AFC North: Browns-Ravens

Ravens flying under the radar

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
10:51
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

 
 Greg Fiume/Getty Images
 Baltimore's Ed Reed returns an interception for a touchdown in Sunday's 28-10 win over Cleveland.

BALTIMORE -- There is a new darkhorse contender in the AFC North, and it's not the team everyone expected.

Enter the 2008 Baltimore Ravens.

Perhaps you've heard of them.

Baltimore has the same core group that went 13-3 two years ago but was set back by injuries last season. The Ravens are healthy again and have pounded two division rivals on their way to a surprising first-place standing in the AFC North.

The Ravens made a major statement while all but eliminating Cleveland, the expected darkhorse, from contention with a 28-10 victory Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Baltimore (2-0) remains undefeated while Cleveland (0-3) has virtually no shot of winning the division and a slim chance of making the postseason, which many expected from the Browns after they posted 10 wins in 2007.

Sunday also marked a measure of revenge for the Ravens, who were 5-11 last season and swept by a then up-and-coming Cleveland team.

"They kicked us while we were down last year..." Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "We heard them talking. We heard them say how we have an old defense and we can't get back to form."

The Ravens have flown under the radar. They entered the season with quarterback concerns, a rookie head coach, and aging stars such as linebacker Ray Lewis and defensive backs Chris McAlister and Ed Reed.

Yet the Ravens have responded with two convincing wins in which their star players have stepped up in crucial moments.

Down 10-7 at halftime against Cleveland, Lewis had a jarring hit on Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. that knocked the ball loose and was intercepted by McAlister. That set up a Ravens touchdown in the third quarter. Then Reed followed up on the ensuing Cleveland drive by intercepting Derek Anderson's pass in stride and returning it 32 yards for Baltimore's second touchdown of the quarter.

Those two plays sealed the game.

Now the Ravens have an unexpected marquee matchup in prime time against the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) on "Monday Night Football" on Sept. 29.

"A lot of guys overlooked us and we kind of knew it," Baltimore defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "But we will slowly move up and get on people's map. We knew how it felt last year (to lose), and we don't want to be in that situation again."

Sunday was not a good day for the quarterbacks.

Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and Anderson combined for five interceptions. Anderson had an abysmal passer rating of 22.9; Flacco's rating was 47.8.

But Baltimore's defense played at a much higher level and held Cleveland's once high-powered offense scoreless in the second half.

Reed's interception return gave the Ravens a 21-10 lead, and from there the Browns were forced to throw the ball nearly every down. Anderson only completed 14 of 37 passes. He was intercepted three times and sacked five times.

"Whenever we get a lead, the sharks are going to feast," Scott said of his defense.

After blowing a must-win game, the Browns now have some major issues to address.

Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel said that he's going to look at "all positions" heading into a Week 4 game against the winless Cincinnati Bengals (0-3). Many are wondering if that includes the quarterback, although Crennel refused to single out any one position.

In addition to Anderson's poor play, Cleveland gave up 151 rushing yards and the offensive line again did not play up to the same level it did in 2007.

"We're not a very good football team," Crennel said. "I don't know whether we're trying to live on the success we had last year, but it's not working. So we're going to have to do a lot better or this thing is really going to get away from us."

It might be too late.

The odds are definitely stacked against Cleveland to finish with a winning record. And with poor play on both sides of the football, the Browns so far have shown no ability to handle their lofty expectations.

The Browns still have four primetime games on national television in what is quickly shaping up to be an ugly season.

"That's what happens when you win -- the next year you are crowned the media darlings," Scott said. "But when you are crowned the darlings, you also put a huge bull's-eye on your chest. Now everybody else knows that and they're going to get up to play you.

"That organization has struggled for some years. They enjoyed some success, but you have to understand it's easy to compete when the whole world is against you. But when everybody is patting you on the back, then what do you do?"

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 28, Browns 10

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
7:30
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BALTIMORE -- The season of great expectations has swiftly turned into a nightmare for the Cleveland Browns.

A team expected to do damage in the AFC fell to 0-3 on the season after getting pounded on the road Sunday, 28-10, at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens.

Big plays in the third quarter sealed the victory for Baltimore. After Cleveland took a 10-7 lead at intermission, the Ravens scored on back-to-back possessions following a pair of interceptions from Browns quarterback Derek Anderson. The second pick was returned 32 yards for a score by Ravens safety Ed Reed.

Anderson tossed three interceptions in the game, leading to questions of whether his time as a starter is up.

