BEREA — Nose tackle Phil Taylor plays with an attitude every week.
He hits hard, lands on ball carriers with the full force of his 335 pounds and has been known to make a hit at the fourth echo of the whistle. When the play’s finally finished, he thumps his chest, runs his mouth and gestures to the opposing sideline.
In his three years with the Browns, he’s never been as animated as after the second play from scrimmage in Week 2 when he and Ravens running back Ray Rice went face mask to face mask and Taylor thought Rice spit at him.
“It’s a different story when you’re exchanging body fluids,” running back Willis McGahee said, pausing and shaking his head.
Taylor stopped short of making the spitting accusation publicly after the game, telling reporters to watch the film. But that’s the version of events suggested by coaches and teammates.
He didn’t want to go back down that road Thursday as the Browns (3-5) prepared to host the Ravens (3-4) on Sunday.
“Whatever happened that game was that game,” he said. “Looking forward to this game, so I will go out there and play hard like I always do.”
Rice explained his side of the story to Baltimore reporters Wednesday.
“We were two guys jawing at each other, and I had my mouthpiece in, so when I went to say something back to him, it looked as if I projected towards him,” Rice said. “But I had my mouthpiece in, I was saying something, he was saying something and then, obviously, that’s what happened. We’ll leave that at that.
“Phil Taylor is a great young player. He’s coming along very well. He’s making plays in their run game. (He’s a) dominant force. I’ve got tremendous respect for him.”
Rice’s version was relayed to Taylor.
“It is what it is,” Taylor said. “So we’re both moving on from it and getting ready for this game.”
The spit-take turned into a give-and-take, as Taylor smacked Rice in the side of the helmet, drawing a 15-yard penalty. Taylor was incensed and continued to bark at Rice and other Ravens as the game came to a halt. When Browns coaches tried to remove him, Taylor waved them off and sent his replacement back to the sideline.
“Just got to keep your cool in certain situations,” he said. “I apologized to my team for getting a penalty. I play with a lot of passion and a lot of people can respect that.”
Taylor wants to move on, but doesn’t want to forget a lesson learned.
“They are going to try stuff, try to get under my skin, but that’s what every team does,” he said. “They try and draw the penalty or whatever, so just go out there and play my game and we will come out victorious.”
Coach Rob Chudzinski and coordinator Ray Horton said they don’t feel the need to talk to Taylor about controlling his emotions.
“I’m not worried about that at all,” Chudzinski said.
Spitting into the wind has always been a bad idea. Having Taylor (6-3, 335) think you spit at him is worse.
“I don’t think it’ll be an issue during the game,” safety T.J. Ward said. “But I don’t see any reason why you would want to give Phil Taylor any extra motivation. So I’m sure he’s going to be on his A-game this week.”
“Don’t mess with Phil,” defensive lineman John Hughes said. “Phil’s the type of guy that gets fired up all the time anyway for games. That wasn’t anything new. I think he played with a little chip on his shoulder after that.”
Taylor put together a terrific first half of the season. He has 34 tackles and two sacks after making the conversion to nose tackle in Horton’s 3-4 scheme. He’s been stout in the middle for a defense that’s slipped to 12th against the run (103.6 yards per game), is sixth against the pass (216.8) and seventh overall (320.4). The Browns lead the league with 4.55 yards allowed per play.
“He’s playing great,” Hughes said. “It’s no wonder why he’s getting better because you see it every day in practice.”
Taylor missed the first eight games of last year with a torn pectoral muscle. He was never 100 percent and finished with 14 tackles and a sack.
“I did not play to the best that I know I can play,” he said. “I worked hard this offseason and have been working hard this season to do what I got to do for this team.”
“Phil is a strong, smart, powerful player,” Horton said. “If you go back and watch the film against Kansas City, one of the things we’ve asked him to do is go vertical, go up the field vs. lateral. He had a fantastic move and we’ve been stressing to him what his best moves are — power moves.”
Taylor had three tackles Sunday in the loss to the Chiefs, including a sack. Kansas City gained 50 yards in the second half after 281 in the first half. The defense has played well in spurts but has failed to put together 60 good minutes.
“We just need to do it,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to go out there and can’t wait to get hit in the mouth. You’ve got to go out there from the first snap to the last snap and play (all out).”
Rice injured his hip against the Browns and hasn’t been his normal Pro Bowl self. He’s rushed 86 times for 242 yards — only a 2.8 average — and three touchdowns. He’s averaging a meager 4.8 yards on 24 catches without a score.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to recommit to the run game coming off their bye week and believes Rice is healthy.
“He is a great player,” Taylor said. “He is good out of the backfield, catching the ball, running the ball.”
Ward said the Taylor-Rice tango isn’t necessary to get the blood boiling. The Ravens have won 11 straight versus the Browns.
“We’re already fired up. It’s the Ravens. It’s a big rivalry,” he said. “We don’t like them, they don’t like us, and that’s just what it is.
“Every time we play them, it’s a physical game, it’s a head-knocker, close games and I don’t see why this one would be any different.”