TONY DEJAK / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - Any suggestions the Browns were still mired in a funk about a last-second road loss a week earlier in Oakland were answered quickly and clearly against AFC Central menace Baltimore yesterday at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Cleveland took the game's opening possession and moved right down the field for the first of four first-half scoring drives against a team revered for regularly disrupting offenses.
The Browns made moving the ball against the Ravens look elementary on their way to a definitive 27-13 victory before 73,024.
"This team needed this win, especially after last week," said Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel, referring to a disappointing 26-24 defeat to the Raiders. "I don't think a lot of people would think we would be 2-1 in the division and 2-2 in September.
The outcome gives the Browns half the wins they produced a year ago with a dozen games still to play. It results in them owning a 2-1 record against AFC Central teams.
Furthermore, despite losing in the final seconds against the Raiders, the team's all-around performance against the Ravens was the third straight game itplayed well enough to be in position for a win at game's end.
"It's big to be 2-1 in our division," said wideout Joe Jurevicius, who pulled in a two-yard touchdown pass from Derek Anderson to finish off the Browns' impressive opening drive that consisted of nine plays covering 55 yards. "We haven't done too many good things around here in the past couple years.
"Like I said in the beginning of the year, it's going to be a different year and I firmly believe that."
In addition to having success moving the football against Baltimore, Cleveland's defense showed improvement from the three previous weeks when it gave up an average of 35 points. The Browns limited the Ravens to a pair of field goals until midway through the fourth quarter when they allowed Baltimore to get into the end zone while playing a soft cover defense with the game well in hand.
They were comfortably in front by 21 points when Baltimore finally scored a touchdown to make the game look less lopsided than it actually was.
Baltimore head coach Brian Billick admitted as much in his postgame press conference.
"I congratulate the Browns," Billick said. "They played one great game. It's very disappointing beyond the loss because it's tough to play that way. We just got our butts beat plain and simple."
Anderson, who completed 10 of 18 passes for 204 yards, spread the football around early with the passing game - hitting tight end Kellen Winslow for a key 25-yard reception on the opening drive. He connected with Jurevicius on the short touchdown completion for the game's opening score with 9:46 left in the first quarter.
He also went long for a 78-yard touchdown completion to Braylon Edwards to give the Browns a 14-0 lead in the first quarter on the first play from scrimmage after Cleveland defensive back Leigh Bodden intercepted Steve McNair with just under six minutes remaining in the opening quarter.
"The first touchdown really set the tempo for us," Anderson said. "We came out there and caught them off guard a few times and made some plays. We set the pace."
Crennel also thought the Browns' start was pivotal in the outcome. Cleveland kick-returner Josh Cribbs, who averaged 31.3 yards on three kick returns against the Ravens, even received praise for kick-starting the day with his opening kickoff return of 41 yards to the Cleveland 45.
"[The opening drive] settled the team down and let them know that we could produce and put points on the board," Crennel said. "That just helped everybody. Josh [Cribbs] started it off with a kickoff return and everyone got fired up and we built on it from there."
But the Ravens refused to go away quietly. Or rather refused to be shut out by a team they swept during the two meetings a year ago.
Of course, expecting otherwise from either of these two teams connected by the city located in northeast Ohio wouldn't do this rivalry any real justice.
Ravens cornerback Ed Reed put Baltimore in scoring position when he stepped in front of an Anderson pass for an interception near midfield and returned it 20 yards to the Browns' 24. Yet, the good field position resulted only in a 21-yard field goal by Matt Stover to make it 14-3 after the Browns defense refused to allow the Ravens to get any further than the 3-yard line.
Cleveland put together two more scoring drives in the second quarter with Phil Dawson finishing off the first with a 41-yard field goal to make it 17-3. Jamal Lewis, the former Ravens running back who signed with the Browns during the offseason, finished off the Browns' next scoring drive with a one-yard plunge that was ruled a touchdown after stretching out his arms with the football in his hands on a goal-line play.
The television replay showed Lewis, who gained 64 yards on 23 carries, may have come up just shy of reaching the end zone.
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