Ravens taking on desperate Browns

OWINGS MILLS -- The drama surrounding the Baltimore Ravens' bizarre overtime loss to the Cleveland Browns a year ago may be rivaled in a different way by the circumstances involved in today's rematch. More later on the desperation of the winless Browns, though.

Ten months ago, the Ravens absorbed a painful 33-30 loss as Phil Dawson's 51-yard field goal with three seconds left in regulation clanged off the left upright, descended over the crossbar and ricocheted off the support post and back onto the field as the football landed in the end zone.

Initially, the officials ruled it no good. While the Ravens celebrated an apparent victory in the locker room with several players taking off their cleats and pads, the officiating crew huddled on the field and inquired whether the kick was reviewable and ultimately reversed the call to send the game into overtime.

The Ravens never recovered from the emotional kick in the gut.

"Yeah, I talked about it in the offseason, you can do that when you don't have any playoffs," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I was like, 'What about in basketball when the shot goes in and then it rolls out? It's no good, right?' That's just what I thought happened."

A deflated Baltimore team was dispatched in overtime on another Dawson field goal, and the chain of events led to NFL owners passing a rule at the annual league meetings to make field goals and extra points reviewable by instant replay. Depending on whether you're from Cleveland or Baltimore, it's either unofficially called the "Dawson Rule" or the "Ravens Rule."

"You don't even call that bad luck," center Jason Brown said. "It's just as if the football gods are against you. We just hope and pray that they're with us this year and that things will go in our favor."

Now, the Ravens (1-0) are hoping to harness the discontent from being swept by the Browns a year ago and use the unexpected rest due to a postponed game against the Houston Texans due to Hurricane Ike to stomp the winless Browns into an 0-3 hole.

"This is a game that we have to win, and I'm pretty sure that's the same mindset that they have as well," wide receiver Derrick Mason said, "that they have to win this game."

The Browns entered the season hyped nationally as a strong contender with some national media outlets even branding them as a darkhorse Super Bowl pick.

However, they've looked extremely suspect so far as a revamped defense hasn't been able to stop the run despite the addition of big defensive linemen Shaun "Big Baby" Rogers and Corey Williams.

With their top cornerback, Leigh Bodden, traded to the Detroit Lions to get Rogers, the Browns allowed Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to combine for 506 yards on 70.6 percent accuracy for two touchdowns, one interception and a 107.1 quarterback rating.

Still, the Ravens aren't taking the Browns for granted.

"They faced one team that's picked to come out of the NFC with a great defense and they faced another team that's the defending AFC North champion," Suggs said. "I think they ran up against some good teams and came up with the short end of the stick. Just because they're 0-2, they're not to be taken lightly.

"There's extra in this game because they whipped our [butts] twice. You just don't recover from that. You don't sleep well at night when a team beats you two times. That's why they're more oomph on our side this year, and they're trying to get their season to snowball, especially the way they started."

The Browns' passing game is off-kilter as former Baltimore quarterback Derek Anderson has looked streaky with one touchdown and two interceptions while Pro Bowl wide receiver Braylon Edwards has dropped as many passes as he's caught.

In his first dozen games last season on his way to the Pro Bowl, Anderson completed 57.3 percent of his throws for 24 touchdowns and 13 interceptions and an 87.7 quarterback rating.

In his past six starts, Anderson has completed just 47.5 percent for six touchdowns and eight interceptions with a 57.8 rating over that span.

Anderson completed 24 of 38 passes for 274 yards and ran for a touchdown in the overtime win last season. He hooked up with Edwards for a long touchdown pass on a pump-and-go pattern in the first meeting last year as he completed 10 of 19 passes for 204, two touchdowns, one interception and a 109.5 rating.

"All I know is what he did the last time he faced us," Suggs said. "I don't know about his streakies and how he did his last couple games, but I think he had some pretty good games against us. That's the only thing I can really go off."

The Browns have scored just one touchdown.

Despite the Browns' struggles, the Ravens are wary of the danger of allowing a hungry team to right its season against them.

"It's a storied rivalry," tight end Todd Heap said. "Obviously, they've got an attitude about them with how the first couple of weeks have gone. We've got to be prepared for that."

The Ravens feature the NFL's top-ranked defense, allowing the least passing yards and fourth-least rushing yards per contest.

They have yet to allow a touchdown.

In the view of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, he sees a Browns offense headlined by Anderson, burly former Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis, Edwards, athletic tight end Kellen Winslow and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas. Not the downtrodden unit that's currently ranked 30th in the league.

"They have the same players they had last year," Ryan said. "Hey, we know who they are. They know who we are. I'm not worried about Cleveland, to be honest with you, as far as if they're struggling or whatever. "I see a team with six Pro Bowl offensive players. They may think they're going to get well against us, but they'll have the best test they've had all year because I think our defense is better than those other two defenses."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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