The magic ended, the turnovers continued and the controversies have ensued.
Unable to overcome debatable replay decisions and inexcusable quarterback play, the Ravens watched their run of good fortune end with a nightmarish 27-17 loss to the Cleveland Browns before 69,353 at PSINet Stadium yesterday.The luck from the Ravens' three-game winning streak dissolved in the third quarter, when two marginal replay challenges went against the defending Super Bowl champions.
The confidence from the Ravens' eight-game home winning stretch disappeared as quarterback Elvis Grbac turned the ball over five times, including four interceptions.
The first two interceptions were converted into touchdowns. The last two killed scoring drives deep in Cleveland territory.
Grbac's breakdowns caused rumblings in the locker room and a ripple in the division standings, dropping the Ravens 1 1/2 games behind the AFC Central-leading Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens (6-4) remain in second place, but only a half game ahead of the Browns (5-4), who swept the season series to hold the edge in any tiebreakers.
"You can chalk this loss on me," said Grbac, whose four interceptions tied a team record and were a career high. "I made too many mistakes. I'm the No. 1 guy who is frustrated in my play and what we're doing. Don't worry about the confidence in our locker room. I've got the total confidence of my teammates and the coaching staff, and we'll be fine."
In the Ravens' four losses, they have turned the ball over 18 times, with Grbac having a hand in 15 of those.
Grbac's first interception was a result of forcing a pass into double coverage and led to a 7-yard touchdown run by Ben Gay four plays later. His second was a misread of a blitz and was returned 43 yards by safety Devin Bush for a touchdown, staking Cleveland to a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter. It's the second interception of a Grbac pass that's been run back for a touchdown this season.
His third one was thrown behind receiver Travis Taylor on a timing pattern and stopped a drive at the Browns' 13 in the final minute of the first half. His fourth came on the first series of the third quarter, when his pass to receiver Qadry Ismail fell short on a fade pattern in the end zone.
At that point, Grbac ripped off his chin strap and went to the sideline, where a tear appeared to trickle down his cheek.
When asked if he ever thought about removing Grbac, Ravens coach Brian Billick cut off the reporter and said, "No. Next question."
When the question was later repeated, Billick said: "Elvis is my starting quarterback. I think our best chance to win is with Elvis Grbac."
The players were then asked about the confidence in the locker room in Grbac.
After pausing 10 seconds, tight end Shannon Sharpe said: "He was brought here to do a job, and the job is not getting done. But I'm not going to totally blame Elvis. Myself, Qadry, Travis and Brandon [Stokley] didn't get open earlier. The offensive line has to take responsibility and has to do a better job of protecting him.
"But ultimately, we do all those things, it still comes back to Elvis. He's still the one that has to be the guy that pulls the trigger. Be it good or bad, Brian feels this is the guy that we got to ride with. So, we're going to ride with him."
Grbac, who finished 23 of 44 for 261 yards, did battle back in the second half. Two plays after Rod Woodson's interception, Grbac hit tight end Todd Heap for a 24-yard touchdown, closing the margin to 20-14 with 6:07 left in the third quarter.
On the next series, fate took a cruel swing for the Ravens, who had won their previous three games in the fourth quarter. Linebacker Jamie Sharper appeared to have forced Browns receiver Quincy Morgan to fumble after a reception, and Ray Lewis recovered the ball at the Cleveland 7.
But referee Johnny Grier overturned the play, saying Morgan never had control of the ball and ruling it an incompletion after a replay challenge.
"I can't tell you," Billick said of the officials' decision. "Not only can't I tell you, but I'm not allowed to tell you. Evidently, they saw something different."
After that Browns drive stalled, the Ravens moved to the Cleveland 26 on a 22-yard run by Jason Brookins. Grbac, though, lost his fourth fumble of the season when his cocked arm was hit by Browns end Courtney Brown. Coming from the blind side, Brown had blown past Heap.
The Ravens challenged the call, thinking Grbac's arm was going forward and the play should be called an incompletion. This time, Grier did not overturn the decision on the field.
"I thought initially, too, my arm was going forward," Grbac said. "They made the decision and looked at the replay, and that's how it stands."
The Ravens' defense, which allowed only 232 yards of total offense, again produced a big play when Adalius Thomas deflected Tim Couch's pass and fellow end Michael McCrary intercepted it at the Browns' 29. That led to a 42-yard field goal by Matt Stover, cutting the deficit to 20-17 with 1:30 left in the third.
Cleveland sealed the game late in the fourth quarter when Gay broke a 21-yard run to the Ravens' 2. Gay busted through the right side of the line and broke through the arm tackles of Woodson and Corey Harris.
Jamel White finished off that 12-play Browns drive, which ate up nearly six minutes, with a 1-yard run, putting Cleveland up 27-17 with 4:02 remaining.
"Our defense is built around when it's your turn to make the play, [and] you've got to do it," Harris said of the run by Gay. "In that instance, I didn't do my job. I had a clean shot on him and didn't get him down."
Beating the Ravens started a post-game celebration for the Browns.
"We swept them!" wide receiver Jammi German shouted as he entered the rowdy locker room. "We got the brooms out!"
Grbac left the field to the sound of booing and chants of "Randall" in support of backup quarterback Randall Cunningham.
"As a quarterback, that doesn't enter my mind," Grbac said. "A couple of years ago, it did. But not anymore.
"I just made some really dumb mistakes and cost us some points. I knew that in the second half I had a lot of time to come back and had a chance to win it. We just didn't make the plays in the end, and I just turned the ball over too much and put our team in a bad position."
Browns 27, Ravens 17