Defense bends, breaks in fourth quarter

Sharper: Unit had letdown on Browns' late TD drive

November 19, 2001|By Brent Jones | Brent Jones,SUN STAFF

Reflecting in the locker room after yesterday's 27-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns, Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper had to concede something.

The Ravens' defense, after 20 minutes of domination to start the second half, gave in when it could least afford to - in the fourth quarter and with the offense in need of help.

The reason for the breakdown came from a letdown, according to Sharper. He said the team was emotionally tapped out after holding the Browns to 18 total yards on their first five possessions of the second half.

Cleveland took advantage with a 12-play, 68-yard drive capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by Jamel White that put the Browns up by 10 with 4:02 left.

"At that point, we had to step it up," Sharper said. "I think there was a little bit of a letdown. Guys exploded their emotions in the third quarter, then when we didn't have the lead, we couldn't get that thing going again."

The emotional explosion produced three interceptions by the Ravens' defense in the second half. Rod Woodson intercepted quarterback Tim Couch on the Browns' first possession, setting up Elvis Grbac's 24-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap that cut the Browns' 13-point halftime lead to 20-14.

Cleveland's next four possessions ended with a three-and-out, back-to-back interceptions and another three-and-out. The Ravens got field position at the Browns' 48, the Browns' 29, their own 28 and their own 24, but they came away with only three points.

"We came out there and were playing some great football on defense," Sharper said. "They couldn't move the ball at all."

That was until Cleveland's game-breaking drive, one in which depth might have played a factor. The Ravens were without injured end Rob Burnett, and cornerback Duane Starks left with a groin injury he suffered in the first quarter.

That pushed backups such as end Adalius Thomas and cornerback Alvin Porter to play nearly the entire game, with tackle Kelly Gregg also in for many crucial plays.

Still, the Ravens held the Browns to 232 yards and a 5-for-14 third-down conversion ratio. But Cleveland was able to take advantage of five Ravens turnovers by converting a few important plays of its own, including a fourth-and-one on the Ravens' 35 on its fourth-quarter touchdown drive.

"We gave them a lot of things - penalties, let them catch balls they shouldn't catch, let them score touchdowns they shouldn't get," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "It is all of us, a team thing. If they don't score, they don't win."

But the Browns were bound to score, with the four interceptions and a fumble by Grbac, and the poor kickoff coverage leading to short fields. Cleveland started its scoring drives from the Ravens' 42, the Ravens' 39, the Browns' 42 and the Browns' 32.

The Ravens' defense, as usual, refused to point fingers.

"This is a team game," safety Corey Harris said. "We would play tennis or run track if we want to be individual champs. We didn't get to the Super Bowl last year and we are not going to get back by being just defense or just offense or just special teams. We thrive on controlling those parts of the game."

The Ravens are 0-4 when they lose the turnover battle this season, 6-0 when they win that statistic. Getting three takeaways in one game is usually good enough to at least break even.

"We know that eventually [the offense] is going to get that thing turned around and do what they are supposed to do," linebacker Peter Boulware said. "It only makes it worse if you get frustrated, try to press.

"The only thing that is going to help us is for us to do our job and for everyone on this team to encourage everybody. A team starts going down when the defense, offense, special teams start pointing fingers at each other. This team has too much character to start doing that."

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