- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 6, 2002

OWINGS MILLS, Md. The Baltimore Ravens have an opportunity to sit atop the NFL's weakest division. A road victory tonight over the Cleveland Browns (2-2) would guarantee the young Ravens (1-2) at least a piece of first place in the new AFC North.
And depending on what the Pittsburgh Steelers (1-2) do against the New Orleans Saints, the Ravens could be sitting in sole possession of the division lead. One week after gaining their first win, they're playing for the division lead.
"It's not crazy when you look at our division," said middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his interception and 20 tackles in the Ravens' 34-23 upset of the Denver Broncos. "There is nobody in our division that is a clear-cut favorite. So it's right there in front you, whatever you want to do in the division."
The Browns swept the Ravens last season because Baltimore turned the ball over eight times in the two losses, including six interceptions of former Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac.
The Ravens probably will be more careful tonight with third-year quarterback Chris Redman, who is making just his fourth NFL start.
"If we can concentrate on not turning the ball over, I think we'll have a shot," Redman said.
Defensively, the Ravens must put pressure on Browns quarterback Tim Couch. Couch, who missed the Browns first two games with a bruised forearm. In his season debut two weeks ago at Tennessee, Couch led the Browns to a come-from-behind 31-28 victory. Couch rallied the Browns from a 14-point, fourth-quarter deficit by engineering two touchdown drives in the final 5:06. For the game, he completed 36 of 50 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns.
Couch needed a game like that because backup Kelly Holcomb was nothing short of spectacular during Couch's absence, thereby creating a mini-quarterback controversy in Cleveland.
Holcomb, a sixth-year pro from Middle Tennessee State, is the AFC's top-rated quarterback even though he's back on the bench. As Couch's fill-in, Holcomb completed 44 of 69 for 524 yards and five touchdowns with no interceptions (111.0 rating) while leading the Browns to a 1-1 mark.
"Everybody in our organization, even going back to last year, felt that we were very fortunate to have Kelly on our football team," Browns coach Butch Davis said. "If there is a blessing about losing your starting quarterback, probably the best time is at the very beginning of the season because there is no better preparation for your backup quarterback than coming out of training camp. As unfortunate as it was, the timing was good, but there was also no doubt that Tim Couch was the starting quarterback."
The past three NFL drafts have seen the Browns make a concerted effort to deliver Couch offensive help. That commitment especially shows up in the receiving corps. Couch has four deep-threat weapons Kevin Johnson, Quincy Morgan, Dennis Northcutt and rookie Andre Davis who can break open a game.
Last week the Baltimore secondary had to deal with Rod Smith, Shannon Sharpe and Ed McCaffrey. Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister believes the Browns' receivers are better than anything Denver has to offer.
"Their receivers, in my opinion, are better than the bunch we faced last week in McCaffrey and Smith," McAlister said. "They're more shifty, they're all fast and they have the threat of taking the ball to the [end zone] every time. They're like the sleeping giants, their receiving corps. We have to know that they are a bigger threat than the team that we just faced."


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