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Browns cornerback Joe Haden misses practice

Browns cornerback Joe Haden misses practice

BEREA, Ohio (AP) The Browns couldn't win without Joe Haden. They may have to try again.

Haden missed practice on Thursday with an oblique injury, and Cleveland may be missing its top cornerback - and arguably its best defensive player - on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.

Haden, who was suspended four games by the NFL earlier this season for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing drugs, got hurt during a drill in Wednesday's practice. He stayed on the field and was listed as ``limited'' on the Browns' injury report, but he did not participate at all on Thursday and his status for this week's game remains uncertain.

It's another setback for Cleveland's defense, which has been ravaged by injuries all season. Starting tackle Ahtyba Rubin is expected to return this week after missing three games with a calf injury, but if Haden can't play, the Browns will again be forced to adjust.

``When anyone's down, especially a starter, it hurts,'' safety T.J. Ward said. ``Not having Joe will hurt us, but the next guy just has to step up. That's how it's been all year. We haven't had our complete defense on the field at any point. It just seems like everyone's starting to get back and Joe, I won't say he went down, but he hasn't been practicing. Hopefully we can have him this weekend.''

Haden would likely be responsible for covering Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant, who has 45 catches for 590 yards and three touchdowns.

While Haden served his suspension for testing positive for the stimulant Adderall, the Browns went 0-4. They're 2-2 since he returned and Haden's presence has not only bolstered Cleveland's secondary, but he has forced opposing teams to game plan differently.

Cleveland's secondary is already missing cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who has been sidelined the past four games with a severe ankle injury and has not yet been cleared to practice.

It's just been that kind of season for the Browns, who have lost starting linebackers Chris Gocong and Scott Fujita to season-ending injuries and played the first eight games without massive defensive tackle Phil Taylor, who was sidelined after tearing a chest muscle while lifting weights during the offseason.

``It would be nice to see everybody out there at the same time,'' safety Usama Young said. ``It's one of those things with football, you've always got to work through, though. You're going to have guys go down and if you're going to be a good football team, you've got to have guys step in and play at a high level. Hopefully, guys are back, but you can't even dwell on it. If you're going to be good, you've got to look past it and get the next guy in line.''

Buster Skrine would take Haden's starting spot and rookie Trevin Wade will likely get playing time at nickel back if Haden can't go.

Cornerback Sheldon Brown said the Browns can't worry about missing one player.

``We need everybody on Sunday,'' he said. ``If the quarterback is running backward, then it really doesn't matter who's in the backend. Bottom line is we need every man.''

The Browns simply weren't the same when Haden wasn't in the lineup. Quarterbacks didn't have to worry about throwing to his side of the field, and several of Cleveland's young defensive backs were exposed.

Haden was missed - badly - and his absence showed his value to the Browns.

``I didn't gain an appreciation for him because I know how talented he is,'' Young said. ``I've been watching him since his first year and now playing alongside him, you see how talented he is. In this game, when guys go down, you've got to have guys that are going to step up and play at a high level. We look forward to that on defense. We've got some young boys that are hungry, ready to play. Hopefully (Haden) will play, but we don't know yet.''

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NOTES: Browns rookie WR Josh Gordon is appealing a $20,000 fine for a block the NFL deemed as a blindside hit on Ravens safety Ed Reed on Nov. 4. Gordon was flagged for a 15-yard penalty. ``They told me it wasn't a helmet-to-helmet hit,'' Gordon said. ``It was just that he wasn't looking. He never looked my way at all. We were confused about it for a while and we still are because that's my blocking responsibility, and if I wouldn't have done it, our runner would have gotten tackled for a loss. If you don't make a play, Coach is going to look at you like, `What's going on?''' ... Special teamer Ray Ventrone was limited in practice with what the Browns listed as a ``hand/calf'' injury. Ventrone missed one game earlier this season with a broken thumb that required surgery.

