CLEVELAND -- On one sideline Monday night you had hope.
The Baltimore Ravens are a talented team that has simply had its share of struggles. If not for a missed kick here, a blown coverage there, the Ravens would be better than their 5-4 record and considered a strong contender in the AFC.
On the other sideline you had the hopeless.
The Cleveland Browns are every bit as bad as their 1-8 record indicates. Maybe worse, if that’s possible. They are a team lacking in talent, smarts, health and resilience. And at this point there is nothing left to do for the Browns but play out what’s left of their miserable season.
Baltimore’s 16-0 victory Monday over Cleveland told only the immediate story -- even on an off night, the Ravens are considerably better than the lowly Browns.
These two teams couldn’t be any more different.
Baltimore has a franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco. Cleveland is playing musical chairs at the league’s most important position.
Baltimore has leaders in its locker room. Cleveland does not.
Baltimore is still fighting to make something of this year. Cleveland looks like a team willing to accept 13, 14 or maybe even 15 losses.
Perhaps the biggest irony is that the Ravens were once the Browns, before former Cleveland owner Art Modell skipped town and took his franchise to Baltimore. But since 1999 the Browns have drowned in the abyss of losing and despair, and a decade later they’re headed for one of their worst seasons in franchise history.
"It’s frustrating," said Browns quarterback Brady Quinn.
Things were much more relaxed in the Ravens' locker room Monday.
Baltimore didn’t play very well, either, but the team had several building blocks to hang its hat on.
The Ravens' defense held an opponent scoreless for the first time this season. Baltimore registered four sacks and its offense rushed for 134 yards on 36 hard-fought attempts. Ray Rice led the way with 89 rushing yards and a touchdown.
The victory also puts Baltimore right back in the playoff mix.
Currently the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) and San Diego Chargers (6-3) are one game ahead of the Ravens for the two AFC wild-card spots. The Ravens own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Chargers and still have to play Pittsburgh twice this season.
"We’re done with the first half of the season," Ravens running back Le'Ron McClain said. "Now we’re trying to get this second half. So we’re 1-0 in my eyes in the second season."
The Browns had two weeks to prepare for the start of their “second season,” but it looked much like the first.
Quinn couldn't move the offense. He finished 13-of-31 for 99 yards and an abysmal 23.5 passer rating.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Quinn was 0-for-7 on throws beyond 10 yards. Cleveland has little hope for improving offensively if the team cannot go downfield. The Browns registered just 160 total yards behind very timid play calling.
Adding to an awful night was an injury on the final play of the game to return specialist Josh Cribbs, who is arguably the team’s best player. Cribbs took a shot at the end of the game from Ravens defensive end Dwan Edwards that required Cribbs to be carted off the field.
Browns coach Eric Mangini said Cribbs had movement and feeling in all parts of his body afterward.
"The reason we took him off was more of a precautionary measure than anything else," Mangini said.
According to Mangini, there is progress taking place with the Browns. But if the in-game performance is the biggest indicator, Cleveland fans probably don’t have much hope for progression this season.
But Baltimore is looking ahead.
It’s an uphill climb, but Baltimore likely needs at least five more wins in the final seven games to have a legitimate shot at the postseason. That road continues this Sunday with another high-profile game against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts (9-0).
"I’m already thinking about it," an excited Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Why not?"
At least the hopeful Ravens have something to look forward to.