Just as it did Monday night, an NFL prime-time game went down to one final pass toward the end zone Thursday night.
This time, however, it ended without controversy.
The Baltimore Ravens never trailed in a 23-16 victory over the winless Cleveland Browns, who took some of the attention away from the regular officials in a duel between AFC North rivals.
Down 23-16, Cleveland began its final drive with 1:05 to go on its own 10. Rookie Brandon Weeden moved the Browns to the Baltimore 33, and a personal foul penalty on the Ravens’ Paul Kruger gave Cleveland one final chance from the 18.
Weeden’s pass sailed out of the end zone.
The final sequence in Baltimore was not unlike the controversial ending of Monday’s Green Bay-Seattle game, when the final pass was ruled a touchdown. That play, and the furor it created, hastened talks that ended the NFL’s lockout of its officials.
As they walked onto the field hours before the game, the officiating crew received a round of applause and shouts of encouragement from fans in the lower sections. Head linesman Wayne Mackie and line judge Jeff Seeman both tipped their caps to acknowledge the support.
And then, before the pregame coin flip, referee Gene Steratore greeted the players at midfield by saying, “Good evening, men, it’s good to be back.”
Many in the sellout crowd of 70,944 stood and roared their approval.
The fans waited until the third quarter to boo the officials. On a 13-yard completion from Weeden to Benjamin Watson, Ravens safety Bernard Pollard was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit. The crowd jeered the call, but replays appeared to confirm the penalty.
Baltimore’s Joe Flacco went 28 for 46 for 356 yards, threw one touchdown and ran for another. Yet, it wasn’t until Cary Williams returned an interception 63 yards for a score late in the third quarter that the Ravens (3-1) put some distance between themselves and the young Browns (0-4).
It was the 13th consecutive home win for the Ravens, the longest current run in the NFL, and their streak of 10 straight wins in the division is also the most of any team.
Former Baylor basketball player Richard Hurd pleaded guilty to trying to extort $1 million from Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III by threatening to expose damaging information, prosecutors said. Griffin played football at Baylor. … Broncos linebacker Joe Mays had his appeal denied and he will be suspended one game for the hit that cost Texans quarterback Matt Schaub a piece of his ear. … Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford returned to practice after sitting out one day because of an injured right hip. … Browns linebacker Scott Fujita is scheduled to meet with commissioner Roger Goodell today about his suspension in the Saints’ bounty case that was temporarily lifted earlier this month. … Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw is expected to start Sunday after being sidelined for a game by an inflamed disk in his neck. … Jaguars wide receiver Laurent Robinson (concussion) missed practice.