BALTIMORE — For much of the first three weeks, opposing quarterbacks had found Ravens cornerback Cary Williams. They watched where he lined up and often threw in that direction.
But with the Ravens holding onto to precarious six-point lead late in the third quarter Thursday night, Cleveland Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden lost sight of Williams and the result was the game’s decisive play. Williams stepped in front of wide receiver Travis Benjamin in the flat and took the ball back 65 yards for a touchdown, his first career interception helping the Ravens turn aside the pesky Browns, 23-16, before an announced 70,944 in a game played in a steady rain.
The Williams interception gave the Ravens a 23-10 lead, which was ultimately whittled down to seven on two 50-plus yard field goals by veteran Phil Dawson.
Weeden, who threw for 320 yards, got the ball back at his own 10 with just over a minute to go and got all the way down to the Ravens’ 18 after a personal foul on Paul Kruger prolonged the final drive. However, the rookie’s final pass sailed out of the end zone as time expired, securing the Ravens’ win
Even with the presence of the regular referees who made their debut Thursday night after settling their differences with the league late Wednesday night, it wasn’t a pretty game by any means. The Ravens had 11 penalties for 100 yards, committed a turnover in the red zone and rookie Justin Tucker missed his first field goal.
However, the Ravens will head into a rare weekend off with a satisfying 3-1 record, two close victories in a five-day span, a nine-game winning streak against the Browns (0-4) and their home (13) and divisional (10) winning streaks still intact.
Flacco was 28-for-46 for 356 yards with one passing touchdown to Torrey Smith, one rushing touchdown and one interception. Wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught nine balls for 139 yards with all but one of the catches coming in the second half.
Holding an uncomfortable two-point lead at intermission, the Ravens came out on their first drive of the second half and went 89 yards on 13 plays. The drive mostly belonged to Flacco and Boldin. The veteran wide receiver had an 18-yard reception on 2nd-and-5 and then a 21-yard catch on 3rd-and-7.
A 21-yard reception by Boldin then set up the Ravens in a 1st-and goal- situation from the 2. On 3rd down, Flacco rolled out and juked a defender and went in the end zone untouched for a 2-yard touchdown run to give the Ravens a 16-7 lead with 9:53 to play.
The Browns answered with a 51-yard field goal by veteran Phil Dawson to make it a six-point game. It stayed that way as Tucker was wide right from 47 yards, his first miss of the season.
However, Williams stepped in front of the Weeden pass on the next Browns’ drive to give the Ravens a 13-point lead.