Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ravens’ Frantic 3rd Quarter Sends Hapless Browns to 0-3

It wasn’t seen on National TV. It wasn’t done in horrible, brown pants. It didn’t involve a questionable field goal call. None of those ingredients were present but the Cleveland Browns were able to completely embarrass themselves once again as they fell to 0-3 by dropping a 28-10 decision to the rival Baltimore Ravens on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

The first half looked bright for the Browns as they were able cause the Ravens’ opening drive to stall at the Cleveland 30 yard line. Former Browns’ and current Ravens’ kicker Matt Stover’s 48 yard field goal attempt glanced off the right goal post to give the Browns’ excellent field position.

The Browns ensuing drive stalled in Ravens’ territory and the Baltimore offense started where they left off on their first drive, driving into Cleveland territory once again. After converting a 4th and 2 on the Browns’ 49 Ravens’ rookie Joe Flacco was intercepted by Browns’ linebacker D’Qwell Jackson.

The Browns’ took over on their own 48 and used a series of short passes to Lawrence Vickers and Syndric Steptoe and the running of Jamal Lewis to get into the red zone as the first quarter expired. On the first play of the second quarter, Derek Anderson hit Jerome Harrison on a screen pass in the right flat and Harrison took it to the house for a 7-0 Browns lead.

Flacco was intercepted on the Ravens’ next possession but the Browns were unable to capitalize once more and were forced to punt. The Ravens’ then tactically shifted their focus to the run and it immediately paid dividends as they rode Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain down the field. McGahee seemed to be caught in the backfield at the 5 yard line but his effort combined with poor tackling made the score even at 7 with just over six minutes left in the first half.

The Browns answered by driving down the field themselves, mixing Jamal Lewis runs with intermediate passes to Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. However, in the drive stalled deep in Baltimore territory and they were forced to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal and a 10-7 lead at halftime.

When the teams came out for the second half the Ravens came out with a purpose and the Browns crumbled in the face of adversity.

The Browns received the ball to start to half and on third down, Anderson hung Winslow out to dry as Ray Lewis leveled him as he was about to make the catch. The ball ricocheted into the air where Chris McAllister intercepted it and returned it to the Browns’ 12. Four plays later McClain barreled into the endzone for a 14-10 Baltimore lead. Lewis’ one play had changed to course of the game and set the tone for the last 26 minutes of the game.

Anderson has been criticized for shrinking in big game and when adversity arises. But he had a shot at redemption on the following series. He responded by throwing another interception on third down, this one directly into the arms of Ed Reed who returned it 32 yards for a touchdown and 21-10 Ravens lead.

With the game still within reach the Browns responded by completely unraveling on the ensuing series. A Jamal Lewis run was nullified by a Braylon Edwards penalty. The Browns eventually punted but allowed a 21 yard return to the 50 and then gave the Ravens 15 more yards on Mike Adams personal foul penalty on the punt. Five plays and only 3 minutes later, McClain dove into the endzone for a second time on the afternoon and the Ravens were up 28-10. Ball game.

The Browns were never able to mount any sort of retaliation as the Ravens were able to pin their ears back and pressure the Browns with the 18 point cushion. The Browns responded with more penalties, dropped passes and poor execution. When the Ravens has the ball, they were content to salt away the clock with McClain and rookie Ray Rice mixed in with short, safe passes.

Late in the game, the Ravens faced a 4th and 5 at the Browns’ 3 yard line and mercifully ran up the middle for one yard to give the ball back to the Browns at the two minute warning. In one of life’s great ironies, Anderson’s pass was thrown right into the waiting arms of Samari Rolle for his third interception of the game.

Jamal Lewis didn’t have a bad day rushing 12 times for 56 yards but was rendered meaningless with the large deficit in the third quarter. Anderson was a putrid 14 for 37 for only 125 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions. He looked rattled and confused most of the game, even in the first half.

He didn’t get much help from his superstars Edwards and Winslow who only have 3 catches for 27 yards and two catches for 14 yards, respectively. Guard Eric Steinbach’s absence was also felt as Anderson was harassed all day and sacked five times. This from a unit that only gave up 14 sacks all last season.

The defense seemed to play inspired in the first half, bending but not breaking while protecting the 10-7 lead. But the great field position afforded to the Ravens’ offense by the Browns’ offense and special teams proved too much for them to overcome and they were worn down by the Ravens’ punishing rushing attack.

Jackson played inspired for the second consecutive game and his interception lead to the Browns’ only touchdown. Rookie Alex Hall notched his first professional sack and was the only Browns’ defender to be somewhat of a nuisance all game. Other than that no one stood out against a Ravens’ offense that predominantly only ran the ball of the last two and a half quarters of the game.

The loss drops the Browns, the pre-season darlings of the NFL, to 0-3 the same record as their next opponent the cross-state rival Cincinnati Bengals. Right now the Browns can’t get out of their own way as they look unprepared, lost and totally out of sync through the first three games of the season. If they can’t get out of their own way and in the Bengals’ way next week they will be staring 0-4 and their bye week straight in the face.

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