Around the AFC North
The Ravens have opened their season by dispatching with two young quarterbacks, Tampa Bay's Chris Simms and Oakland's Andrew Walter.
Next up: Charlie Frye, the Cleveland Browns' second-year starter.
Although it's early in the year, the Ravens have put together their most dominating defense since the 2000 season.
They have totaled six interceptions, three forced fumbles, nine sacks, a touchdown and a safety.
"That's been our winning style for the longest time," said linebacker Adalius Thomas. "It's going out there and setting the tone on defense. We accept that responsibility."
The Ravens haven't given up a touchdown in eight quarters, a span of 27 drives. Oakland's only scores on Sunday came on field goals of 51 and 34 yards.
"They haven't crossed the goal line yet," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "That's something for our defense to hold onto, and something that will continue to motivate us."
The Ravens' defense has had to step up because their offense never did Sunday against the Raiders.
The defense and special teams set the offense up in Oakland territory on six of its first 14 possessions. On those drives, the Ravens came away with four field goals, an interception and a punt.
"It's great that you have a win, but things like that are going to catch up to you," receiver Derrick Mason said. "Our defense played tremendously. But we as an offense, we have to get that old mentality of 'the defense is going to save us' out of heads if we are going to be considered a top-rate offense in the league.
"We have to carry our weight as an offense. We didn't do it this game. We honestly haven't done it the past two games. That's something we have to do as an offense. Hopefully, we can go down to Cleveland next week and get this offense going. If not, hopefully (our defense) can score some points, they can be our offense."
With a defiant defense and a downtrodden offense, the Ravens are looking to go 3-0 for the first time in their team history when they play at the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
It seems like there will be little margin for error if they want to keep pace with their tough AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Anytime you get out of the gate like this, it's always perfect," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You don't want to play from behind and you don't want to play catch up to nobody. You want to control your own destiny. Right now, we have control."
The Ravens improved their record to 2-0 for the first time since 2001, beating the Oakland Raiders, 28-6, with an authoritative defensive effort.
The Ravens tied a franchise record with six turnovers while registering six sacks. The defense also scored for the second straight game, as linebacker Adalius Thomas posted a safety.
The Ravens' offense sputtered for most of the game but scored touchdowns on a one-yard pass to Todd Heap and a late 34-yard run by Mike Anderson.
--LT Jonathan Ogden hyperextended his right knee and sat out the fourth quarter. He limped in the locker room, but he is expected to start.
--LT Adam Terry played the fourth quarter in place of injured LT Jonathan Ogden. Because Ogden is expected to return from a hyperextended knee, Terry will return to backing up both tackles.
--CB Samari Rolle was limited in the second half with a foot injury. X-rays were negative, and Rolle is expected to start Sunday.
--CB Evan Oglesby played for most of the second half with Samari Rolle out with a knee injury. He is expected to return to being the top cornerback backup because Rolle will likely start Sunday.
--QB Steve McNair was erratic in his second start, finishing 16-for-33 for 143 yards. He threw five passes to Todd Heap and Derrick Mason but rarely looked at other targets.
--K Matt Stover has converted 24 straight field goals, the longest streak of his career.
The Bengals are billed as a deep team.
Now that claim will be tested.
Heading into the divisional showdown Sunday at Pittsburgh, the Bengals are likely to be without three starters -- linebacker David Pollack, center Rich Braham and strong safety Dexter Jackson -- all of whom suffered serious injuries during the Bengals' 34-17 victory Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium against Cleveland.
Pollack suffered a neck injury when his head slammed into tailback Reuben Droughns on the second play from scrimmage for the Browns. He spent Sunday night at a Cincinnati hospital. Rashad Jeanty, a three-year CFL veteran, replaced him.
Braham, in his 13th season, went down with a left knee injury in the second quarter. He was taken off on a cart after trying to walk off, and second-year man Eric Ghiaciuc replaced him.
Jackson, who hobbled through the locker room in a walking boot after the game, went down after his right cleats locked in the FieldTurf on a Cleveland run play. Coach Marvin Lewis called the injury an ankle sprain, but it appears it will keep Jackson out for weeks. His loss could be the most difficult to replace because Jackson plays a major role in the run defense. Kevin Kaesviharn replaced him.
