BALTIMORE - What could be better for the Browns - and their fans - than bouncing back from the loss to Pittsburgh and improving their position in the playoff chase with a win today?
Burying Baltimore`s playoff hopes - and breaking Art Modell`s heart - in the process.
A Browns win would make them 6-4 overall with a firm grip on second place in the AFC North. It would also drop the Ravens to 4-6, 0-5 in the division and all but end their season. With games vs. San Diego, New England and Indianapolis next up on the schedule, the questions about coach Brian Billick`s job security would intensify.
Browns running back Jamal Lewis would be a natural to delight in the Ravens` misery. He was dismissed by Baltimore after seven years and holds a grudge against Billick for the way he ran his offense. But Lewis says his focus is inward for his return to Baltimore.
"This is a game that we really need," he said. "It`s in our division and that`s all I really look at. I`m not caught up in the whole Baltimore thing and it`s my old team."
The Browns and Ravens look like franchises headed in opposite directions. Cleveland has surpassed its win total from 2006 and appears to be on the rise with young talent on offense. Baltimore has flopped after a 13-3 season, is showing its age and has long-term issues at quarterback.
"I really don`t care," Lewis said. "I just try to do my job and am trying to help this team go where we`re trying to go."
That would be the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The Browns stumbled last week when they blew a 21-6 lead at Pittsburgh, falling 31-28 after a series of mistakes and the disappearance of the offense in the second half.
The disappointment was evident in the locker room immediately following the loss, but in the days afterward the players vowed they`d rebound vs. the Ravens.
"That`s what we have to do," coach Romeo Crennel said. "We have to put it aside. If we don`t, we`re going to lose to Baltimore."
The Browns` resilience has been on display all season, as they haven`t lost consecutive games. That`s quite a contrast from the past three years, when the Browns couldn`t win back-to-back games.
"One, this is a different team. We`ve proven that," receiver Braylon Edwards said. "We`re able to come through adversity and know what we`re playing for.
"Two, this is a good team. We play well."
"This past loss really showed how good we are," linebacker Antwan Peek said. "It`s a building block for us."
Continuing the push toward the playoffs won`t be easy. The Ravens may struggle on offense (23rd in the NFL), but their defense (fifth) remains among the elite.
"They have an identity for themselves no matter what the score is," Browns right tackle Kevin Shaffer said. "They go hard, they go fast, they`re always trying to confuse you.
"It`s definitely impressive. It`s what every team should be. It`s always good to see it in action. That`s what everybody`s striving for."
The discrepancy between the sides of the ball is once again creating tension within the Ravens locker room. The guys on defense know they`re playoff-caliber, but are being let down by the offense.
"Of course it`s frustrating, because all athletes are competitors," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "You want to win. It`s as frustrating for the offense as it is for us."
The Ravens, 2 1/2-point underdogs, are in danger of losing consecutive home games for the first time since 2002, when the Saints and Browns got them. They`ve won 14 of 16 at home, a stretch in which they`ve allowed an NFL-low 13.1 points per game.
"I don`t care how bad it is, the group that we have in this room, we`re never going to fade, we`ve never going to flinch," defensive end Jarret Johnson said.
The Ravens have held the Browns under 300 net yards in 15 of 17 meetings. And in the last four in Baltimore, the Browns have been outscored 103-46.
But Cleveland players swear this is a new Browns team. They point to a 27-13 win over Baltimore in September and their desire to atone for the loss to the Steelers.
"I wish we could have played again on Sunday," Edwards said. "We`re happy it`s another big game, in the sense of a conference game and a rivalry-type game. It`s a game the city can get up about. We`re excited and eager to play."
Defensive lineman Shaun Smith (knee) was downgraded to out Saturday, and third receiver Tim Carter (illness) was added to the injury report as questionable. Orpheus Roye will likely get the start in place of Smith, and kick returner Joshua Cribbs would see more time at receiver if Carter doesn`t play.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Ravens rank fifth in total defense (277.0 yards per game), but 11th in scoring defense (19.8). It`s not the fault of Ray Lewis and Co., as the Ravens have a minus-7 turnover ratio and lead the league with 15 lost fumbles.
On the opponents` 15 touchdown drives, the average starting field position is the 50-yard line. Of the 37 scores (22 field goals) allowed by the defense, the average field position is the opponents` 44-yard line. Eight of the 15 touchdowns have followed turnovers, not including a fumble returned for a touchdown.
The Browns rank fourth in the league in scoring (28.3) but they can use all the help they can get. A couple of Kyle Boller interceptions would go a long way toward a Browns win.
Run right at Ray
Linebacker Ray Lewis has slowed some in his 12th year, but he`s still the heart of the Ravens defense. His energy and passion are obvious, and the run defense ranks second in the NFL, allowing 73.7 yards per game.
