CLEVELAND - If they didn't know each other so well, being distant NFL cousins and all, the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns might not recognize each other.
Although the teams played a little more than a month ago, the AFC North rivals - linked by history and Ohio roots - are vastly different from their first meeting.
Back on Sept. 21, the Ravens scored three touchdowns, two set up by interceptions of Derek Anderson in a 50-second span of the third quarter, to beat the Browns 28-10. With the win, Baltimore improved to a surprising 2-0, while Cleveland dropped its third straight to start the season, nearly dashing sky-high expectations.
Funny what a few weeks will do.
Since then, the Ravens (4-3) have gone 2-3 and last week the team best known for smothering, smash-mouth defense unveiled a two-quarterback, single-wing formation that stunned Oakland. With rookie quarterback Joe Flacco flanked wide and backup QB Troy Smith in the shotgun, the suddenly tricky Ravens picked up 75 yards in four plays and rolled to a 29-10 win.
Meanwhile, the Browns (3-4) have won three of four and are coming off an impressive 23-17 win at Jacksonville. The victory concluded a chaotic week that featured the club's one-game suspension of outspoken Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow for disparaging comments and behavior; a decision to rescind the penalty the night before the game; and general manager Phil Savage's vague postgame assertions that there was more to the story.
Other than the orange helmets, the Ravens expect to see a brand new Browns team.
"They're playing with a lot of confidence, a lot of swagger," Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They're not the same guys that showed up in the beginning of the season."
Anderson certainly has changed. Only a few weeks ago, the rocket-armed QB was in jeopardy of losing his starting job to backup Brady Quinn. Harassed by Baltimore's pass rush, Anderson completed just 14 of 37 passes for a season-low 125 yards and the three picks, one of which safety Ed Reed ran back for a TD.
Anderson's abysmal performance - he had a 22.9 QB rating - prompted coach Romeo Crennel to suggest a switch to Quinn was imminent. But Anderson responded by rallying Cleveland to a win at Cincinnati the following week, and in the four games since facing the Ravens, he has thrown five TDs and just one interception.
Anderson should get a boost from the return of Winslow, who wants to move on following his strange standoff with Savage over his hospitalization for a staph infection.
The Browns, too, might be better served by Anderson simply turning and handing the ball to Jamal Lewis, who after carrying just 12 times against the Ravens last month called Cleveland's play-calling "pathetic." Lewis regrets what he said, but he's adamant about wanting the football as much as possible.
"I'm ready to roll," said Lewis, now closing in on 10,000 career yards.
In Lewis' 22 games in Cleveland, the Browns are 11-1 when the 29-year-old has 20 or more carries.
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