Following the leader

November 03, 2008|By DAVID STEELE | DAVID STEELE,

CLEVELAND - Nothing pushes Ray Lewis' buttons like winning, hardly a big revelation at this stage of his career. So there was almost no chance he would be satisfied with the course that yesterday's game at Cleveland Browns Stadium was taking.

Late in the third quarter, the Ravens were down 14 points, short on healthy cornerbacks and wide receivers, relying on a rookie quarterback and running back, facing a fourth loss in Cleveland in five years and on their way to a 4-4 record at midseason.

Lewis liked the idea of being 5-3 a lot better. So there on the sideline - when, as he said, he "caught a couple of guys with their heads down" - he raised his voice for everybody, on every unit and the coaching staff, to hear and absorb.

"It's more for the morale," Lewis said, explaining why he felt he had to speak out, "the morale of not being .500, of not losing a game we're supposed to win. It was more [about] coming back and winning the game as a team, offense, defense and special teams."

All of which the Ravens did. Apparently, 4-4, with a loss to a Browns team they were clearly capable of beating even with their own shortcomings, was nothing they wanted to settle for, either. Now that they have a taste of winning - including coming from behind, dominating the last 21 minutes and coasting, 37-27 - this version of the Ravens is really starting to enjoy it.

As they do, though, they're determined to not focus on where their surprising halfway record places them. Collectively, they're refusing to look at the AFC North standings and at the fact that if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose tonight at Washington, they will be tied for the lead. It's a stunning development for a team with this new coach, this novice quarterback, and preseason projections that put them near the bottom of the NFL - but not stunning enough for them to dare look into the sun.

"Haven't even thought about it. We're thinking about the Houston Texans [next week]," coach John Harbaugh said with a grin. "I'm not going there."

That makes sense. As Lewis made clear by his mid-game speech, winning each week is hard enough. Until yesterday, they had not won this year after trailing in the fourth quarter, and two of their three losses, against the Steelers and Tennessee Titans, had resulted from blown leads like the one yesterday.

Against the Browns, though, youngsters such as Joe Flacco and Ray Rice played like veterans, and the veterans played the way veterans are supposed to. Being so banged up at so many critical positions should have done them in, but it didn't. So should their inability to slow Joshua Cribbs, or even to keep the ball away from him on kicks.

By the end, the crowd that was in a frenzy when the lead was two touchdowns was booing the home team and chanting for Brady Quinn.

It was as if the Ravens didn't believe they could win a game like this until someone reminded them they could. Lewis, with his legendary hatred of losing, was the perfect spokesman. "He is hands-down, in our time, the greatest general, the greatest leader," Terrell Suggs said. "He told the whole team, 'We're gonna win this game.' And you could see the truth in his eyes."

Later, Lewis couldn't keep the truth out of his mouth, even while all around him, his teammates were taking the season one game and one cliche at a time.

"Where we are now, two games up over .500, eight games into the season?" he said. "Bottom line is, you can't ask for more than where we are right now."

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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