The good news, if you're a Bengals fan, is how the Bengals ran up 481 yards in total offense against a bad Browns defense, including 145 on the ground by Rudi Johnson, without two offensive starters playing. Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh (heel) and left tackle Levi Jones (ankle) were inactive. Eric Steinbach moved from left guard to left tackle. Rookie Andrew Whitworth played left guard. And Chris Henry, who had a career high 113 yards on five receptions, played for Houshmandzadeh.
"That's why you have 53 guys," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said in reference to the spate of injuries. "We'll get ready to play and get going."
The injuries, especially the one to Pollack, "put a little damper on it," Lewis said.
The defense would be on edge more than the offense.
"It's not different for everybody in the league," linebacker Brian Simmons said. "Somebody's going to have to step up. I think we have a lot of depth."
There were other injuries, too. Wide receivers Chad Johnson (head) and Tab Perry (ankle) both were injured inside the final 2:10 in the fourth quarter. Both are expected to play against the Steelers, as are Houshmandzadeh and Jones.
Rudi Johnson continued his domination of the Cleveland Browns, running for 145 yards and two touchdowns in Cincinnati's 34-17 victory Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Carson Palmer also threw for two scores, 22 yards to Kelley Washington and eight to Chad Johnson, and Palmer's 352 passing yards were his second best for a single game.
The Bengals had the ball for 34:05 and had 27 first downs to 17 for Cleveland. The Bengals held Cleveland to 2 for 10 on third down plays offensively. The Bengals converted 8 for 15.
The Bengals also had three takeaways on defense, interceptions by Brian Simmons and Landon Johnson and a fumble recovery by tackle John Thornton.
The 2-0 Bengals now have won five in a row against AFC North rivals and 8 of the past nine against the division.
--WR Chris Henry is the key to the Bengals offense, quarterback Carson Palmer said. Henry is the best No. 3 receiver in the NFL, Palmer said after Henry had a career high 113 yards on five receptions against the Browns.
--SS Dexter Jackson, who wore a protective walking boot in the locker room, said he expects to miss the Steelers game. He will be sorely missed. Backup safety Kevin Kaesviharn is not nearly as strong against the run as Jackson.
--QB Carson Palmer was sacked four times, though he dropped back 44 times to throw. Coach Marvin Lewis was not happy about the number of times Palmer was hit, though the Bengals played with a makeshift offensive line.
--LB Brian Simmons had a big day with six total tackles, an interception, one forced fumble and a pass defensed. That only partly explains his value to the defense. He moved back to the middle because of Odell Thurman's four-game suspension, and Simmons is always in position against the run.
--K Shayne Graham was 2 of 3 on field goal attempts, both good ones coming from 37 yards. He is now 101 of 120 in his six-year career, and the 100 made field goals qualifies him for the all-time accuracy list. He is 84.17 percent, second all-time behind Mike Vanderjagt.
The Browns have had difficulty sustaining a passing attack, so they figure their best chance of winning the rest of the season is to become a power running team.
To make that happen they have to develop a different personality before they play the Ravens Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium. They were pushed around by the Saints in the season opener and whipped by the Bengals in the second game.
"It's very simple," fullback Terrelle Smith said. "We go out and hit three people in the mouth, and sting 'em. You hit a man in the mouth and he's not going to want to come back and hit you again. I don't care if we run a play we know won't get a yard, we have to set a tone. That's the way I look at it."
Smith is a fullback by trade. He makes a living knocking linebackers off their feet so Reuben Droughns can stay on his.
Naturally, he wants the Browns to be a power running team. Offensive linemen want the same thing. It's a macho thing for them; knock over the big guy in front, get sweaty and grimy and rule the day.
The Browns have talked about being a power-running team for six years, starting with Butch Davis' first year as head coach in 2001 and continuing in 2005 when Romeo Crennel replaced Terry Robiskie, the interim coach for five games after Davis resigned.
Droughns did gain his 1,232 yards last year but he did not play in a grind-it-out offense. Evidence for that claim is opponents on the average had the ball four minutes a game longer than the Browns did.
Sometimes the Browns give up on the run quickly, as they did when they played the Saints. Droughns carried only 11 times in the opener. It was not one of those games in which the Browns got far behind early and had to abandon the run. They trailed 3-0 after one quarter, 6-0 midway through the second period and 9-0 at halftime. At that point Droughns had six carries for 16 yards. He netted 11 yards on five carries in the second half.
"From a coaching standpoint, if you don't have very many yards in the first half, I don't know how excited you are about continuing to call runs in the second half," Crennel said.
Droughns carried 14 times against the Bengals. He averaged only 2.3 yards a carry and when they fell behind by 17 early in the fourth quarter they had to abandon the ground game.
