Ravens are relevant again

CLEVELAND -- Emerging from the long shadow cast by his doubters, Chris Redman is beginning to bear a striking resemblance to a quality NFL quarterback. Consider the credibility barrier broken. Now, Redman is shooting for honor roll and stratosphere status after the limited experience of three passes before this season. Winners answer the bell for a heavyweight fight. Winners lead the huddle for a first-place football team. Winners play according to the coaching staff's teachings.

With another stunning victory on the national stage, Redman and the Baltimore Ravens are defying the gloomy expectations they were tagged with during preseason forecasts. In a 26-21 nail-biting win Sunday night, Redman and one of the youngest teams in league history confounded the Cleveland Browns.

Between Redman's artful passing, Jamal Lewis' top Bionic Man imitation and All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis' intimidation factor, the Ravens managed to initially petrify the overrated, tentative Cleveland Browns without the benefit of any Halloween fright mask.

Yes, the AFC North is a shambles, but people might want to rethink that rebuilding campaign after turning the Browns into an inept operation for the majority of the night.

For at least one contest, Redman lived up to every endorsement given him by the late Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas, a fellow Louisville alum.

Redman's spirals to receiver Brandon Stokley for two touchdowns showed the kind of touch and faith born through devotion to post-practice rituals of throw-and-catch.

Redman put the football exactly where it had to be thrown: where only Stokley could come down with it. His frequent golf partner and close chum kept the Browns' secondary guessing with his sharp routes.

Expect Stokley's diving catch for a 35-yard score to become an instant staple on NFL Films highlight reels. Stokley sprinted through the end zone and Redman lofted the ball just high enough to give him a chance.

Raven Nation's drum beat for Jeff Blake has been silenced. Check out Redman's statistical line: 19 of 30 accuracy for 208 yards and two scores.

"Chris has other young players around him making just as many mistakes," Ravens personnel boss Ozzie Newsome said in a conference call days before kickoff. "So, they're all coming along together. He's accurate. He stands in the pocket and takes it. He has a lot of poise."

The Ravens and Redman are far from perfect, but they give maximum effort. They appear to be buying into Brian Billick's message of not being awed or satisfied with one landmark victory over the Denver Broncos.

Yes, the Ravens fell apart late after building a 23-0 lead. Still, they ultimately weathered the storm of the Browns' furious comeback try with rookie Ed Reed's interception.

Jamal Lewis is officially back, tying a career-high with 187 rushing yards set during the Super Bowl season against the Dallas Cowboys. By virtue of his revived breakaway speed, the Ravens have a running game which allows Redman to execute the playbook.

It's probably too soon to believe the Ravens are a true contender once more. Yet, they are looking relevant again after all of that salary-cap carnage.

Instead of anticipating another tiresome quarterback search and $15 to $25 million of salary cap space next spring, the Ravens are focused on an unexpected title race.


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