Red's pick halts Browns' rally from 23-0 hole

J. Lewis runs for 187 yards

Ravens in AFC North lead

Ravens 26, Browns 21

October 07, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

CLEVELAND - The NFL's most powerful Prime Time Players took another bow on the national stage.

Relying on timely strikes on offense and opportunistic plays on defense, the Ravens held on to beat the Cleveland Browns, 26-21, to seize first place in the AFC North on the franchise's old turf.

Once considered a team rebuilding for the future, the Ravens (2-2) have become the league's premier showstoppers of the present, recording major upsets in consecutive nationally televised games. The Browns (2-3), whose previous two losses came on the final play, rallied from a 23-0 third-quarter deficit with three touchdowns in the fourth, but they came up just short. Safety Ed Reed intercepted backup Kelly Holcomb's pass in the end zone to end the game, and Cleveland fell a half game behind the Ravens.

The Ravens' offense made the most of their shots, with quarterback Chris Redman hitting receiver Brandon Stokley on touchdown throws of 30 and 35 yards.

Their defense had shut out Cleveland for three quarters but seemed vulnerable when inside linebacker Ray Lewis strained his shoulder and left with 6:30 remaining in the third quarter. Lewis injured himself on trying to recover a fumble, and team officials said he could have returned if the team needed him.

Browns starting quarterback Tim Couch sat dazed on the bench with a slight concussion in the fourth quarter, but they stormed back behind Holcomb.

After Cleveland scored two touchdowns to close within 23-15, the Ravens didn't put Lewis back in and stepped up without him, recording their fourth turnover.

Breaking on a slant route, Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter deflected the pass, and outside linebacker Peter Boulware caught his first career interception with 6:05 left in the fourth quarter. Starting deep inside Browns' territory, the Ravens grinded out 25 yards on seven plays and increased the lead to 26-15 on Matt Stover's 28-yard field goal.

But after scoring to get within five points, the Browns recovered an onside kick. They moved the ball to the Ravens' 17 in the final minute, but Holcomb's final pass was picked off by Reed.

The Ravens, who were swept by the Browns last year because of eight turnovers, turned the tables last night. They converted 13 points off two fumbles and an interception.

Redman finished 19-for-30 for 208 yards, and running back Jamal Lewis paced the offense the rest of the way with 187 yards rushing on 26 carries.

In the first quarter, the Ravens won the battle for field position yet came away with no points. They had the ball twice at the Browns' 35-yard line but chose to punt the ball instead of attempting a 52-yard field goal into the wind.

The Ravens' defense did its part in pinning Cleveland, forcing consecutive three-and-outs to start the game.

Like last Monday night, the Ravens' offense didn't awake until the second quarter. In their first possession of that period, the Ravens closed out a methodical drive with a bang, as Brandon Stokley caught a 30-yard pass down the right sideline.

After chipping down the field, the Ravens hit with a perfectly designed downfield play to go ahead 7-0 with 9:51 left before halftime. Lining in the slot, Stokley broke free down the sideline after wide-out Ron Johnson ran to the inside to pick Stokley's defender.

Redman, who was five of six for 66 yards in that drive, hit Stokley at the 5, and the receiver beat a diving Earl Little to the end zone. The 84-yard drive - the Ravens' longest of the season - had three third-down conversions and finished in front of the Dawg Pound, taking a bite out of the rowdy Browns fans.

For the second straight week, another Ravens rookie ensured the momentum didn't swing. On Cleveland's first play after the touchdown, Ravens free safety Will Demps tipped a Tim Couch pass high in the air and inside linebacker Ray Lewis came down with his second interception of the season.

Starting inside Browns' territory, the Ravens were pushed back to the Cleveland 44 when right guard Bennie Anderson pushed Gerard Warren and was flagged for unnecessary roughness. But the Ravens didn't lose their composure and used three passes to running backs to set up Matt Stover's 43-yard field goal, pushing the lead to 10-0 with 5:46 remaining in the second quarter.

The Ravens' defense wouldn't budge and stuffed Cleveland running back William Green on a third-and-one.

The Ravens then closed out the half by capitalizing on another Browns miscue when Little interfered with Ravens tight end Todd Heap at the Cleveland 14. After the 30-yard penalty, the Ravens ran three times and settled for a 28-yard field goal to end the first half with a 13-0 advantage.

In their past two games, the Ravens have outscored their opponents 44-0 in the first half. Their defense limited Cleveland to 68 yards of total offense and only two first downs.

The Ravens' defense tightened their grip on the game one minute into the third quarter. After watching Browns receiver Quincy Morgan make a catch, Lewis tracked him down from behind, stripped him and recovered the ball at the Ravens 44.

Three plays later, Redman went deep to Stokley again. Running down the left sideline, Stokley pulled in the 35-yard touchdown throw despite cornerback Anthony Henry's both hands covering the front of his helmet.

The second-longest throw of Redman's short career staked the Ravens to a 20-0 lead just 1:39 into the third quarter. Stover's 27-yard field goal late in the third raised the advantage to 23-0.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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