Sun., Sept. 24: Ravens Rally, 15-14, Go 3-0 For First Time
By Joe Platania, PressBox Staff
Sunday, September 24 – Be careful, Ravens fans. You don’t want to get a nosebleed.
But even after a Super Bowl win, a division title and perennial defensive dominance, Baltimore has scaled new heights, even for itself.
The Ravens ran their record to 3-0 for the first time in their 11-year history with a pulsating, come-from-behind 15-14 win Sunday over the winless Cleveland Browns before 72,474 wind-blown fans at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Ravens kicker Matt Stover kicked his 12th game-winning field goal, a 52-yarder with 20 seconds left, for the victory. It was Stover’s 29th consecutive field goal, and it came on his first attempt over 50 yards since a home win over Dallas in 2004.
Stover had to deal with a gusty wind, a second-year man snapping the ball (Matt Katula) and a rookie holder (Sam Koch). What helped him was the wind; he was kicking away from Lake Erie towards the end zone through which more than a few kickoffs had sailed.
But some divine intervention may have helped as well.
“At chapel (Saturday) night, I was given a 51-yard scenario,” Stover recalled. “So, it was 52. The team did a great job putting me in position, and the team never gave up.”
This was the kind of game the underachieving Ravens of the past two seasons would likely have lost, but not this year as they brought home a second straight road win after 11 straight losses away from M&T Bank Stadium.
“Today, we grew up,” said linebacker Bart Scott (eight tackles, two sacks, pass defensed). “It was one of those wins when we showed a lot of heart, when we kept plugging away and kept fighting.”
Scott spearheaded another superhuman defensive effort, one that produced seven sacks and brought the season total to 16 against the opponents’ five.
Nose tackle Kelly Gregg and end Trevor Pryce contributed a sack and a half each with linebacker/defensive ends Adalius Thomas and Terrell Suggs getting one each.
The win, in Baltimore’s only AFC North Division game in the season’s first eight weeks, helps the Ravens keep pace with the unbeaten Cincinnati Bengals, who outlasted Pittsburgh, 28-20, for their third straight win.
The Ravens have now bested three winless teams and will get their first real test Sunday when the undefeated San Diego Chargers, coming off a bye week at 2-0, visit Baltimore for a 1 p.m. matchup (WJZ-TV, WIYY-FM).
Part of becoming an elite team – as the Ravens learned in 2000 when it blasted hapless opponents like Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dallas, San Diego and Arizona – is not only beating teams that are supposed to lose, but decking them decisively.
But that’s not what the Ravens did to a Cleveland team that led most of the way despite being saddled with poor talent and riddled with poor health.
Four key starters did not play, two from each side of the ball. Key absences included running back Reuben Droughns, wideout Joe Jurevicius, ex-Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter and defensive end Orpheus Roye.
However, that didn’t prevent the Browns from putting the Ravens’ offense in a difficult come-from-behind mode in the fourth quarter.
Baltimore took its first steps towards that goal with a 68-yard, seven-play drive that ended with Steve McNair’s three-yard pass down the seam to tight end Todd Heap on the first play of the fourth quarter. A two-point conversion pass was broken up, and the Ravens trailed by 14-9.
After a red-hot first half, Cleveland quarterback Charlie Frye missed on eight of his first nine throws in the second. Following Heap’s score – the Ravens’ first touchdown in Cleveland since September of 2003 – a 19-yard catch by Derrick Mason (team-high eight catches, 74 yards) helped set up Stover’s 43-yard field goal that cut the Browns’ lead to two points with 10:22 left.
But Cleveland very nearly iced this game by driving from its own 20 to the Ravens’ 4, eating nearly seven minutes off the clock in the process. Two key catches from flamboyant tight end Kellen Winslow (seven catches, 92 yards) picked up first downs to keep the drive going.
Frye then tried to find the spectacular Braylon Edwards (five catches, 116 yards) on a slant in the end zone, but cornerback Chris McAlister – who had been called for pass interference earlier in the game to set up a Browns’ score – got the Ravens’ NFL-best seventh pick to give the Ravens back the ball.
That’s when quarterback Steve McNair (23-for-41, 264 yards, TD, two sacks, 83.8 rating) displayed the veteran calm for which he is known.
“He’s been in tough situations many times,” head coach Brian Billick said. “He stays calm throughout.
“That’s what life in the NFL is all about. To do this the way we did it is substantial.”
Early in the final drive, an end-around to Mark Clayton (eight catches, 74 yards) lost six yards, but the second-year Oklahoma product gathered in four balls during the 80-yard, 12-play possession.
The drive’s most critical play was Mason’s eight-yard catch along the right sideline, after which Cleveland contended the veteran receiver’s foot was out of bounds. A booth review ensued, and the catch was upheld.
That set the stage for Stover.
“He’s the only kicker I’ve had in the NFL,” Billick said. “He’s bailed me out of more situations than I can count.”
At first, it seemed as if it would be an easy day for the Ravens, who began in typical defensive style.
They sacked Frye three times in the first quarter, outgained the Browns, 84-13, and controlled field position. But all they could muster from it was a 3-0 lead; exhibiting the same frustrating tendencies in enemy territory as during last week’s game against Oakland, during which the Ravens began a whopping seven possessions in Raiders’ territory.
Stover’s 32-yard field goal at the 5:05 mark of the first quarter – his 22nd straight field goal inside 40 yards against the Browns – put the Ravens on the board first.
But the next time Baltimore had the ball, the first half’s turning point took place.
Mason’s 37-yard catch that put the Ravens in Cleveland territory prompted Browns’ coach Romeo Crennel to challenge it. When that was denied, the Browns got fired up and changed the game’s tempo, denying the Ravens a first down for the rest of the half and scoring the first two touchdowns allowed by the Ravens in 2006.
Frye found Edwards down the left sideline for the first score. Cornerback Samari Rolle had him covered at first, but Edwards ran by him and gathered in Frye’s pass for a 58-yard touchdown that gave the Browns a 7-3 advantage nearly six minutes into the second quarter.
Meanwhile, McNair struggled early as the downfield game so many have longed to see just wasn’t there, even against a banged-up Browns secondary.
The Ravens closed the first half with three straight three-and-out series, adding to a 11-quarter streak that hadn’t seen them score a touchdown in Cleveland since the first meeting of the 2003 season, the last time Baltimore won in the Browns’ home.
However, Frye (21-for-33, 298 yards, TD, INT, seven sacks, 90.2 rating) was using three-step drops and a quick release to help Cleveland control the second quarter as completely – outgaining the Ravens, 184-19 – as the visitors had handled the first.
Frye found Edwards for five first-half catches for 116 yards, but also hit Winslow four times and veteran wideout Dennis Northcutt for