By Jamison Hensley | firstname.lastname@example.org
September 22, 2008
The Ravens went into halftime remembering the image of safety Dawan Landry getting carted off the field.
They left the locker room hearing a couple of words by teammate Bart Scott that resonated the entire second half. "Focus and dominate," the loquacious linebacker simply said.
In a stunning second-half ambush, critical interceptions by Chris McAlister and Ed Reed carried the inspired Ravens to a 28-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns before an announced 71,104 at M&T Bank Stadium.
Delivering hard hits and jumping routes, the Ravens suffocated the Browns after halftime, holding them to 27 yards of total offense, two first downs and no points.
But this defense truly flexed its muscle on two powerful plays.
On the third play of the third quarter, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis crushed Kellen Winslow over the middle, dislodging the ball from the Browns' physical tight end. McAlister plucked the ball from the air and ran 12 yards to the Cleveland 12-yard line.
The first of three turnovers led to Le'Ron McClain's 1-yard touchdown, giving the Ravens their first lead at 14-10.
"He just knew he had to make a play, and that's what leaders do," linebacker Terrell Suggs said of the Lewis hit. "I mean, were y'all shocked?"
As he was running full speed at Winslow, Lewis knew he had two choices: making the hit or the interception. Unfortunately for Winslow, Lewis chose the former.
"It only takes one big play for us to get started," Lewis said.
Three plays after McClain's touchdown, on another third down, Reed intercepted quarterback Derek Anderson and returned the ball 32 yards for a touchdown.
The Ravens' all-time leader in interceptions really cheated to score his ninth career touchdown.
He noticed two plays earlier that the Browns had run the same route. This time, they changed the alignment of two players, but Reed envisioned what was to come.
Jumping in front of receiver Braylon Edwards before Anderson released the ball, Reed took the interception to the end zone without being touched.
"I just felt it. I knew that was it," Reed said of his 35th career pick. "So, when they threw it, I just had to catch it."
The game-breaking play was more amazing considering that Reed missed all of training camp and the preseason with a nerve impingement in his neck and shoulder.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Reed is still sore after each practice because of the injury.
"He's a very courageous guy," Harbaugh said. "That's obvious."
But it was the pain felt by Landry that really brought focus to the Ravens.
Landry took a left knee from Jamal Lewis to the crown of his helmet and needed to be carted off the field in the final minute of the first half.
In the background, most of the Ravens took a knee on the field and prayed.
Landry suffered a spinal cord concussion but has "neurologically recovered," a team spokesman said. He spent last night at Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Before Landry's injury, the Ravens had allowed the Browns to move the ball quite easily.
After they lost their teammate, their tone changed.
"I think it all started with us losing Landry," Suggs said. "We were fired up."
So, how dominant was the Ravens' defense?
Down 10-7 at halftime, the Ravens needed only four plays from their offense in the third quarter to take a 21-10 advantage.
Over that suffocating 4 minutes, 37 seconds, the Browns managed 11 yards of total offense while the Ravens' defense recorded 44 yards on interception returns.
"We don't take any challenge lightly," McAlister said. "We figure they'll break if we keep breaking them."
The pressure applied by the Ravens' defense took some weight off their offense.
Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco (13-for-19 for 129yards and two interceptions) didn't need to make any big plays, and the Ravens could ride their running game (151 yards rushing) for most of the second half.
"Anytime you're on offense, you want to put points on the board," Flacco said. "As the game goes along, you realize that our defense helps us out a lot. If we can get better and capitalize more of our opportunities, we're going to be a pretty good team."
The Ravens improved to 2-0 - their same record in the AFC North - to set up a first-place battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers next Monday.
The loss was a devastating one for the Browns, whose playoff hopes might have dissolved in Week 3. The last team to start 0-3 and reach the playoffs was the 1998 Buffalo Bills.
"I think they expected to be 2-0," Harbaugh said of his team. "I think those players are exactly where they expected to be at this point."
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