Revived Ravens return to their roots

Trip back to Cleveland stirs `volatile atmosphere'

NFL Week 5

October 06, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - The NFL's most hostile homecoming will reveal as much about the Ravens' character as their chances in the AFC North.

The Ravens (1-2) head back to their roots, where they will battle the division-leading Cleveland Browns (2-2), a recently challenged Dawg Pound and a wave of emotions from Monday's victory.

Another Ravens upset victory on national television would give them at least a share of first place. A loss could label them a one-game fluke.

"We are fired up," Ravens quarterback Chris Redman said. "We feel like we have a shot and have found a new light here.

"I want to be as prepared as I've ever been for a game. I think everyone has that second wind and that burst of energy where we want to go out there and compete for this thing. For us to have a chance at the playoffs, these are the games we have to win."

Because their season opener was played before an apathetic Carolina crowd, the Ravens and their 17 rookies venture into their first - and perhaps toughest - road test of the season. Already stirred up by the teams' bitter history, Cleveland fans were further provoked by Browns coach Butch Davis, who questioned his home crowd's intensity.

Heading into such daunting surroundings has become so much of a concern that Ravens coach Brian Billick addressed this issue in one of the final team meetings. He showed his players video clips of Monday night's charged atmosphere at Ravens Stadium and talked about how they fed off that energy.

Now, as the visitors, the challenge is to withstand that initial onslaught of emotion.

"That's what they're going to have to handle," Billick said. "Most veteran players love playing on the road and feed off a volatile atmosphere. These young guys may or may not know that yet. We'll see."

Deafening crowd noise can play havoc on a team's communication and composure, where breakdowns lead to turnovers. The Browns swept the Ravens last year by converting eight turnovers into 24 points.

But the Ravens didn't stress last year's turnover problem, because they've protected the ball well this year. Despite being a first-year starter, Redman has made smart decisions and cannot be faulted for either of his interceptions. His first pick came under pressure at Carolina, and his other interception was a forced throw in a late blowout loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We may have forced things [against Cleveland] last year," Redman said. "We don't want to force anything this year. That's the major key for us winning is to go out there and play a good, sound game."

The biggest noise created last week in practice came from Billick. Knowing that the Browns likely will double team tight end Todd Heap after a breakout game, Billick uncharacteristically called out receiver Travis Taylor to make an impact tonight.

When asked later in the week about his comments, Billick did not back down from his challenge.

"It is his time to step up," Billick said. "Travis has been around long enough, and the expectations are legitimate. He needs to put that kind of pressure on himself. This team needs that from him."

Taylor, the 10th overall pick in the 2000 draft, is the Ravens' fourth-leading receiver with five catches for 79 yards. He hasn't had more than two receptions in any game this season and hasn't produced a catch of more than 9 yards since the season opener.

"I know it's time to respond," Taylor said. "If this offense wants to get where it needs to be, the outside guys have to do our job. We came into the season saying we wanted to be a top 10 offense, and it starts with the wide-outs."

Playing at Cleveland Browns Stadium likely will figure into the Browns' game plan, too. Although Cleveland's strength is its wide-outs, the Browns could run the ball early to take pressure off quarterback Tim Couch.

Backup Kelly Holcomb was impressive when Couch was sidelined the first two games, and Couch is coming off a poor performance last week. Cleveland cannot afford for Couch to get off to a rough start and begin hearing boos.

Plus, the Browns have confidence in running the ball against the Ravens despite having little success on the ground this season. Last year, Cleveland was the first team to exploit running the ball off tackle against the Ravens and to get blockers to the second level on linebacker Ray Lewis.

Ravens outside linebacker Cornell Brown, who was out of football last year, remembers watching from home and seeing Cleveland run to the outside against the Ravens. Now, he will play a pivotal role in containing the Browns.

"That's the focus we want to take going into the game," Brown said. "We want to stop them from doing things like that."

In a span of a week, the rebuilding Ravens went from projects to potential prodigies.

The Ravens sent a statement to the nation with Monday night's win over Denver. Now, it seems they're playing for something more personal.

"It's a chance to send a message to ourselves," Lewis said. "We don't care about nobody else. We know if we beat them, we take over our division. It's that simple, and it's all right in front of us for the taking."

Ravens tonight

Opponent:Cleveland Browns

Site:Cleveland Browns Stadium

Time: 8:30

TV/Radio:Ch. 13, ESPN/WJFK (1300 AM), WQSR (102.7 FM)

Line:Browns by 6 1/2

On SunSpot:For more Ravens coverage, visit sunspot.net/ravensInside

Scouting report,rosters, statistics and more. [Page 14d]

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