AFC North Report

<b>BALTIMORE RAVENS</b><p> Instant replay didn't cost Brian Billick in Sunday's 26-6 win over the Denver Broncos, but the Ravens coach continued his tirade on the system in his Monday news conference.

Billick's anger centers on Denver's replay challenge that took an 11-yard touchdown away from tight end Todd Heap. From the replays, the officials said there was definitive proof that Heap - who lost his helmet in the end-zone collision with linebacker Al Wilson - had lost possession of the ball.

"The idea of instant replay was to remove the egregious error and I don't know if that's happening," said Billick, who had a more expletive-laden rant after Sunday's game. "I am among those group of people - and that number is growing based on the phone calls I've gotten today from coaches around the league - if indeed this is put to a vote in the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens will vote no to keeping instant replay in its current form."

Billick, whose Ravens remain in first place in the AFC North, has only won one of four challenges this season while opposing coaches have won one of their two challenges against the Ravens. His only correct challenge came two weeks ago in Cincinnati, when the officials reversed their call and gave Heap a 24-yard reception.

"The league says the officials are right over 90 percent of the time on the call from the field," Billick said. "Maybe it's better if we just live with that."

Billick, though, said he doesn't foresee getting fined by the league for his comments.

"I've seen that floating around," Billick said. "Believe me, the fine that I'm getting at home and from my mother is adding up. I did not criticize an official. I did not criticize the league. I can't imagine it that being a fineable offense."

The Ravens are 4-3 and atop their division, which is a tribute to the direction of Billick. The rest of the coaching staff is hitting on all eight cylinders also. Against the Broncos, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh managed his best game of the season and effectively used the play action. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan rotated between three and four-man fronts to contain RB Clinton Portis and put pressure on QB Danny Kanell.

Boller, Lewis get the job done
Kyle Boller didn't seem too limited by a mild sprained left (non-throwing) shoulder. The rookie quarterback was efficient in completing 55 percent of his throws (15 of 27) with no interceptions and no fumbles. The Ravens weren't able to stretch the field and need to deliver more big plays after recording one completion over 16 yards. Receiver Frank Sanders made his biggest impact this season, converting two third downs.

Gaining 100 yards has become virtually automatic for running back Jamal Lewis, who cracked that mark for the sixth straight game. With 134 yards, he is 23 yards shy of 1,000 for the season. This time, the yards were hard fought for Lewis against a defense that hadn't allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. Before his 28-yard touchdown run, he averaged 3.4 yards on his first 31 carries.

Control freaks
The Ravens almost had as many yards on interception returns by Ray Lewis and Gary Baxter (71) as the Broncos had passing yards (114). Third-string quarterback Danny Kanell looked like he had been out of football for two years, consistently overthrowing receivers and finishing 16 of 31. Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister took receiver Rod Smith out of the game, holding him to four receptions for 23 yards. Peter Boulware recorded his first sacks of the season.

Controlling Denver running back Clinton Portis (86 yards on 22 carries) was key to the Ravens' victory. Take away Portis' meaningless 17-yarder in the final minute of the game and the Ravens limited Portis to 3.3 yards per carry. Over the past month, the Ravens have held Portis, Priest Holmes and Corey Dillon to 90 yards or less.

Got it covered
After missing wide right on a 45-yard field-goal attempt, the Ravens' Matt Stover converted from 25, 39, 22 and 29 yards. Denver punter Micah Knorr only netted 32.8 yards on his five punts, helping the Ravens win the field-position battle. Dedric Ward, who replaced Lamont Brightful as the Ravens' punt returner, added a little spark with a 16-yard return but finished with an 8.7-yard average. Once again, the Ravens were excellent on coverage teams.

Ravens Quick Hits

  • Cornerback Corey Fuller strained his hamstring as well as his groin in the fourth quarter and did not return. Ravens coach Brian Billick said the team did not know the extent of his injury but the veteran would be re-evaluated Wednesday. Fuller walked without a limp in the locker room Monday.
  • Punt returner Dedric Ward has officially replaced Lamont Brightful and will continue to field punts for the next couple of weeks, according to coach Brian Billick. Ward could also surpass Marcus Robinson as the team's third receiver.
  • Punt returner Lamont Brightful has lost his job to Dedric Ward, according to coach Brian Billick. Brightful could see time in the Ravens' nickel package if cornerback Corey Fuller's hamstring injury lingers.
  • Receiver Marcus Robinson has continued to struggle dropping passes and could be surpassed by Dedric Ward as the team's third receiver.
  • Tight end Todd Heap complained of a sore neck after taking a hard hit in the end zone in the second quarter. He played the rest of the game but could be listed on the injury report this week.

Quote to Note
"Jamal (Lewis) came up to me in the first quarter and said, 'Throw a couple downfield to take the pressure off of me.' He's exactly right: the more that we can complete downfield, the more lanes we're going to open for him. Teams are going to be in trouble if we can work on both sides of the ball." - Quarterback Kyle Boller on the Ravens' offense, which produced 151 yards rushing and 137 yards passing.


There will be no letdown or looking past 2-5 Arizona for Bengals coach Marvin Lewis and his players. Asked about the game, in which a victory would even their record at 4-4, Lewis and some of his players almost laughed at the thought of them taking the Cardinals lightly.

"Both teams had each other circled," Lewis said. "They circled us and said, `Oh, here come the Bengals, circle that W'."

"They obviously played a fine game yesterday to beat the 49ers. We have not accomplished anything yet, so we have no reason to be overconfident."

Middle linebacker Kevin Hardy said the Bengals have many unmet goals, and the 27-24 upset of Seattle on Sunday was just one step toward a possible division title.

