When Mason's number was called, Browns' secondary had no answer

Ravens Gameday

Ravens 15 Browns 14

September 25, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

CLEVELAND — CLEVELAND-- --Ravens receiver Derrick Mason has been complaining about a lack of offense for the past three weeks, so he took it upon himself yesterday to jump-start the team.

In a game loaded with good receivers, Mason was the best on the field, catching seven passes for 132 yards as the Ravens staged a gallant, fourth-quarter comeback to defeat the Cleveland Browns, 15-14, at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

Kicker Matt Stover was the hero, converting on a 52-yard field goal with 20 seconds left, but the Browns had no answer for Mason. The Ravens lined him up outside or in the slot, put him in motion and gave the Browns all kinds of looks. Cleveland also tried several combinations to stop Mason, but in the end, Mason taught cornerback Daven Holly a few lessons.

"They loaded up to stop the run, and that left us in a lot of one-on-one coverage," Mason said. "I don't care who you are. I don't think any team can stop us one-on-one. We've got too many weapons."

Mason had a 37-yard catch down the left sideline in the first quarter. He had a one-handed, 38-yard reception down the left sideline late in the third. And when Mason wasn't making catches, he was a great decoy, clearing out so the Ravens could work underneath to tight end Todd Heap and receiver Mark Clayton.

Mason doesn't have great speed or slick moves. He just has a knack for finding holes in zones and has incredible timing with quarterback Steve McNair, his former partner for years in Tennessee.

Holly certainly was impressed.

"They made some plays that I wish I could have back," the Browns' cornerback said. "Steve McNair and Derrick Mason are two of the biggest names in the NFL right now. They played great."

Yes, McNair was painful to watch for nearly three quarters. He held the ball too long. He couldn't find receivers, and he overthrew and underthrew them. At times, he looked totally lost.

But in the fourth quarter, whom did you want at quarterback, McNair or Kyle Boller?

Be honest.

McNair's best days are behind him, and there are going to be games, halves and even quarters when he is going to look awful. But McNair, despite taking some wicked shots, pulled it off in the fourth quarter. He completed 23 of 41 passes for 264 yards for the game, but was 10-for-16 for 91 yards in the last quarter.

Boller would not have brought this team back. Never.

There are many times during a game that decide the outcome, and this one was the entire third quarter.

The Browns had the wind, which ranged from 12 to 25 mph, at their backs in the quarter and didn't score. As a matter of fact, the Browns had the ball for only 3:01 in the third quarter and ran 10 offensive plays.

The Ravens didn't score in that quarter, but with the wind at their backs in the fourth they scored 12 points.

"The wind was definitely a factor," Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said. "They hit some plays on us. They've got some weapons over there, including their tight ends and wide receivers, and no one gives them a lot of credit. But to dominate them the way we did was big."

Outside linebacker Bart Scott has become more than just a fill-in from a year ago. He's right up there with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Adalius Thomas as the biggest playmakers on the team.

So far, he might be the top playmaker on defense. Scott led the Ravens with eight tackles yesterday, including two sacks. He also knocked down a pass and hurried the quarterback five times. The last hurry possibly played a major part in the Browns' Charlie Frye throwing short to receiver Braylon Edwards in the end zone. The pass was intercepted by Chris McAlister with 3:21 left in the game.

Not bad for a guy who has been Lewis' understudy the past couple of years.

Because of injuries, the Browns were down to their No. 3 and No. 4 cornerbacks playing regularly. It showed late in the game because Cleveland couldn't match up with the Ravens.

Mason caused the Browns all kinds of trouble, especially to the outside of the field. With Cleveland fearing Mason, Clayton and Heap were effective on shorter patterns, and Clayton kept bailing out the Ravens with key receptions in the middle in the fourth quarter. Clayton had eight catches for 74 yards. Heap had five for 36.

Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good, and the Ravens were definitely lucky yesterday.

Two times Browns strong safety Sean Jones had his hands on passes that he could have easily intercepted and returned for touchdowns, but he dropped them. McNair hung a couple of passes that were close to being intercepted, and one long pass he completed to Mason down the sideline hit the defensive back in the helmet.

The Ravens got a lot of breaks. They showed passion with the comeback in the fourth quarter, but they can't play so recklessly against better teams.

The Browns were without five starters yesterday.

Cleveland fans are full of gloom. Some of them are already wishing the team would lose all 16 games this season so the Browns can have the No. 1 overall selection in the draft.

The stadium wasn't even three-quarters filled minutes before the game, and a lot of the fans sat in the fourth quarter when the Ravens had the ball. They only seemed to get excited with about eight minutes remaining. It's sad to see, especially if you visited Cleveland during the heyday of The Dawg Pound.

The personal seat license fees continue to drive away the passionate, blue-collar fans.


Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at www.baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral

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