Ravens come from behind, sweep Browns

CLEVELAND -- Ray Lewis huddled the Baltimore Ravens around him by the bench in the third quarter, authoritatively forecasting a victory even though they trailed the Cleveland Browns by two touchdowns. "I told each of them to look me in the eyes," Lewis said. "I told them we were going to win the game, and how we were going to do it. We have to believe that."

It was a prescient statement from the star middle linebacker. And this might ultimately be counted as the day that a traditionally weak offense finally became an equal partner with their dominant defensive colleagues.

The Ravens (5-3) scored 24 unanswered points Sunday to topple the Browns, 37-27, behind breakthrough games from rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and rookie running back Ray Rice. Winning their third consecutive game and sweeping the season series with Cleveland (3-5) brings Baltimore to within a half-game of tying the Pittsburgh Steelers for first place in the AFC North.

Touchdowns from fullback Le'Ron McClain and wide receiver Derrick Mason tied the score. Matt Stover's third field goal of the day represented the game-winner. And outside linebacker Terrell Suggs put the exclamation point on the win with his 42-yard interception return for an insurance touchdown in the final minutes.

"You've got to tip your hat to the offense, amazing what they did," Suggs said. "They put up 14 points fast when we were down. They scored twice and you could feel the sense of team being formed, what we've been searching for all these years.

"You've definitely got to respect Ray Lewis, hands down the greatest general, the greatest leader. When we were down, he told the entire team, 'We're going to win this game.' You could see the truth in his eyes."

The balance of an emerging offense was obvious, too.

The Ravens piled up a season-high 429 yards of total offense as a composed Flacco completed 17 of 29 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 109.6 quarterback rating.

"I think the defense is more proud of what the offense did today than the offense is," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

And Rice filled in more than ably for ailing starter Willis McGahee, who was sidelined with a sprained ankle. He bolted for a season-high 154 yards on 21 carries.

On an electrifying 60-yard run, Rice dashed up the right sideline down to the Browns' 3-yard line when he was pushed out of bounds. The sprint set up Stover's deciding 22-yard field goal for a 30-27 lead.

"Ray did a great job out there, he ran tough, especially the last run," Mason said. "Ray just kept running the ball. If you run hard and continue to stay with your technique, you'll bust one and Ray busted one at the end."

Rice was simply too quick for the Browns' linebackers, cutting back against pursuit to locate his holes and adeptly following his blocks as the offensive line did a decent job of walling off massive nose guard Shaun "Big Baby" Rogers in the second half.

The long run from the former Rutgers star was pivotal to the Ravens' cause.

"We called the play, and the hole opened up," Rice said. "As a running back, you always want a one-on-one. Your eyes get big when you see that hole. They close up a lot quicker in the NFL. That was one of the turning points.

"I can't say that I was surprised. I do a great job of studying and watching. When it is my turn, I'm ready. It surprises me with how many people are rallying behind you even if you make a bad play."

Flacco was especially commanding, avoiding turnovers and firing accurate spirals. His 47-yard rainbow bomb landed in diving wide receiver Mark Clayton's outstretched hands for a touchdown that staked Baltimore to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

"I think we did a great job of getting what we wanted," Flacco said. "We had a chance to get them over the top for a touchdown. That was pretty big."

Operating the no-huddle in the fourth quarter, Flacco stayed on the attack. He went after cornerback Eric Wright on a stop-and-turn pattern.

Wright couldn't stop his momentum, though, falling to the ground as Mason turned and burned for a 28-yard touchdown catch that tied the score. Mason caught nine passes for 136 yards.

"They came with an all-out blitz, and Joe found me wide open," Mason said. "As wideouts, we're taught that as soon as you get the ball in your hands, turn up the field. Typically, when you turn up the field, good things happen. When you start dancing, nothing good happens."

With the defense shutting down running back Jamal Lewis to limit him to 49 rushing yards on 19 carries for a 2.6 average and backup cornerbacks Frank Walker and Fabian Washington filling in capably for injured starters Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, the Browns had just 274 yards of total offense and converted only 2 of 12 third downs.

Suggs' big play definitely finished the Browns off, prompting chants of 'Brady! Brady!" from the stands for popular backup quarterback Brady Quinn as he intercepted Derek Anderson's errant screen pass intended for running back Jason Wright. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata pressured Anderson on the play, obscuring his view of a charging Suggs.

Silent for most of the game as Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas stonewalled him at the line of scrimmage, Suggs' timing was perfect as he anticipated the play and rumbled untouched for his second touchdown of the season on an interception. Afterward, he rubbed it in in front of the Dawg Pound cheering section with an emphatic spike and dance.

"I thought screen all the way," Suggs said. "We're an aggressive defense, and that's probably one of the plays that we can make. I rushed the passer the play before, and I saw him talking to himself.

"In a game-time situation, what can he possibly be talking about? I kind of just baited him, and he threw it right to me just like the last guy."