The Browns have had limited success against Lewis and the Ravens over the years, but when they have it`s come by running straight at Lewis, who`s at his best going sideline to sideline. He doesn`t like to be blocked, so he can be neutralized if a center, guard or fullback can get a clean shot.
Browns running back Jamal Lewis is excited to return to Baltimore and is hoping for 25 carries to wear down the Ravens. A successful running game would also help slow down Baltimore`s blitzes.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns receiver Braylon Edwards
vs. Ravens cornerbacks Chris McAlister or Corey Ivy
If the Ravens defense is vulnerable, it`s at the cornerback spot, especially if McAlister (knee) misses his fourth straight game. McAlister is a Pro Bowler, but is susceptible to giving up the big play, as evidenced by Edwards` 78-yard touchdown in Week 4, when he ran right by McAlister. At 6-foot-3, Edwards has 6 inches on Ivy and should be able to exploit that in the red zone.
Edwards` breakout year has slowed down. He was held without a touchdown vs. Seattle and had just one catch vs. the Steelers last week, but it was an acrobatic 16-yard touchdown. He still ranks among league leaders with 43 catches for 752 yards, a 17.5 average and 10 touchdowns. The potential is there for a big day.
Browns linebacker Kamerion Wimbley vs. Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden
Ogden has been among the best left tackles in the league for the last decade, but he`s been slowed by a toe injury and may retire after the season. The Ravens are clearly a better team with him, but he`s not the dominating force he had been.
Wimbley is in the midst of a sophomore slump after posting 11 sacks last year. He has three this year - two vs. Oakland and one vs. Miami - and has gone three games without one. Many teams have double-teamed Wimbley, but the Ravens could opt to trust Ogden (6-9, 345 pounds). If Wimbley can win the one-on-one matchup, the Browns would benefit and he might be able to save his season.
WHO: Browns at Ravens
WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
TIME: 1 p.m.
RECORDS: Browns 5-4; Ravens 4-5
LAST WEEK: Browns lost to Steelers 31-28; Ravens lost to Bengals 21-7
SERIES: Ravens lead 11-6
SERIES AT BALTIMORE: Ravens lead 6-2
LAST MEETING: Browns won 27-13 on Sept. 30 In Cleveland
COACHES: Romeo Crennel is 15-26 with Browns and overall; Brian Billick is 84-61 with Ravens and overall
TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with broadcasters Ian Eagle and Solomon Wilcots;
WMMS 100.7-FM; WTAM 1100-AM
NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns - offense 11th (18th rushing, 10th passing), defense 32nd (28th rushing, 31st passing); Ravens - offense 23rd (19th rushing, 21st passing), defense 5th (2nd rushing, 12th passing)
* The offensive ranking dropped seven spots after the Browns gained just 163 yards vs. Pittsburgh.
* QB Derek Anderson has thrown one interception in the last four games. He was a sixth-round draft choice of the Ravens in 2005.
* K Phil Dawson is 13-of-15 on field goals. His misses were a last-second block at Oakland and a last-second 52-yarder last week at Pittsburgh. He is 16-of-17 vs. the Ravens.
* The Browns got four of their 11 sacks last week.
* NT Ethan Kelley had a season-high six tackles last week.
* TE Kellen Winslow has 47 catches for 703 yards, a 15.0 average and four touchdowns. The yardage and average lead NFL tight ends.
* LB Leon Williams had a season-high 12 tackles last week.
* The defense ranks second in the NFL, allowing just nine TDs on 27 possessions in the red zone. It held Cincinnati to seven field goals last week.
* RB Willis McGahee ranks sixth with 749 yards rushing. He had 104 on 14 carries vs. the Browns in September and has outrushed every opposing running back this season.
* Baltimore is 51-1 under Billick when it leads by at least 14 points.
* The Ravens are 23-3 at home since 2000 when allowing 70 rushing yards or fewer.
* The Ravens are 45-15 at home in the regular season since 2000, which ranks first in the NFL.
* K Matt Stover, the only holdover from the original Browns, is 40-of-45 on field goals in 17 games against Cleveland.
BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out: DL Shaun Smith (knee); Questionable: WR Tim Carter (illness), LB D`Qwell Jackson (ankle); Probable: CB Leigh Bodden (back), LB Willie McGinest (hamstring), LB Antwan Peek (knee), FB Lawrence Vickers (tooth)
RAVENS INJURY REPORT: Out: QB Steve McNair (shoulder), CB Samari Rolle (illness), S Gerome Sapp (thigh), TE Daniel Wilcox (foot), WR Demetrius Williams (ankle); Questionable: CB Chris McAlister (knee), TE Todd Heap (thigh); Probable: S Ed Reed (back); RS Yamon Figurs (knee), FB Le`Ron McClain (shoulder), LB Gary Stills (knee)
THE PICK: This won`t be easy as the Ravens fight to save their season, but Derek Anderson makes a couple of big plays. Browns 20-17.