YouTube Credit: NFLHighlightReplays
JOE FLACCO RAN for one touchdown and threw for another as Baltimore beat Cleveland 23-16 on Thursday, the night the regular NFL union referees returned to work to a pre-game standing ovation.
Four days after Baltimore edged New England on a last-second field goal and three after replacement referees botched a controversial last-play call to decide a game, American football returned to normal.
The Ravens stretched their home win streak to 13 games, the NFL’s longest current run, and improved to 3-1 by stopping a late threat from winless Cleveland.
“With the wisdom we have and the young players we are adding into our defense, 3-1 is huge after the first quarter (of the season),” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.
Union referees whistled penalties for the first time following three weeks of replacement officials. The league and the referees’ union agreed to a new eight-year contract on Wednesday night to end a lockout that began in June.
Their return came after a poor call by replacements on the last play of the game gave Seattle a Monday victory over Green Bay, sparking criticism that even had US President Barack Obama calling for an end to the lockout.
“We’re sorry to have put fans through that,” NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said. “Sometimes you have to go through something like that in the short term for the right agreement for the long term.
“Obviously, when you go through something like this, it’s painful for everybody.”
The first penalty against the home side came 3:42 into the game and sparked the usual chorus of boos at the referees, one fan’s sign noting, “We’re glad we can boo the real refs.”
Ravens’ supporters spent much of their time cheering despite Baltimore becoming the first NFL team since 1939 to play four games in only 18 days.
“We’re happy to come away with the win and get a little rest,” Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin said.
Flacco scored on a 1-yard touchdown run 5:07 into the third quarter but the Browns pulled within 16-10 on a 51-yard Phil Dawson field goal.
Baltimore’s Cary Williams intercepted a Brandon Weeden pass to the left sideline and returned the ball 63 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 23-10 lead with 15 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
Dawson kicked field goals of 50 and 52 yards to pull Cleveland within 23-16 and the Browns drove from their 10-yard line to the Ravens’ 33 in the dying seconds but were unable to deliver a tying touchdown.
The Ravens opened the scoring 2:03 into the second quarter on Flacco’s 18-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith.
Smith played for the second time since his brother, Tevin Jones, was killed in a motorcycle crash last Sunday morning. Jones’ funeral will be Saturday.