They formed wall behind closed doors

November 08, 1999|By John Eisenberg

CLEVELAND -- This time, when their usual Saturday night meeting was over, the members of the Ravens' defense asked their coaches to leave the room. Then someone shut the door and different players stood and addressed the group.

"That hadn't happened before, not on the night before a game," defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis said yesterday.

It was time to get serious. The Ravens were playing in Cleveland for the first time since Art Modell moved the franchise, and the defense, having carried the Ravens all season, obviously felt the need to rise to the occasion.

Did it ever.

The Ravens' struggling offense finally found a defense to push around in yesterday's 41-9 win, but the Ravens' defense still provided the highlight-reel moments.

"You always want to dominate and punish," Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said, "and we got there today. Everything was clicking."

Yes, it was just the Browns, an expansion team with a rookie starting quarterback and the NFL's worst offense. Mark Brunell and the Jaguars, who routinely blister the Ravens, will offer a far more meaningful test next Sunday in Jacksonville.

But there's no doubt the Ravens' defense is playing as well as any in the league.

It still hasn't allowed a 100-yard rushing or receiving performance this season, and yesterday, in front of a sellout crowd shrieking for revenge, it didn't even allow 100 yards, period, until the fourth quarter, putting on a "Showtime" performance of sacks, interceptions, helmet-rattling tackles and the ultimate compliment in the end -- silence.

It was so bad that the Browns had to get down on their knees after the game and apologize to Cleveland.

"We're sorry as a team," said tackle Orlando Brown, a former Raven. "We knew how bad the city wanted this game. I feel bad. When I went out to dinner yesterday, people were saying, `You have to beat them.' "

They never had a chance, not with the Ravens' defense delivering a figurative fist to the Browns' stomach from the outset.

"Everyone was hitting, and I mean hitting hard," said safety Rod Woodson, who returned an interception for a touchdown in the second half. "When you see that, as a defense, you get real inspired."

Ray Lewis led the way with his usual supply of intimidating tackles, and a half-dozen teammates followed his lead.

When the Browns made their only run late in the first quarter, cutting the Ravens' lead to 7-3 and then recovering an onside kick, Ravens cornerback Duane Starks blunted the rally with a vicious hit on Browns quarterback Tim Couch, who was scrambling near midfield and wound up flattened.

"I popped him good," Starks said, "and then he tried to talk some trash. It was like, `Starks, that didn't hurt.' I just laughed. I said, `Man, I almost took your head off.' "

Couch went on to drive the Browns to the Ravens' 23, but then Starks intercepted a pass in the end zone -- right in front of the Dawg Pound -- and the Browns were never the same. They didn't record another first down for 15 minutes.

"It's amazing when you can look back at a blowout and single out one play as making the difference, but that was probably the case with Duane's interception," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.

Not that the Browns were ever a threat to generate enough offense to win. They couldn't rush at all, and Browns coach Chris Palmer's wide-open game plan left minimal protection for Couch, who was hit hard and often.

"We were having a lot of fun out there," Ravens defensive end Michael McCrary said. "It was nice to get to pin your ears back [and rush] for a change."

That's what you do when your offense is scoring and you have a big lead -- a sensation the Ravens' defense has seldom experienced. The Ravens' offense scored more points yesterday than it had in the past month.

Marvin Lewis finally admitted yesterday that the offense's miseries have bothered his defense, despite party-line attempts to deny it.

"The hardest thing we've had to go through is persevering," Lewis said. "But we've talked about it a lot, and the guys have held together. The thing we've stressed is that if you keep playing hard and well, good things will happen."

Before yesterday's game, the defensive players wanted to hear that from themselves more than from any coach.

"Whoever had something to say, he just got up and aired it out," Starks said of Saturday night's players-only meeting. "We wanted to make sure we were in the right frame of mind for a game like this."

They were, helping spoil Cleveland's Super Bowl and giving Modell a 2-0 series lead over the Browns.

Now comes the ultimate test for the defense, a test it always has flunked -- the Jaguars. Is the defense ready this time?

"I think so," Marvin Lewis said. "What was supposed to be a weakness [the secondary] has become a strength. The guys back there are playing well together. The whole defense is, actually. They enjoy each other and enjoy playing together."

Just ask the Browns.

Winning big

The Ravens' 32-point victory over the Browns yesterday was the largest winning margin in franchise history.

Date Opponent Score Mar.

11/7/99 Cleveland 41-9 32

9/21/97 Tennessee 36-10 26

12/196 Pittsburgh 31-17 14

9/13/98 N.Y. Jets 24-10 14

9/7/97 Cincinnati 23-10 13

100-yard hurdles

The Ravens' defense hasn't allowed 100-yard games by opposing runners or receivers this season. Who's fared best:

Receiving

99: Yancey Thigpen, Tennessee

92: Isaac Bruce, St. Louis

Rushing

70: Bam Morris, Kansas City

56: Jonathan Linton, Buffalo

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