Big returns power Browns

Cribbs plays key role in helping Cleveland dominate field position

Ravens Gameday

November 19, 2007|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN REPORTER

Even Cleveland Browns return specialist Joshua Cribbs couldn't believe that the Ravens kept kicking off to him.

"The coaches said to me, `They're not going to kick it to you, Josh, so be ready, be ready for a short kick or pop-up kick,'" Cribbs said. "I was moving up, ready for anything - but at first I was playing deep, giving them the illusion, so he would kick it short, and I was ready to just run up. But they kept kicking it back. They kept giving us opportunities.

"I didn't understand it, but I do understand that if I was on the coverage team, I'd be offended to think that they couldn't stop a guy."

Cribbs played a huge role in helping Cleveland win the field-position battle and his last two kickoff returns heavily contributed to kicker Phil Dawson's game-tying and game-winning field goals in the Ravens' 33-30 loss yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium.

"He's a great returner, and we knew that coming into this week," said fullback Le'Ron McClain, who plays special teams for the Ravens. "He just makes plays."

Cribbs - who entered yesterday's game ranked second in the NFL with a 32.4-yard kickoff average and two kickoff returns for touchdowns - returned seven kickoffs for 245 yards (a 35.0-yard average) against the Ravens.

Six of Cribbs' seven returns helped the Browns begin drives at no worse than their own 35-yard line, and four of those possessions started at Cleveland's 41 or better.

Cribbs' penultimate return went for 39 yards, putting the Browns at the 43 with 26 seconds left in the game. Two plays and 24 yards later, Dawson converted a 51-yard field goal to send the contest into overtime.

After Cleveland won the coin toss and elected to receive, Cribbs took the ensuing kickoff 41 yards, and the Browns began at their 41. Eight plays and 43 yards later, Dawson nailed the game-winning 33-yarder in overtime.

Cribbs, whose longest of the day was a 50-yard return, expressed mild shock that the Ravens did not try to angle the kickoffs away from him.

Afterward, coach Brian Billick said there was no plan to kick away from Cribbs.

"He's a good player, but you still - at some point when you kick off - you do have to kick it within the field of play or give them the ball at the 40," he said.

Kicker Matt Stover agreed, saying, "We've got to be football players. That's what it comes down to being, and he made some good plays."

Linebacker Gary Stills said the key to Cribbs' success was a scheme in which the Browns set up a wedge that appeared to be a return through the middle of the field. But rather than take that path, Cribbs would wait for his blocks to set up before bursting through holes, usually on the right side of the Ravens' coverage.

"We had to stay disciplined and slow him down," Stills said. "I put that on special teams. We let him return the ball to the 40-yard line."

Cribbs' efforts were noted by his teammates.

"He's our 12th man because he comes up and makes plays when we need him," said Jamal Lewis, a former Ravens running back. "He comes through in a clutch."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

Sun columnist David Steele contributed to this article.

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