Fortune looks other way on appeals

Davis, Billick challenges end Ravens' run of luck

Browns 27, Ravens 17

November 19, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Six days after the officials sorted out a chaotic close to the Ravens' narrow win in Tennessee, Baltimore came out on the wrong end of two challenges over a five-play swing in the third quarter. The sequence disrupted the Ravens' momentum and aided Cleveland's cause at PSINet Stadium.

The Browns' early 17-point lead had dwindled to six when coach Butch Davis successfully challenged a lost fumble by wide receiver Quincy Morgan that would have given the Ravens possession at the Cleveland 7-yard line.

The Browns punted two plays later, but quarterback Elvis Grbac continued his mighty struggle as he was stripped of the ball as he brought his arm back to throw from the pocket. Brian Billick challenged that call, but the ruling on the field was upheld.

Wary of saying anything that would draw a fine by the NFL, Billick demurred when asked his take on the sequence.

"I can't tell you," Billick said. "I can tell you, but I'm not allowed to tell you."

The Browns' fumble that wasn't was the more costly of the two rulings, as the Ravens' defense countered Grbac's last giveaway with an interception of Tim Couch by Michael McCrary.

Matt Stover closed out the Ravens' scoring with a 42-yard field goal, but four minutes earlier the offense thought it would have a shot at the go-ahead touchdown with a start inside the red zone.

Cleveland's offense was a mess in the third quarter. Rod Woodson intercepted Couch to set up the touchdown that drew the Ravens within 20-14, and on second down after the ensuing kickoff, Jamie Sharper smelled a screen to Morgan in the left flat and separated the ball from him at the Browns' 13-yard line, 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Ray Lewis won a scramble for the loose ball at the 7-yard line with 5:44 left in the quarter. The defense came off the field and the offense came on as the volume was raised at PSINet, but referee Johnny Grier agreed with Davis' challenge and reversed his crew's initial call.

"That's very deflating," Sharper said. "You're out there celebrating. You're sitting on the bench and the offense goes out there to take over the game. Then you have to run back on the field. It really lets you down."

Davis and anyone paying attention to the replays on the big screens at PSINet saw Morgan appear to take at least one step with control of the ball.

"The ref said he didn't catch it, but if you look, he's turning his shoulders, trying to go upfield," Lewis said. "It happens. It's just one play. You move on."

Less than two minutes later, Grbac dropped back to pass and was hit from the blind side by right end Courtney Brown, who recovered the fumble at the Browns' 37. Billick burned one of the Ravens' timeouts with his unsuccessful challenge.

"He [Billick] saw my arm in motion," Grbac said. "They [the two challenges] were big. It could have changed the whole momentum of the game, but there were other plays. In games this tight, the team that makes fewer mistakes wins."

The swing symbolized the Ravens' deficiency in turnover differential. They led the NFL in that department with a plus-23 ratio last season, but they're at minus-13 through 10 games. This season, the team is 0-4 in games in which it has a negative turnover ratio.

"It's been a crazy season," Sharper said. "We won on some lucky plays the last couple of weeks. We can't win like that every week."

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