By DAVID GINSBURG
BALTIMORE — The NFL didn’t do the Baltimore Ravens any favors by having them play four times over an 18-day span, including three night games.
In what might be perceived as a conciliatory gesture, the schedule-maker enabled the Ravens to conclude that difficult stretch at home Thursday night against the winless Cleveland Browns.
Baltimore (2-1) has won 12 straight at home, the longest streak in the NFL, and its nine-game run against the AFC North is also the top active streak among teams within their own division. Throw in the fact that the Ravens have won eight in a row over the Browns (0-3) by a collective score of 203-91, and it would appear as if this game is a mismatch.
The equalizer is Baltimore’s quick turnaround. Ravens walked off the field shortly before midnight Sunday after their emotional 31-30 victory over the New England Patriots, and they’ll be back on the turf for the opening kickoff against the Browns only 92 hours later.
“We’ve played Thursday after a Sunday, but we haven’t played Thursday after a Sunday night,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We are adjusting the schedule a little bit. Two things are important: preparation and recovery. One can’t really take a backseat to the other; the recovery is going to be just as important as the preparation.”
Instead of having a week to allow their bruises to heal, the Ravens got three days. There was no hitting at practice, and Harbaugh instructed the players to take it easy at night.
“Our coaches have to understand they can’t push this team,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “We can’t push like we usually can because we just got out of battle a couple of nights ago. Our coaches are doing a good job, our position coaches are doing a great job in meetings. We get in the weight room, get in bed, get some rest and come back here ready to go.”
The Ravens addressed the preparation part of the equation by scouting the Browns before Baltimore faced New England.
“Our advance staff, they were working on this game last week,” offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. “We were ahead of schedule before the New England game for this game, and we’ll be prepared.”
Forgive the Browns if they have little pity for Baltimore’s quick turnaround. Cleveland has problems of its own, such as revving up an offense centered around rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden and first-year running back Trent Richardson.
In a 24-14 home loss to Buffalo last Sunday, Weeden was picked off twice and Richardson was limited to 27 yards on 12 carries. Now they’re in bounce-back mode against a defense led by Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
“They’re a challenge. They’re a really good defense,” Weeden said. “We’re going to have to play really well. We’re going to have to take care of the football, no penalties, none of this stuff that shoots ourselves in the foot.”
After last week’s dud against the Bills, who needed only 10-plus minutes to take a 14-0 lead, the Browns were delighted to have a short work-week before returning to action.
“Mentally, absolutely. Physically, guys are a little sore,” Weeden said. “If you win, you’d rather have some time off. If you lose, it’s nice to get out and play as soon as possible. Guys are eager to get back out and compete again.”
The Ravens would have loved a month to savor their win over Tom Brady and the Patriots. Instead, they had to quickly turn the page.
“There’s no more looking in the mirror. There’s no more admiring the victory, so to speak,” Harbaugh said. “What we did was we went to work. We are trying to build on the positive, but we have to correct the mistakes and then look straight to Thursday night.”
Baltimore is striving to stay atop the AFC North. The Browns are simply trying to shake their stature as the only winless team in the conference. Cleveland hasn’t beaten the Ravens since 2007, but perhaps the timing is perfect for an upset.
“This is a really good team, we’re going to be playing on the road on national TV and it’s a great chance for us to try to get our first win,” five-time Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said. “I definitely think we’re improving, and hopefully we’ll be able to show it on Thursday with a win.”