CLEVELAND — You gotta love it when a plan comes together.
The Browns’ to-do list Sunday read: Start fast, get Jamal Lewis revenge, protect Derek Anderson and stop giving up the big play on defense. Check, check, check, check.
The Browns completed a pivotal opening month with a 27-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens. The Browns are 2-2 overall and 2-1 in the AFC North after hosting all three of their biggest rivals. The Browns won just one division game in coach Romeo Crennel’s first two years.
“No one expected that. It’s a blessing,” said linebacker Andra Davis, noting the Ravens (2-2) dropped to 0-2 in the division. “When I pick my kids up at school today, I’ll be able to hold my head up.”
The execution of the game plan was almost as perfect as the fall day on the lakefront.
The Browns got a 41-yard kickoff return from Joshua Cribbs and scored a touchdown on the opening drive. Leigh Bodden intercepted Steve McNair on the Ravens’ first drive, and Anderson hit Braylon Edwards for a 78-yard touchdown on the next play.
Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister expected a midrange pass and stopped, and Edwards ran right by him. It’s the kind of defensive lapse the Browns had been suffering — before Sunday.
With a 14-0 lead in hand, the same Browns who came out flat in Oakland suddenly had confidence. With linebacker Willie McGinest making his first appearance following preseason back surgery and tight end Kellen Winslow using adrenaline to overcome the intense pain of a partially dislocated shoulder, the Browns had the inspiration necessary to go toe-to-toe with one of the most intimidating teams in the league.
“They’re supposed to be the physical bullies, but when you hit back and keep hitting back and don’t let up … things will go our way as well,” McGinest said.
The early double-digit lead and coach Brian Billick’s infatuation with the pass — McNair threw a career-high 53 times — limited the Ravens’ rushes to 20. Willis McGahee ran for 104 yards on 14 carries, a 7.4 average.
That’s not good from a defensive perspective. But with McGinest’s influence on the line and the use of a variety of personnel packages, the Browns were able to hold the Ravens to a pair of field goals as the lead grew to 24-6 at half.
The defense that allowed 105 points in the first three weeks did its primary job.
“We knew today that more than any day we had to play more physical than the other defense and we knew we had to play better than the other defense,” linebacker Antwan Peek said.
The statistics don’t tell the true story. The Ravens had a 300-yard passer, 100-yard rusher, Derrick Mason caught 10 balls for 78 yards and they never punted. Lewis was held to 64 yards and a 2.8 average and Anderson completed just 10 passes for 204 yards.
It didn’t matter. The Browns matched the Ravens’ intensity, took advantage of their mistakes and specialized in the big play.
Lewis had a 28-yard run to set up a field goal and dived in from the 1 for a touchdown against his former team. Lewis might have been stopped short of the goal line, but Billick was too late throwing the challenge flag.
“The officiating matched our play,” said Billick, who barked at the officials repeatedly.
Winslow had four catches for 96 yards, including a career-long 49-yarder. He began the game in a rotation with Steve Heiden to lessen the impact on the shoulder, but wound up playing nearly every snap after halftime.
“In this locker room there might not be a better competitor,” said guard Eric Steinbach, who returned after a first-half shoulder stinger. “It’s going to take a lot to keep him off the field.”
Steinbach was part of a line that didn’t allow a sack to a team that had one in 24 straight games and got the Browns for 13 in two meetings last year.
“That’s amazing,” Winslow said. “They are the best defense in the league.”
The Ravens weren’t at their best. Linebacker Ray Lewis recorded just six tackles and made little noise, former Brown Matt Stover missed two field goals, Yamon Figurs fumbled a kickoff return and McAlister jumped offside on a missed Phil Dawson field goal that gave the Browns a first down and led to Lewis’ touchdown.
“It is a low point for us,” tight end Todd Heap said.
The Browns are riding high. They’ve won two straight at home for the first time since 2005 and two in a row in the division in the same season for the first time since 2002.
“This definitely isn’t the old team,” said Edwards, who had three catches for 97 yards.
Crennel was just 1-11 in the AFC North after being blanked last year. He was livid after the loss to the Raiders last week and demanded better play. Even the even-keel coach couldn’t keep a lid on the optimism.
“I think this team’s beginning to come together a little bit,” he said. “We won’t be the Browns of old. When they play good together, they can compete with just about everybody in the league.
“We’re looking forward to the rest of the year.”
It’s been awhile since anyone could say that around here.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or email@example.com.