mark Ingram. However, the star of the show was rookie J.K. Dobbins and his solid debut, punctuated by two rushing scores — the most in Ravens franchise history for a debuting rookie.
Similarly-hyped were the new faces on both sides of the ball, with rookie linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison making an immediate impact in their first career starts; Queen, particularly, impressed in leading all Ravens defenders with eight tackles. Not to be outdone, Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe led the charge on the defensive-line, providing pressure that isn’t easily measured in the box score. Equally impressive was first-year right-guard Tyre Phillips, with a clean stat sheet that would make his forebear Marshal Yanda proud. Meanwhile, rookie wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche provided explosiveness on special-teams, combining for 90 return yards and contributing to excellent field position for the Ravens offense, with an average start at the 44-yard line.
Despite an abbreviated training camp and the absence of preseason action, no significant signs of rust were evident for the Ravens, as Baltimore executed its gameplan to near-perfection.
An early redzone miscue by fullback Patrick Ricard led to a fumble that had no bearing on the outcome. A brief injury scare from Marlon Humphrey appeared to have no ill effects thereafter, while news is still pending on the status of left-tackle Ronnie Stanley after rolling his ankle in the third quarter.
This upcoming week’s focus for the Ravens will likely include a deeper dive into the 138 rushing yards surrendered by the defense, though their secondary will face little consternation for the minimal damage done by rookie head coach Kevin Stefanski’s new-look Browns offense.
In all, a successful debut for the 2020 Baltimore Ravens (1-0), as their 25th Anniversary campaign begins on a high note. Awaiting them next week is a trip to Houston to face the well-rested Texans (0-1), following their sluggish outing against the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs (1-0). Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns (0-1) will have minimal time to stew on their loss, with a short turnaround in hosting the rival Cincinnati Bengals (0-1) on Thursday Night Football.