BALTIMORE (AP) — The regular NFL officials returned to action, and the ending of their first game was eerily familiar to the one that hastened the exit of the replacement refs.
This time, however, there were no replays or arguments at the end. Just another win by the Baltimore Ravens over the Cleveland Browns, 23-16 on Thursday night.
If not for two failed desperation passes into the end zone in the closing seconds, the returning officials might have had to work overtime on their first night back.
Cleveland began its final drive with 1:05 to go on its own 10. Rookie Brandon Weeden moved the Browns to the Baltimore 33 before a fourth-down pass into the end zone fell incomplete. But a personal foul penalty on Baltimore linebacker Paul Kruger gave winless Cleveland one more chance.
That pass sailed out of the end zone.
“Too much juice,” Weeden lamented.
The final sequence was not unlike the controversial ending of Monday night’s Green Bay-Seattle game, when a Hail Mary pass was ruled a touchdown. That play, and the furor it created, hastened negotiations that brought the regular officials back.
The lockout ended late Wednesday, bringing about the exit of the unpopular replacement refs. And so, finally, the tenured officials were in place for Week 4.
“I felt so bad for that Green Bay situation,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said. “Replacement refs, their families, I can’t knock them. The scrutiny they were under. That kind of scrutiny is bad. It’s hard going from like Pop Warner to the big leagues.”
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 at the end of 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. Baltimore has also won nine straight over Cleveland.