- The Washington Times - Monday, September 25, 2006

CLEVELAND — As Matt Stover jogged onto the field, the Baltimore Ravens’ worries were over. A few seconds and 52 yards later, Stover had given them three points and their first 3-0 start.

“I’ve always called him Automatic Stover,” linebacker Ray Lewis said.

True to his nickname, Stover kicked a 52-yard field goal with 20 seconds left yesterday as the Ravens remained unbeaten by rallying for a 15-14 win against the Cleveland Browns, who were one play away from their first win.

Stover’s 12th career game-winning kick came after Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister intercepted a pass by Charlie Frye in the end zone with 3:21 left as the Browns (0-3) were threatening.

Baltimore’s Steve McNair then went 6-for-9 for 52 yards to set up the 38-year-old Stover, who spent five years in Cleveland but left in 1995 when owner Art Modell moved his franchise to Maryland.

As the kick by Stover, the only former Browns player still on Baltimore’s roster, sailed through, the Ravens’ bench erupted in celebration, while Cleveland fans bemoaned another tough loss.

“Sure it means a lot,” said Stover, who also made kicks of 32 and 43 yards. “The Browns are a long, lost family. When I hit it, it was money — right down the middle.”

Cleveland led 14-3 going into the fourth and was on the verge of an upset when Baltimore’s defense came up big.

McNair finished 23-for-41 for 264 yards and threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap on the first play of the fourth quarter. The Ravens sacked Frye seven times, limited the Browns to 38 yards rushing overall and just 91 total yards in the second half.

Frye, making big plays on the fly and shaking off Baltimore’s best shots, threw a 58-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards and ran for another. He had the Browns in position to put it away, but on second-and-goal at the Baltimore 4, he was blindsided by linebacker Bart Scott as he let go of his pass to Edwards.

“If he doesn’t get hit, it’s a TD,” Edwards said. “It was a great play call.”

McAlister, though, had excellent position and stepped inside of Edwards for the pick.

“I had my antenna up because they went to that play earlier,” McAlister said. “It was pretty much our last opportunity.”

McNair took over from there, completing four straight passes — two to Mark Clayton — to move the Ravens into field-goal territory. It was the kind of clutch drive McNair regularly made during 11 seasons with Tennessee, and one reason the Ravens signed him as free agent.

“It all starts with Steve,” Heap said. “He looked everybody in the eye and told us what we needed to do. To do what he did with the pressure on is very special.”

After Stover’s kick, the Browns’ last chance ended when linebacker Gary Stills stripped Joshua Cribbs at the 32.

Frye finished 21-for-33 for a career-high 298 yards for the Browns, who were without leading rusher Reuben Droughns (shoulder) and still managed to make the NFL’s best defense sweat to the finish.

Edwards had five catches for 116 yards — all before halftime — and Kellen Winslow had seven receptions for 92.

“It’s a tough loss,” said Frye, who was rocked by several shots, including a vicious hit by Adalius Thomas. “It’s disappointing to have a team on the ropes like that and let them come back.”

Earlier in the week, Winslow criticized Cleveland’s play calling and urged the club to get the ball to its playmakers. The Browns did better but not enough.

Frye’s 1-yard run 24 seconds before halftime capped a 74-yard drive during which the Browns’ second-year QB had to scramble from trouble before finding his targets — Winslow, Edwards and Dennis Northcutt — as Cleveland took a surprising 14-3 lead.

The Ravens, who went 0-for-6 on third-down conversions in the first half, finally began clicking on offense and pulled within 14-9 in the third on McNair’s short scoring toss to Heap.

Baltimore went for two, but McNair’s pass to Heap was broken up.

Without Droughns, Cleveland’s offense figured to sputter, and it frequently fizzled in the first as the Browns gained 13 yards and Frye was sacked three times.

But after getting their best starting position, the Browns needed just eight seconds to take a 7-3 lead when Frye connected with Edwards, the first touchdown allowed by the Ravens this season.

“Charlie came over and said, ‘Bro, we’re going up top,’” Edwards said.

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