BALTIMORE — Looking every bit like the reigning NFL MVP, Lamar Jackson threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns to help the Baltimore Ravens beat the Browns 38-6 Sunday, ruining Kevin Stefanski’s debut as Cleveland’s head coach in a game played without fans in attendance.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic kept the seats empty and the play was sloppy following a preseason without any games, two constants prevailed: Jackson was the focal point of a high-powered offense and the Browns lost another opener.
Facing a Cleveland secondary depleted by injuries, Jackson completed 20 of 25 passes and racked up a team-high 45 yards on the ground. A year ago, the multi-faceted star set an NFL single-season record for yards rushing by a quarterback and threw 36 TD passes.
The Browns were incapable of stopping him. As a result, Cleveland still hasn’t opened with a victory since 2004.
Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield threw an interception on the opening series, the first of three Browns turnovers. Those miscues, two missed kicks by Austin Seibert and an unsuccessful fake punt call by Stefanski contributed to the rout.
Mayfield went 21 for 39 for 189 yards and was sacked twice.
With no fans allowed — a decision rendered by the Ravens late last month after meeting with government officials and health experts — traffic outside the stadium was light, most parking lots were barren and the smell of grilled meat from tailgates was noticeably absent.
Sections behind the end zones were filled with cutouts of people. Section 146 included 575 cutouts of 14-year-old Mo Gaba, a popular Ravens fan who died in July after several bouts with cancer. In addition, the letters MO within the word Baltimore in one end zone were stenciled in gold.
The Ravens raced out of the tunnel before the game with the public address system announcing their arrival, along with fireworks and smoke billowing out of a makeshift castle. Missing, of course, were cheerleaders and the deafening roar of the crowd.
Once the game started, Baltimore looked every bit like the team that finished the 2019 regular season with an NFL-best 14-2 record. Marlon Humphrey picked off a throw by Mayfield and Jackson promptly tossed a touchdown pass to tight end Mark Andrews.
On the ensuing possession, Stefanski gambled on a fake punt and L.J. Fort diagnosed the play and busted it up. That set up a field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Cleveland responded with a 75-yard drive, but a touchdown pass to David Njoku was followed by a botched conversion. The Browns then withstood a 47-yard completion from Jackson to Marquise Brown by forcing a fumble by Patrick Ricard inside the 10.
Late in the half, Jackson went 5 for 5 for 75 yards on a 99-yard drive that ended with the first of rookie J.K. Dobbins’ two touchdowns.
The Browns moved into position to cut into the deficit, but successive miscues — a third-down drop by Odell Beckham Jr. and a missed field-goal attempt by Seibert — gave the ball to Baltimore with 46 seconds remaining.
Jackson directed a 69-yard drive — passing for every one of those yards — and made it 24-6 with a 9-yard toss to Andrews. Baltimore’s opening drive of the second half was more of the same, ending with Jackson’s 19-yard touchdown pass to Willie Snead.
Browns: T Jedrick Wills Jr. left with a leg injury and did not return. ... Three projected starters in the secondary were out with injuries: Grant Delpit, Greedy Williams and Kevin Johnson. ... LB Jacob Phillips left in the third quarter with a knee injury.
Ravens: Tackle Ronnie Stanley left in the third quarter with an ankle injury. He did not return. ... CB Jimmy Smith (back spasms) was added to the injury list Sunday morning and listed as questionable, but he avoided the inactive list and played.
Browns: It’s a quick turnaround for Cleveland, which hosts the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.
Ravens: A road trip to Houston next Sunday. Baltimore is 9-2 overall against the Texans, who opened Thursday with a loss in Kansas City.