It took a supreme effort for the Ravens to win this one, overcoming Pro Bowl return specialist Joshua Cribbs' 92-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and his 278 total return yards. Cribbs shook off rookie safety and Cleveland native Haruki Nakamura and Stover and avoided a diving Corey Ivy on his way to the end zone.

"The guy is hard to bring down," Harbaugh said.

The Browns had won three of their four games heading into Sunday, but had few answers for Flacco and an improving offense.

A key second-half drop from wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who scored earlier in the game when he wrestled the ball away from Walker in the end zone for a 28-yard score, on a great throw from Anderson hurt Cleveland's chances, too.

Following Wright's third-quarter touchdown on a seven-yard pass from Anderson, Flacco marched the Ravens 79 yards before McClain plunged in from one yard out to bring the Ravens to within seven points of tying the game.

Return specialist Yamon Figurs' 23-yard punt return to the Browns' 42-yard line set up Mason's touchdown.

"That's a happy locker room," Harbaugh said. "I couldn't be prouder to be the coach of the Baltimore Ravens."

For a change, it was an equal locker room.

The offense held up its end of the bargain this time instead of just relying on the defense. This time, they bailed the defense out.

"No matter what happened out there and it wasn't pretty, you see us coming together as a team," center Jason Brown said. "Somehow, someway, we're going to find a way to get the job done.

"What happened out there is us sticking together and overcoming that adversity. That's very tough to do in this league, but it's such a great learning experience. We can build from it and put this in our bank and keep growing."

BALTIMORE RAVENS' REPORT CARD

QUARTERBACK: A-minus

Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco delivered the football with excellent timing and accuracy, connecting with Mark Clayton for a deep touchdown pass and Derrick Mason for a pivotal fourth-quarter score that tied the game. He also showed a solid grasp of the Browns' coverage schemes, completing 17 of 29 passes for 248 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions for a 109.6 quarterback rating. The double-quarterback "Suggs package" was a dud, though, generating little yardage and getting backup quarterback Troy Smith decked by linebacker Willie McGinest on an option run.

RUNNING BACK: A

Rookie second-round pick Ray Rice had a breakthrough game, rushing for a career-high 154 yards on 21 carries with starter Willis McGahee sidelined with a sprained ankle. Rice's 60-yard sideline jaunt in the fourth quarter set up kicker Matt Stover's game-winning field goal. The former Rutgers star's shiftiness in the open field was on display all game long as his moves, quickness and leg drive were impressive. Fullback Le'Ron McClain bulled in for a third-quarter touchdown run.

RECEIVER: B-plus

Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton both had especially strong games. Mason caught nine passes for 136 yards and a touchdown, continuing to confound young cornerbacks with his crisp route-running and outstanding hands. Clayton had a 47-yard touchdown on a fly pattern, catching four passes for 87 yards. Former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap was a non-factor again, catching no passes and committing two false-start penalties.

OFFENSIVE LINE: B-plus.

Joe Flacco had sufficient time to throw for the most part, and was sacked just twice. Massive nose guard Shaun "Big Baby" Rogers was too much for the Ravens to handle at the line of scrimmage at times, manhandling blockers. The line opened up some big holes for Ray Rice as Baltimore gained 193 yards on the ground on 41 carries for a 4.7 average per attempt.

DEFENSIVE LINE: B

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata got in Browns quarterback Derek Anderson's face, obscuring his view on an errant screen pass returned 42 yards for a touchdown by Terrell Suggs. Except for defensive end Trevor Pryce's early sack, they were far too quiet on the pass rush for most of the game as Anderson had plenty of time to find his receivers at key junctures for two touchdown passes. They were rock-solid against the run, shutting down running back Jamal Lewis. Plus, there were a few obvious holding calls that were missed.

LINEBACKER: B-plus

Bart Scott was extremely sound, leading the team with 10 tackles. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had a quiet game against Browns tackle Joe Thomas, but waited until the end to make his biggest play of the game as his interception return for a touchdown closed out the game. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis helped limit Jamal Lewis to 49 rushing yards on 19 carries for a 2.6 average. The Ravens have now gone an NFL-high 27 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

SECONDARY: B

Despite missing both of their top two cornerbacks due to injuries with Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle sidelined, the Ravens did a good job in coverage. While Derek Anderson threw two touchdown passes, it was debatable whether Braylon Edwards had control of the ball on his score against Frank Walker. Fabian Washington gutted it out when his right shoulder flared up. The Ravens kept Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow from breaking the game open. Corey Ivy caused a fumble that Evan Oglesby recovered in the first half.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F

Special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg's unit was shaky, allowing Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs to return a kickoff 92 yards for a score as poor spacing in coverage lanes and missed tackles by Haruki Nakamura and kicker Matt Stover let Cribbs reach the end zone ahead of a diving Corey Ivy. Cribbs set up a third-quarter touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards with a 32-yard punt return. Cribbs finished with 237 yards on seven kickoff returns, a 33.9 average per return with a 13.7 average on three punt returns. Although he had a 23-yard punt return that led to a touchdown pass, Yamon Figurs inexplicably ran backwards on another punt return.

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


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