Three turnovers, dropped passes and missed tackles accounted for a 34-17 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati and kept the Browns winless in 2006. They have lost four straight to the Bengals.
The Bengals marched 75 yards on five plays on the opening drive and capped that off with a 22-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to Kelley Washington. They scored on a 92-yard drive on their next possession and on an 80-yard, seven play drive to make the score 27-10 after the Browns cut the lead to 10 points.
Charlie Frye threw two interceptions. Both passes were deflected. He also fumbled once. Braylon Edwards dropped two passes. The Bengals converted eight of 15 third down plays. A week earlier the Saints converted nine of 18 third down situations.
--LB Willie McGinest was in uniform but did not play against the Bengals because of a calf injury.
--CB Gary Baxter aggravated a pectoral injury but continued to play.
--LB Chaun Thompson is a second-team inside linebacker, but he got the Browns' first sack of the season when he tackled Carson Palmer for a 10-yard loss.
--LB Kamerion Wimbley started at ROLB. He had three tackles, a sack and two quarterback hurries.
--TE Kellen Winslow, after catching eight passes in the opener, was removed on third down most of the day because offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon wanted to use three wide receivers and two running backs.
The Steelers have an early AFC North showdown with Cincinnati on Sunday, featuring quarterbacks many thought would not be ready to play.
Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer have come a long way since they last met January 8 in Paul Brown Stadium. Palmer's knee was shredded early in that playoff game, won by the Steelers on their way to three straight playoff victories on their road to Super Bowl XL.
Roethlisberger went on to become the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, then charged head-first in a serious motorcycle accident in June. He overcame near-fatal injuries from that accident to return for the beginning of training camp, only to miss the Steelers' opener because of an appendectomy.
Palmer vs. Roethlisberger IV will take place at Heinz Field, and the visiting team has won each of the past three games in the series.
Roethlisberger, like Palmer, has come a long way back. He overcame the broken jaw, broken nose, broken orbital bone and broken teeth that occurred when his helmet-less head was smacked in the motorcycle accident. On the morning he was to begin practice for the opener against Miami, he reported a stomach ache to Cowher.
"He told me to suck it up," Roethlisberger said. "And then, it's just one of those things, you think it's a stomach ache and it turns out a lot worse than you think."
Defensive end Brett Keisel said that Roethlisberger is cursed, and he tried to remove it by giving Roethlisberger a bottle of "lucky" water. The quarterback called it half full, rather than half empty.
"I've got that black cloud over my head," Roethlisberger said.
Others should have such a black cloud. Big Ben led his team to a Super Bowl victory and took an overall 27-4 record into Monday night's game in Jacksonville as their starting quarterback. Dan Marino would take a curse such as that.
He's now come through knee surgery last November to win a Super Bowl, through the near-fatal motorcycle accident to participate in training camp, and an appendectomy to likely play in the second game of the season.
"I've been through a little bit in the past couple of months," Roethlisberger said, "but it's just another thing, obviously for a reason. I'm taking that approach and that's why I'm going to get back as soon as I can."
As he did last week, wide receiver Hines Ward is confident Roethlisberger will start in Jacksonville Monday night.
"Ben surprises everyone. He has a high tolerance for pain. He's going to fight through whatever," said Ward.
In the meantime, the Steelers still are searching for someone to replace the retired Jerome Bettis as the backup to starting halfback Willie Parker. They thought Duce Staley would handle that job. But Staley's poor training camp caused a mini-panic in Pittsburgh.
They traded with New England for undrafted rookie running back Patrick Cobbs, then released him and signed former Packers running back Najeh Davenport. Staley wondered, why not me?
"It's part of the business," Staley said. "I can't really sit here and say I've never seen it before because I have. It's part of the business and that's something that's going to be done whether I like it or not."
All he wants, he said, is the chance to show he can still cut it at age 31. It's something, he said, he cannot do in practice. He says he still has the zip in his legs required for a successful running back in the NFL.
"Oh, yeah, I know I do; I know I do. It's all about opportunity, to get in there and prove that. You and I can sit here and talk about it back and forth forever but until you get a chance to get out there on the field in real live action with the first team, you won't know.
"In practice, you work on angles, you work on plays that you're trying to put in for that week, but as far as going against the first team all-out we're not going to do that. We're not going to have the type of practice we're going to have in camp. Only games can simulate that, therefore you won't be able to prove that in practice."
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