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Online:http://bigstory.ap.org/NFL-Pro32 andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Flacco-Mornhinweg meeting helps Ravens unleash offense

Flacco-Mornhinweg meeting helps Ravens unleash offense

BALTIMORE – A few days after the Ravens’ quarterback and offensive coordinator had a meeting of the minds, the team responded with its best offensive performance of the season.

Joe Flacco felt the Ravens got too conservative against the Bengals in Week 12, and told Marty Mornhinweg. The Ravens’ offensive coordinator said he hated being called conservative, and responded with an aggressive game plan that had the Dolphins on their heels in a 38-6 blowout win by the Ravens.

When it was over, Flacco had completed a franchise-record 36 passes, including four touchdown passes.  Flacco (36 for 47, 381 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) was happy. All the Ravens were happy. And perhaps Flacco and Morninweg had finally unlocked the key to finding how their offense operates best.

“One thing Marty has never been accused of is being conservative – that’s not a label he takes too kindly to, as Joe can probably attest,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “They had a little back-and-forth in one of the quarterback meetings – that was fun to watch. I heard about it; I didn’t actually witness it. But that’s what I think. Iron sharpens iron. We challenge each other, and everybody is able to do it in a way that makes each other better.”

This has been a difficult season for the Ravens’ offense.  Even with the change from Marc Trestman to Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator following Week 5, the Ravens struggled to find offensive consistency.

But against the Dolphins, the Ravens were explosive. Asked about the meeting with Mornhinweg, Flacco downplayed it, but he loved the results.

“It was a good conversation,” Flacco said. “It was all fun. It was a pretty fun conversation. It came down to the fact that I don’t think we were able to finish Cincinnati off last week like I really would have wanted to.”

The Ravens definitely finished off the Dolphins. Maybe Flacco should call Mornhinweg conservative every week if the Ravens respond like this.

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Dennis Pitta relieved his production finally paid off with two touchdowns

Dennis Pitta relieved his production finally paid off with two touchdowns

Dennis Pitta insists Sunday’s game wasn’t some kind of breakout game for him, but the tight end scored his first two touchdowns of the 2016 season and further advanced the story of his impressive comeback from two major hip injuries.

Pitta had nine catches for 90 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday in the Ravens’ 38-6 rout of the Dolphins, by far the Ravens most complete effort of the season.

Pitta had scored just one touchdown in the previous three seasons – all of which were either partially or completely lost to a twice-dislocated hip.

His return to the team this year was very much in doubt even into training camp, when the Ravens appeared deep at the position with Ben Watson, Crockett Gillmore, Maxx Williams, Nick Boyle and Darren Waller.

But injuries or suspensions have sidelined all five of those players for extended periods, and Pitta – who played in just seven games over the previous three seasons – has emerged as the Ravens No. 1 tight end once again, just as he was during the Super Bowl run in 2012.

RELATED: FIVE OBSERVATIONS FROM RAVENS' BIG WIN OVER DOLPHINS

He leads the team with 61 receptions, which equals a career high he set in 2012.

“Yes, I had a couple touchdowns today, but I feel like I have been producing all season,” Pitta said. “I don’t think after a game like this I say, ‘Oh, I’m back.’ I feel like I have been back since Week 1.”

Until Sunday, though, he had not reached the end zone since Dec. 8, 2013.

“You always want to get into the end zone,” he said. “You go into every game thinking, ‘I want to be able to score a touchdown and help our team win.’ … The last couple weeks we have made our kicker look way too good (by) not getting red zone opportunities. Finally we got down there and we took advantage … and a couple of them came my way.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who set a franchise record with 36 completions and torched the Dolphins for 381 yards and four touchdowns, called Pitta “a special football player. Obviously, he’s been through a lot and he’s put a lot of work in.”

Flacco, one of Pitta’s closest friends on the team, said with a grin that he really doesn’t know what Pitta has been through in recovering from two major hip injuries, but he added, “I don’t care what he’s been through. I just want him on the field.”

RELATED: FLACCO-MORNHINWEG MEETING HELPS RAVENS UNLEASH OFFENSE