OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — There’s really nothing eye-catching about the Baltimore Ravens this season — except their record.
Baltimore’s inconsistent offense and defensive deficiencies were on full display Sunday in Cleveland, yet the Ravens emerged with another lackluster victory to improve to 6-2 and remain atop the AFC North.
At the midpoint in its season, Baltimore owns the second-best record in the conference and appears on course to reach the playoffs in a fifth straight year.
“By the same token, we’re not the team that we need to be. We need to be better,” coach John Harbaugh acknowledged Monday. “We need be better on third down. We need to run the ball more consistently. We need to protect our quarterback more consistently. We need to throw and catch better. And that’s just on the offensive side.”
Baltimore went six straight possessions without a first down in Sunday’s 25-15 win. Ray Rice gained 66 yards rushing in the first half and finished with 98. Joe Flacco completed 15 of 24 passes for 153 yards.
Not exactly the production that Ravens want from an offense that has been called upon to offset a struggling defense that’s without injured starters Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb.
“A lot of things have to get better or we’re not going to be 6-2 in the second half,” Harbaugh said.
The offense begins with Rice, a Pro Bowl running back who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage last year. Against Cleveland, he started strong but garnered only 40 yards on the ground after the opening two series.
“We need to be able to run the ball. Absolutely. That’s kind of our identity,” Harbaugh said. “We want to be a physical football team. … The truth is, it’s going to take different things in different games to win.”
Against the Browns (2-6), it took a fast start and a fourth-quarter rally for Baltimore to secure its 11th consecutive division win. But the Ravens gave up five scoring drives, were outgained 290-282 and allowed 105 yards rushing to rookie Trent Richardson.
Following a season-opening 44-13 win over Cincinnati, Baltimore has won by 1, 7, 3, 2 and 10 points.
“I’m all for blowouts — as long as we’re the ones doing the blowing out,” Harbaugh said. “We were on the short end of one two weeks ago (43-13 at Houston) and that wasn’t too much fun. But blowouts are tough to come by.”
That’s why the Ravens aren’t about to complain about winning ugly. Especially on the road, where they evened their record at 2-2 after squeezing past the lowly Browns.
“To win a division game on the road is huge,” Rice said. “We’ve never been fancy and pretty, but we find ourselves on top most of the time. That’s Ravens football. Our wins are not pretty, but when you are 6-2, there’s no complaining about it.”
The second half of the season offers a challenging schedule that begins Sunday at home against Oakland, includes two games with Pittsburgh and features home matchups with the New York Giants and Denver Broncos.
“We’ve got the men for the job,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to work hard and we’re going to improve.”
If the Ravens can perform as they did during the first two series against the Browns — both of which ended in touchdowns — they will flourish. But that kind of consistency has eluded them since the season opener.
“I wish we would go out there and continue to play like we were in the first quarter, and go up and down the field the whole game,” Flacco said. “But sometimes it doesn’t work out that way, and you have to be ready to continue to play the whole game and play the full 60 minutes, take whatever is thrown your way and go make the best of it.
“Hey, we’re a good team. We’ve been in a lot of situations like this before. So when it does happen, we know how to react, we know how to go out there and keep our heads down and play until it’s all over.”
Watching tape of Sunday’s game probably caused Harbaugh and more than a few players to wince. But it wasn’t all bad.
“Lost in all the talk about things we have to get better at was the fact that we had to win that game,” Harbaugh said. “We did not turn the ball over, we had no major negative play in our own end that cost us the game. … It took some patience, but I was proud of the fact we were able to pull it off.”
Notes: Harbaugh said G Marshal Yanda, who missed several series Sunday, “tweaked a knee a little bit and tweaked his ankle a little bit.” Yanda received an MRI and the results showed nothing significant, Harbaugh said. … G Bobbie Williams sprained an ankle and will likely be rested during the week but is expected to play Sunday.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)