"We're still 3-4," Hardy said. "Granted, we've won two in a row, but I don't know how we can be overconfident in the state we're in."

"You just keep pounding in how important each game is. Arizona is probably in the same boat we are, people think they can just come in and chalk it up as a win. They probably got overlooked by San Francisco. The same is true of us. People have been looking at us like that. We can't overlook anybody."

Winning the war in the trenches
Jon Kitna threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions. Chad Johnson had a 53-yard touchdown pass for the game winner. The line allowed just two sacks.

With Corey Dillon inactive, backup Rudi Johnson ran for a career high 101 yards and one touchdown. Wide receiver Peter Warrick had a 50-yard run on an end around to set up a touchdown. The offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage against a depleted Seattle defense, and many of Johnson's yards were behind right tackle Willie Anderson. The 180 total rushing yards were a season high.

Coordinator Bob Bratkowski keeps calling solid games that make the most of Jon Kitna's talent. Perhaps most telling was Lewis' scolding of wide receiver Chad Johnson after an unsportsmanlike penalty for a throat-slash gesture in the end zone. Lewis got his point across in a teaching moment without losing track of the game.

When it counts
The defense allowed some big plays, but when the game was on the line in the fourth quarter and they were clinging to a three-point lead, the Bengals defense had two interceptions on balls tipped at the line. The Bengals had three interceptions total (to go along with two fumble recoveries, both of which were forced against the Seattle pass offense). The line had good pressure on Matt Hasselbeck through most of the second half.

Hometown hero Shaun Alexander had 86 yards on the ground, but with a long of just 23, the Bengals did a good job of containing him on all but one drive. Lewis and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier moved a safety up into the box to slow down Alexander and the Seattle rushing game in the second half .

Off day
The punting game was inconsistent, and Shayne Graham, though he was perfect on two field goal attempts, had a bad day kicking off. His kickoffs were short, and one went out of bounds. Only the five Seattle turnovers kept the Seahawks off the scoreboard, given their outstanding field position.

Bengals Quick Hits

  • TE Reggie Kelly was on crutches Monday after injuring his left foot against Seattle. The Bengals are not releasing injury information, though Kelly said he had had an MRI but did not yet know the results.
  • WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh (hamstring) missed his seventh game but could make his debut against Arizona if he has no further setbacks.
  • RB Corey Dillon (groin strain) is expected to be back in better health for Sunday's game at Arizona after a traffic accident prevented him from getting to the stadium on time to have his status evaluated for the Seattle game.
  • SS Marquand Manuel was limited in the second half by a hamstring injury but still managed to get on the field, call signals and block to Seahawks rushers on the Bengals final punt of the day, which pinned the Seahawks deep in their territory with just three seconds remaining.

Quote to Note
"I'm pleased. We're winning. We're doing just fine. I'm contributing the way coaches want me to contribute. I can sacrifice the catches. Of course, everybody wants to catch the ball, everybody wants to make the plays down the field. Sometimes you have to block. Sometimes that's what you have to do." - Bengals tight end Reggie Kelly, who has nine receptions and is one of three regular tight ends used by the Bengals.


The Cleveland Browns played Sunday's game in New England without William Green and four starters on the offensive line, but the team's problems go beyond the injuries. The offense has scored 14 or fewer points in six of eight games. Twice the defense has given up nine points to teams, both times the Browns lost.

The wide receivers, supposedly a team strength, are not getting open and not making plays, and both quarterbacks - Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb - have been mediocre at best.

Couch and Holcomb have been baffled all season by the Cover-2 schemes that defenses are using against them. Teams are daring the Browns to beat them the short way by dropping deep and taking away big plays to the team's wide receivers. New England played man when it blitzed, but it used a lot of Cover-2 to hold the Browns to one measly field goal.

"I don't know what it is; I really don't," Couch said.

The team's offense lacks an identity. When Green plays, they try to run. When he didn't they couldn't pass.

Couch left the New England locker room with his right hand in a Velcro cast with a sprained right thumb. Holcomb relieved Couch and completed seven of his first eight passes. He completed eight of 17 the rest of the game, and threw for just 60 yards in the second half.

The Browns head into their bye week 3-5 and sinking. Three weeks after the team's best game, a big win in Pittsburgh, the Browns are stumbling badly. The bye couldn't come at a better time.

Give Butch Davis credit for keeping the Browns playing hard even though they have many injuries. The team fights hard every play. But the offense's struggles are baffling, and need to be solved if the Browns are to have a chance at a playoff charge in the second half.

Stopping the run an action item
One week after LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 200 yards on the Browns, Kevin Faulk gained 96 yards. The significance: Faulk is no Tomlinson. Yet time and again, Faulk was able to pick up five, seven, 12 yards when the Patriots needed it. The pass defence allowed Tom Brady to throw for 259 yards, but the Patriots never got near the end zone. Brady's throws moved the Patriots, but the Browns were able to keep him from getting touchdowns.

Browns Quick Hits

  • RB James Jackson got his first start in two years and played well, running for 71 yards in 15 carries. Jackson averaged 4.7 yards per carry, impressive for a backup.
  • WR Quincy Morgan had one catch for two yards in New England. Morgan has just about disappeared from the Browns offense.
  • P Chris Gardocki showed Pro Bowl form in averaging 43.9 yards per kick. His 60-yarder in the fourth quarter came at a vital time, as the Browns were trying to get the ball out from the shadow of their goalpost.

Quote to Note
"Somebody in this division is probably going to make the playoffs at 7-9. The season is not over with." - Safety Earl Little.


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