CLEVELAND — — There were very few things one learned from the Ravens 20-10 win against Cleveland except that the Ravens were opportunistic, and the Browns gave them a Christmas present.
The Ravens only scored 10 points off four Cleveland turnovers, but they did score three plays later after a botched Browns' onside kick to open the third quarter to take control of the game and seal a playoff berth.
It wasn't a pretty effort by the Ravens, and certainly not an improvement on last week's showing against the New Orleans Saints. That was disappointing. But the Ravens were never seriously threatened after the first quarter, and they made the Browns pay for their mistakes.
When kicker Phil Dawson's onside kick went out at the Browns' 38, the Ravens ran a fake reverse before quarterback Joe Flacco connected with Derrick Mason in the left corner of the end zone for a 22-yard yard touchdown.
The play took forever to develop and probably won't work against another team. But these were the Browns, who were stupid enough to call onside kick only trailing 13-10 at the half.
"We were either on a short field or a long field, and every time we were on the short field, we took advantage of it," Flacco said. "I think we were able to do what we wanted within our game plan and I think we executed it effectively."
The Ravens also turned a fumble recovery into a 15-yard touchdown, and an interception by safety Ed Reed into a field goal.
"At the end of the day, what killed us were the turnovers and the mistakes that we made," said Browns coach Eric Mangini. "The Ravens are very difficult to beat when you play flawless football, when you play mistake-free football. When you turn the ball over as many times as we did, it makes it really, really difficult."
Long, long shot
If the Ravens win next Sunday against the Bengals and Pittsburgh loses to Cleveland here, than the Ravens win the AFC North, but it's a long, long, long shot for the Browns to beat Pittsburgh.
The Browns tried almost every magic trick Sunday to win, and there aren't many left. Unless Pittsburgh turns the ball over and Josh Cribbs returns a punt or kickoff for a touchdown, Cleveland has little chance.
The Browns have no quality receivers and rookie quarterback Colt McCoy doesn't have enough arm strength to throw from hash mark to hash mark. Two of their starting linebackers, Eric Barton and David Bowens, are old enough to collect social security.
Like the Steelers
When Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti hired coach John Harbaugh three years ago, he said he wanted a team that was competitive every year like the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Well, the Ravens have achieved their goal. They have now gone to the playoffs three straight years under Harbaugh and Flacco, also in his third season.
It's easy to see why the Browns are the Browns.
Their clock management was pathetic at the end of the first half when they wasted 30 seconds with under two minutes remaining and the ball at the Ravens' 24.
Those seconds could have come in handy when the Browns were forced to kick a 30-yard field goal with three seconds remaining on second down.
One other thing: The reason Cleveland has to run straight ahead with its running game is because the Browns have some of the slowest guards in the NFL. They can't get out of their own way some times.
Flacco's 15-yard touchdown pass to Houshmandzadeh early in the second quarter was excellent. The Browns had Houshmandzadeh covered well with both Sheldon Brown and Abram Elam, but Flacco delivered a high and tight spiral right on Houshmandzadeh's finger tips where only he could make a play on the ball.
A few minutes earlier, though, Flacco missed receiver Anquan Boldin wide open in the left corner of the end zone on second-and-6 from the Cleveland 9.
Fortunately the Ravens were playing the Browns where you sometimes get second chances.
If you want to get your money's worth out of a game, watch Ravens safety Haruki Nakamura on special teams. He'll do anything and run anywhere just to make a tackle.
He ran down the field, crossed over and up the middle again just to tackle Cribbs on a kickoff return.
Ravens starting tight end Todd Heap was inactive Sunday, and he isn't sure if he'll play in the regular season finale against the Bengals.
Heap worked out before the game Sunday, but you could tell he wasn't playing.
"We're trying to be smart as possible about this," said Heap. "I feel good going in and out of the routes, but I haven't opened it fully yet. Now that we're in the playoffs, we want to make sure I'm completely healthy where I won't hurt myself again. "
Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson has been known to get into a fight or two, but he doesn't talk a lot. But before Sunday's game, Johnson had a few words for Browns fullback Lawrence Vickers in the pregame stretching.
"He was all fired up, and I think he thought he had to defend his boy, Peyton Hillis," Johnson said. "I saw him yelling, screaming and acting tough from a distance, so I just let him know that wasn't going to change things."
Hillis finished with 35 yards on 12 carries, but he still impressed Johnson.
"You could tell he was playing hurt," Johnson said. "He battled, but he wasn't the same when we faced him earlier in the year. I've played against Vickers before and overall, he is a pretty good fullback."
Reed being Reed
Reed had two interceptions, but he almost lost a lateral near the end of the game which would have given the Browns new life deep in Baltimore territory.
It was a stupid play, and even though Reed acknowledged it, he'll do it again
Because he is Ed Reed. He does whatever he wants.
Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. on 105.7 FM.