Cleveland (6-3) trailed 31-17 before Deshaun Watson delivered the type of victory the Browns have been waiting for from their high-priced quarterback.
“He’s a warrior,” head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters following the game. “He battled through an ankle injury in the second half, listen, that first one gets tipped … it is what it. We’ll get better from that, but he’s a warrior.”
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.
“[Watson] makes plays when they’re not there, makes unbelievable throws, leads this football team team,” Stefanski said. “There was never a doubt in his mind how this football game was going to turn out.”
Baltimore (7-3) had a four-game winning streak snapped, and the victory by Cleveland (6-3) tightened the race in the AFC North significantly.
Watson got off to a terrible start — his first pass of the game was picked off and returned for a touchdown — but he finished with 213 yards passing and 37 rushing, and his elusiveness was an issue for Baltimore’s vaunted pass rush.
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 ran 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.
It was 17-9 at halftime, and the Ravens scored on their first possession of the second. 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.
“We’ve been here before and we knew how to fight back,” Myles Garrett said following the game. “Things like that define you, they help set a tone for a season and a team. There’s no game that we’re out of it. We have to continue to do what has gotten us here to this point in the season and continue to play the brand of football we know we can play.”
The Browns then 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 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.
“We’re not perfect, none of these players are perfect, I know I ‘m not perfect but I trust these guys to come through when it really matters,” Stefanski said.
When all was said and done, Watson told reporters this was a big moment for him and the team.
“We have to take this energy we had from the second half and take it to tomorrow when we watch the tape, and correct the mistakes we had,” he said. “Then we put that bed and get ready for Pittsburgh newt week, it’s good to be back home where we play really, really well.”
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.
Browns: Host Pittsburgh next Sunday.