- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 13, 2005

Favored by some to win the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens are officially a mess.

Their long-impregnable defense is barely in the top half of the league in points allowed. They’ve had more drives end in turnovers than in the red zone. And they are fourth in the league in turnovers.

After an embarrassing, penalty-ridden 35-17 pummeling by Detroit last week, the Ravens are off to a franchise-worst 1-3 start despite having played just one team with a winning record.

“With all the preseason hype, to be where they are now has to be frustrating,” said Washington center Casey Rabach, who played for the Ravens from 2001 to 2004. “I’m surprised by the points they’re giving up because that defense is normally so amazing.”

New receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton haven’t revitalized the still-moribund passing game. Injured two-year starter Kyle Boller wasn’t a very good quarterback, but replacement Anthony Wright is even worse, allowing opponents to focus even more than usual on stopping running back Jamal Lewis. The former 2,000-yard man is averaging just 3.1 yards a carry and has only one touchdown.

Not only do the Ravens trail rising Cincinnati (4-1) and defending division champion Pittsburgh (3-1), but Cleveland, a 2004 laughingstock, is 2-2 heading into Sunday’s meeting in Baltimore.

The surprisingly tough Browns scored two late touchdowns to beat Chicago last Sunday, two weeks after a stunning victory at Green Bay. Rookie coach Romeo Crennel’s upstarts were edged by unbeaten Indianapolis 13-6 and also lost 27-13 to the talented Bengals.

“You don’t go into a season thinking you’re going to be 4-12,” tight end Steve Heiden said. “If you do that, you might as well pack it in.”

The Browns, who lost tight end Kellen Winslow, last year’s top draft choice, to a season-ending motorcycle accident and receiver Braylon Edwards, this year’s No. 1 pick, at least temporarily to an infection, are struggling on the ground and on defense, but journeyman Trent Dilfer has a 91.5 passer rating heading into his first start at Baltimore since he led the Ravens to the 2000 Super Bowl title.

At 58, Crennel, who won five Super Bowls as an assistant with New England and the New York Giants, isn’t looking to be patient.

“We expect to win,” said kicker Phil Dawson. “That comes from the head coach. He’s made it clear he’s here to win.”

Prodigious Peppers — Before he suffered a season-ending injury for the second consecutive season, Carolina Pro Bowl defensive tackle Kris Jenkins raved about linemate Julius Peppers.

“Julius is a phenom,” Jenkins said. “We call him the next evolution of man. Some of the things he does, [don’t] make sense. If I did [them], I’d probably tear every ligament I had in my knees and shoulders and probably pop a couple disks out of my spinal cord.”

If last season is any indication, Peppers, who doesn’t have a sack after averaging 10 in his first three seasons, should be about to break out. He went sackless in three games after Jenkins went down in 2004 before recording seven the next four weeks. The Panthers have now played four games this year since Jenkins was hurt.

Saintly Saint — Hurricane Katrina has devastated thousands of lives along the Gulf Coast, but thanks to Saints tight end Ernie Conwell, it didn’t ruin the wedding of a New Orleans couple.

Conwell met the groom-to-be in a Wal-Mart in San Antonio, the team’s 2005 home city. The man’s girlfriend had recently given birth to twins and was shopping in another part of the store.

“The guy wanted to get married,” Conwell said. “Here was a guy who had nothing and wanted to do the right thing.”

Conwell introduced himself. The man pointed to the ring he wanted, and Conwell pulled out his credit card. The couple was married soon thereafter in a San Antonio relief center.

“It was a no-brainer for me,” Conwell said. “He had about $150 to his name. He was trying to give me everything he had. It’s one thing to give to the charity organizations. But if you can give to somebody right there in front of you, it’s amazing.”

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