BEREA, Ohio — The regular officials may have missed a few things in their first game back.
Browns safety Ray Ventrone said the Ravens were dirty birds.
"I know that they were playing dirty on offense," Ventrone said Friday as Cleveland's players regrouped after a 23-16 loss in Baltimore. "Watch the film, man. There was some dirty stuff going on."
Thursday night's prime-time game featured the return of the NFL's regular officials after they reached agreement with the league on a new contract. Following three weeks of uneven officiating by the replacements — and a blown call in Monday's Packers-Seahawks game — there were few, if any, problems as the Ravens beat the Browns for the ninth straight time.
However, Ventrone said the Ravens got away with some "extracurricular stuff." He declined to provide any specifics, but thought the Ravens were targeting Cleveland's secondary. Safety T.J. Ward injured his thumb and safety Usama Young and cornerback Tashaun Gipson sustained knee injuries.
"There was just stuff that was happening after the play, during the play," said Ventrone, the Browns' special teams dynamo who is playing despite recently undergoing surgery on a badly broken thumb. "There was some unnecessary stuff that was happening to our defensive backs most specifically."
It's not unusual for the Browns and Ravens to play a hard-hitting game, given their shared history and heated rivalry inside the rugged AFC North. Ventrone said there has been some questionable play in the past, but not as much as in this meeting.
"I don't want to get into specifics just 'cause I don't want to be the guy to stir the pot," said Ventrone, who was only on the field for four defensive snaps. "But I'm just saying I think they were doing a lot of extracurricular stuff."
Ventrone stopped short of saying the Ravens' aggressiveness and outside-the-rules actions resulted in any injuries to the Browns.
"No one was hurt by any of the stuff," Ventrone said. "Thank God. But I think there were some cheap shots for sure."
Ventrone also felt the Ravens were innocent of anything illegal when Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs was laid out on a punt return in the first quarter. Cribbs was struck by Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who drilled Cribbs in the side of the helmet, sending it and the ball flying.
Cribbs' head slammed to the turf and he was accidentally kicked in the face by one of the Ravens as players on both teams scrambled for the loose ball.
Ventrone, who served as a captain for the game, doesn't believe the hit was malicious, but he couldn't speak for what happened after it.
"It was a good hit and it forced a fumble," said Ventrone, who has been with the Browns since 2009. "I don't know about the stuff that happened once he was on the ground. I didn't really see the replay that close, so I can't really pass judgment. I couldn't tell, but I hope it wasn't on purpose."
Cribbs sustained a concussion and sat out the remainder of the game. Browns coach Pat Shurmur said Cribbs returned home on the team flight and is recovering from the scary hit that had players from both teams kneeling in prayer on the field as he was being treated.
"Josh is doing well today, much better than you might expect," Shurmur said.
The hit on Cribbs was violent, but Shurmur didn't think it was illegal.
"It was a good hard hit," he said. "I don't know if I have a problem with it. I don't like the fact Josh got hurt, but I'll leave it at that."
Cleveland and Baltimore play again on Nov. 4, and it's a safe bet that Ventrone's comments will resurface in the days leading up to that game.
The Browns have to hope they've got their first win by then. The only winless team in its conference, Cleveland has been competitive in its four losses but has yet to close out a game and has lost 10 straight under Shurmur dating to last season.
Progress is being made, it just hasn't shown up in the win column.
Shurmur, though, has been encouraged by his team's effort and improvement. When a reporter began his question by mentioning that no 0-4 team has ever made the playoffs, Shurmur quickly spun things positively.
"It's no doom and gloom here," he said. "We're fighting in this next 10-day stretch to do what we can do to go to New York and beat the Giants. That's what we're doing. Then we add them up at the end and see where we are."
Right now, the Browns have no margin for error. Every mistake is magnified. Every penalty is painful. They're not good enough to overcome self-inflicted errors, and they're not deep enough to absorb many injuries.
Although they were missing wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and Cribbs as well as star cornerback Joe Haden, serving the third of his four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy, the Browns took the Ravens down to the last play. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden's final pass was high and way out of the end zone, dropping Cleveland to 1-13 in its last 14 games.
There were encouraging signs, but not enough to add up to a victory.
"It's progress," cornerback Dimitri Patterson said. "At the end of the day, no one gives the Browns any chance week in and week out. No one gave us any chance last night. Obviously we lost, but I think people feel a little differently about us after that game.
"We were in it."
Notes: Shurmur said Ward's thumb may need further evaluation but he expects him to play next week against the Giants. ... Shurmur bemoaned more dropped passes, a two-year epidemic for the Browns. He said the team continues to work with WR Greg Little behind the scenes on his catching. Little dropped a potential TD against the Ravens. ... Browns K Phil Dawson's three FGs of at least 50 yards tied the league's single-game record. He has 11 FGs of more than 50 in his last 17 games. "He's amazing," Shurmur said.