The entire Baltimore Ravens' secondary, especially both cornerbacks, appear to have every motivation for an encounter with the Browns' talented receiving corps. For reasons extending beyond Baltimore being carved up by Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Tommy Maddox in a 34-15 loss last weekend, a combustible situation is shaping up for Sunday's home opener.
Fuller remains furious after being released by Cleveland last winter just before he was due a $1 million roster bonus. During the previous year, Fuller restructured his contract to allow the Browns to save $1.8 million. Browns coach Butch Davis trimmed $2.6 million from an overloaded salary cap by cutting a popular veteran who was with the expansion Browns since their inception. "The way it went down, it was an injustice," Fuller said. "I don't think I would have been mad if Butch hadn't called me and said, 'I got love for you, but this is business.' When they say it's business, they just stuck it to you. "I think if he had been man enough to say, 'Corey, you're not what I want,' I would have felt lousy, but I could accept it. I was a man of my word from the time I got there."
In the case of McAlister, the Ravens' franchise player was incensed after talkative Steelers wideouts Plaxico Burress and Hines Ward combined for 15 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns. McAlister was also furious last season when quarterback Tim Couch marched the Browns 92 yards in under two minutes without timeouts for a 14-13 win. The game-winning drive included a 28-yard completion to running back Jamel White. McAlister was flagged for a late hit for shoving White out of bounds. Three plays later, Couch capped the drive with a touchdown to tight end Mark Campbell. "What penalty?" McAlister said Wednesday. "What are you talking about? Why do we have to go back to last year? I'm not talking about what happened."
That loss essentially derailed the Ravens' playoff hopes. McAlister was asked if he was studying film of a game that helped propel the Browns toward a wild-card berth. "Yes, I am, but we cut off that last drive," McAlister said. "We're moving forward." Pressed about what could be gleaned from how the game ended, McAlister responded. "Maybe fatigue had something to do with it, or just the simple fact that we thought it was over," McAlister said. All of the Ravens' defenders want to move past last week's lackluster performance.
Maddox passed for 260 yards and three touchdowns for a league-high quarterback rating of 134.3. Two scores came on busted coverages in the third quarter. Fuller strained his quadriceps tackling Burress after a 47-yard catch. By the fourth quarter, McAlister lost his temper and was hit with a personal foul. "Corey's a very solid, competitive corner who's tough to pick on, although he's not a shutdown kind of guy," said Ron Jaworski, an ESPN analyst and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. "McAlister is a shutdown guy with all the talent you need. "His performance has been uneven, and that's the most disappointing thing. At some point, he has to demonstrate some consistency."
The Ravens rank 23rd in the league in total defense, 19th against the pass. A contributing factor: Maddox was only sacked twice and had plenty of time to locate his receivers downfield. "Tommy Maddox got too comfortable," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It's hard for the secondary to cover when we didn't put on any heat back there." The Browns struggled offensively in a 9-6 loss to the Colts, but traditionally feature dangerous receivers including Kevin Johnson and Quincy Morgan. "Pittsburgh doesn't have the best receiving corps we're going to see," McAlister said. "I'm saying [Cleveland] has more receivers you have to worry about and deal with. Better? We'll find out on Sunday."
As for Fuller's divorce from Cleveland, Davis said it was simply a financial decision, not an indicator of any displeasure. "Where he was at the state of his career, we still felt that Corey was a talented player," Davis said. "There were some guys that you probably never would have let go if it just hadn't come down to money problems. You're $25 million over the cap and the league doesn't grant you any annuities." That explanation didn't exactly satisfy Fuller, though. He hasn't forgotten. "I got an award from the press last year and I literally had tears in my eyes because I put in all that time there and for it to go down like that," Fuller said. "Everybody's going to get cut, but the way it went down I thought it was an injustice."
Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times.