Sunday, November 18, 2001

OWINGS MILLS, Md. As odd as it sounds from a team that finished last in the AFC Central with a 3-13 record a year ago, the revitalized Cleveland Browns gave the Baltimore Ravens all they could handle four weeks ago in Cleveland.
The Browns dominated the Ravens on both sides of the ball in a 24-14 victory, and the final score was closer than the game. Throughout, the upstart Browns let the proud Ravens know what they were doing to the Super Bowl champs.
The battle lines have already been drawn, and today’s return encounter between the Ravens (6-3) and Browns (4-4) at PSINet Stadium should be interesting.
“When you are in our division and you win one game, remember you’ve got to see us twice,” said Ravens four-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Ray Lewis. “When you’ve got guys talking trash, they’ve got to understand, trust me, the same thing that makes you laugh will make you cry. We’re not going in with a friendly attitude. We’re going in to truly knock them in the mouth, period.”
Earlier in the week, reports out of Cleveland attacked Ravens coach Brian Billick for comments he made weeks ago that he wasn’t ready to anoint Browns quarterback Tim Couch for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Billick went his critics one better. He sent a personal message to Couch.
“I understand he took offense,” Billick said last week. “Maybe I’m alone in that, ‘I’m sorry Tim, don’t mean to diss you this way, but the Hall of Fame is still a little bit a ways away, if you need that to get motivated, have at it, son.’”
In the first meeting, the Browns made the Ravens turn the ball over three times, sacked quarterback Elvis Grbac seven times and knocked him out of the game. Because of the beating he took against the Browns, Grbac missed the next two games with bruised ribs.
“I’m comfortable and I believe in everybody that we have coming in on the offensive line, and the last couple of weeks we’ve had guys who have become better and played better,” Grbac said. “Having a chance of playing at home now instead of being on the road will give a chance for those guys up front to be well coordinated in what they are doing.”
Grbac can only hope so.
The Browns come in hungry after losing two consecutive overtime games. Meanwhile, the Ravens have been on a mini-roll, having won three straight thrillers, including last Monday’s 16-10 win over the Tennessee Titans when they stopped quarterback Steve McNair at the goal line on the game’s last play.
The Ravens would like nothing better than to establish the run against the Browns. Cleveland is ranked 24th against the run, and the Ravens’ rushing attack is the NFL’s 22nd-rated.
With Terry Allen out four to six weeks with a broken hand, the Ravens will rely mainly on Jason Brookins. However, Billick said he plans to give six-year veteran Moe Williams an expanded role in the offense.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” said Brookins, who leads the Ravens with 365 yards on 91 carries and three touchdowns. “Now it’s my time to carry the load, and I plan on doing that.”
Ravens tight end Shannon Sharpe should go into the NFL record book in today’s game. Sharpe needs one catch to set the all-time record for receptions by a tight end. Sharpe’s boss, Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens’ senior vice president of player personnel, shares the mark of 662 receptions with Sharpe. This is the third week Sharpe will go for the record.
“I’ve never wanted to be in a situation where I’m trying to get the ball or Brian is calling plays for me that costs us winning a ballgame,” Sharpe said. “Winning supersedes anything any one accomplishment an individual can get.”
The Ravens’ game next Sunday at Jacksonville has been moved from 1 to 4:15 p.m. to give CBS a stronger doubleheader game.

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