For a week that usually inspires sighs, the Ravens were greeted in the locker room by a sign.
In bold, black letters, the message read: "Payback is a dish best served cold. Let's roll."
At 1 p.m. today, the Ravens (6-3) eagerly play host to the Cleveland Browns (4-4) with first place in the AFC Central still in their sights and revenge now within their grasp. For the first time in this 3-year-old series, the Ravens - and not the Browns - have a score to settle after last month's humbling 24-14 defeat in Cleveland.
"That taste didn't sit well with us when we left Cleveland," Ravens All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis said. "They got a lot of people who were trash-talking us. What goes around, comes around. The same thing that will make you laugh can make you cry. Now, they have to see us in our home. I think we're playing at a level where we can take care of business.
"If you look at the last game, you have [quarterback Tim] Couch talking. You have [cornerback Corey] Fuller talking. The thing I think they forgot is they still have to see us. Now, it's one of those heated rivalries once again that they stirred up. When we beat them, we beat them. We let it go. But they want to take it further. So we will, too."
Motivation used to reside solely on Cleveland's side. The Browns had sought restitution for their fans since owner Art Modell moved his franchise here from Cleveland in 1995.
But after rubbing in last month's victory, the Browns realize what awaits them at PSINet Stadium.
"Baltimore is going to try to punish us," Fuller said. "We beat them, and they don't feel like they should have lost to the Cleveland Browns."
Since that meeting a month ago, the teams have veered in opposite directions, with the Ravens always escaping and the Browns always falling short.
Delivering dramatic fourth-quarter finishes, the Ravens have won their past three games by a total of 10 points and are sitting a half-game behind the division-leading Pittsburgh Steelers. But being only six days removed from that riveting Monday night finish in Tennessee could be troublesome.
"This game worries me more than any because of the end of the six of the nine on the road and the three tight emotional wins that we've come off," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "There's a cumulative fatigue."
Meanwhile, Cleveland can't seem to pull out any close calls.
After a bye followed that win over the Ravens, the Browns lost overtime games to the Chicago Bears and Pittsburgh. Those crushing defeats are magnified by the fact Cleveland gave up two touchdowns in the final 28 seconds of regulation at Chicago and then blew a 9-0 lead against Pittsburgh.
"You might be dealing with a desperate team," Lewis said, "or you can be dealing with a team that could be ready to fold up after losing two."
That Ravens' swagger seems to be slowly resurfacing.
When asked about Couch, Lewis made this blunt analysis.
"Tim Couch's ratings may be up there, but he's throwing little short passes here or there to keep his rating high," Lewis said. "I think people are going to have to get out there and make him beat you."
Even Ravens cornerback Duane Starks took time out to express his opinion on Cleveland receiver Kevin Johnson and Fuller. Starks, who admitted to seeking redemption for allowing two long touchdowns in the last meeting, said Johnson and Fuller talk too much.
"Those guys are the ones who talk and talk for no reason," Starks said. "They really haven't impressed me that much as being one of the top guys in the NFL. I respect a guy that's talking when he's backing it up. But when a guy is not backing it up, then he shouldn't say much."
To that, Brown coach Butch Davis said, "I think that teams who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones."
Johnson, Cleveland's leading receiver, then chimed in by daring Starks to go one-on-one with him today.
"I just bet their coach won't put him on an island on Sunday," Johnson said. "Duane's a good player, but their coaches know what he can do and can't do. One thing he can't do is ... be put on an island by himself. If he does, there will be some sacrifices and some things he has to pay for."
Lost in this verbal sparring has been a return home for the Ravens.
Overcoming a stretch that included six of their first nine games on the road, the Ravens finish with five of their final seven regular-season games at PSINet. The Ravens have won their past eight games at home, the second-longest current streak in the NFL.
"What we need now is to get home for two months and get the intensity level in our favor, so our defense can tee off on opposing offenses," said quarterback Elvis Grbac, whose bruised ribs served as a long reminder from that loss in Cleveland. "We're getting sick and tired of our offense getting teed off on."
And they're sick and tired of hearing the Cleveland Browns.
For once, this series isn't about the Modells. It's about revenge.
"It was embarrassing for a lot of people," Grbac said of last month's loss to Cleveland. "I know that feeling as a Super Bowl champion you get embarrassed in a game like that where they jump on top of you so quick and they dominate the line of scrimmage. Obviously, there is a lot of bad taste, and I think the guys are looking forward to this game."
Opponent: Cleveland Browns
Site: PSINet Stadium
Time: 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)
Line: Ravens by 8
Inside: Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley analyzes the matchups. [Page 15d]