The Ravens (2-0) are now riding high with two early division wins and will have a high-profile matchup against Pittsburgh Steelers next week on Monday Night Football. Cleveland will travel to play the Cincinnati Bengals (0-3) in a battle of winless teams at the bottom of the division.

Also, there was a update in the second half on Ravens safety Dawan Landry, who was carted off the field in the second quarter. A CT scan later revealed that Landry was OK after taking a hit on the helmet from Browns tailback Jamal Lewis. Landry has full control of his extremities, according to the Ravens.

Turnovers provides big lead for Ravens

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
6:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BALTIMORE--Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis can still bring it.

Lewis provided further proof that he is still relevant with a jarring hit of Cleveland Browns tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. that resulted in an interception and eventual touchdown to give the Ravens a 14-10 lead.

Winslow went over the middle for a catch and met Lewis at the same time the ball arrived. The impact of Lewis' blow made the ball pop out.   Cornerback Chris McAlister retrieved it and returned to the 12-yard-line.

Baltimore fullback La'Ron McClain scored on a one-yard touchdown run four plays later to give the team its first lead of the game.

Anderson followed on the next possession with a bad throw directly to safety Ed Reed, who jumped in front of Braylon Edwards and returned it 32 yards for the score and a 21-10 lead.

Browns lead Ravens, 10-7 at halftime

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
5:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BALTIMORE--We have another close game in the AFC North as the Cleveland Browns lead the Baltimore Ravens 10-7 at intermission.

Here are a few halftime observations:

* The Browns are daring Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to beat them defensively. Cleveland is giving up a lot of short throws but remain ready to pounce on anything over 12-15 yards. Both interceptions have come on downfield passes where Flacco took a chance for longer gains.

* Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson has had success against Baltimore in the past, and so far he's played his best half of the 2008 season. Anderson completed 9-of-20 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. His score came on a 19-yard screen pass to backup tailback Jerome Harrison.

* Baltimore tailback Willis McGahee looks decent in his first game of the year following knee surgery. McGahee has 10 carries for 37 yards and a touchdown. On his 5-yard score, McGahee broke a tackle in the backfield and marched in the end zone.

* The Browns are short on offensive linemen with guards Eric Steinbach (shoulder) and Ryan Tucker (hip) both inactive today. So far starters Seth McKinney and Rex Hadnot have played well. But the unit's depth will be something to monitor in the second half as players start to wear down.

* Ravens starting safety Dawan Landry suffered a neck injury towards the end of the second quarter and was carted off the field. It was announced in the press box that Landry has movement in all of his extremities.

Harrison gets Browns going

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
4:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BALTIMORE -- The Cleveland Browns have a lead for the first time in the 2008 season.

Backup tailback Jerome Harrison caught a 19-yard screen pass from quarterback Derek Anderson to give Cleveland a 7-0 lead over the Baltimore Ravens.

The scoring drive was sparked after an interception by linebacker D'Qwell Jackson off Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco that gave Cleveland a short field. Anderson, who generally plays well against Baltimore, was 4-of-4 passing for 40 yards during the seven-play, 52-yard scoring drive.

Hochuli working to rebound in Baltimore

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
4:00
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Ed Hochuli will be on duty for the Browns-Ravens game in Baltimore.

BALTIMORE -- NFL referee Ed Hochuli is not feeling too good these days after blowing a major call that helped determine the outcome of last week's game between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos.

But Sunday could be the start of the 19-year veteran's personal rebuilding phase.

Hochuli is officiating today's AFC North contest between the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens at 4:15 p.m. He's been scorned by a lot of media and Chargers' faithful this past week following a bad call on a fumble late from Denver quarterback Jay Cutler that was ruled an incomplete pass in the Broncos' 39-38 win.

The only way Hochuli can move past this is to go out today and call a good game, which he has done repeatedly for nearly two decades. If Hochuli goes unnoticed, it will be a good day for himself and the rest of the NFL officiating community.

Browns-Ravens key inactives

September, 21, 2008
9/21/08
3:20
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

BALTIMORE -- Cleveland Browns Pro Bowl guard Eric Steinbach (shoulder), receiver Donte' Stallworth (quad) and Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington (neck) and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg (knee) are the biggest names on the inactive list, which was just released for today's 4:15 p.m. game.

Stallworth has yet to play this season after injuring himself in warm-ups before the regular-season opener against the Dallas Cowboys. Steinbach suffered his shoulder injury last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Washington was doubtful all of last week. Gregg is still nursing a knee injury and may sit out next week as well.

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