The Ravens didn't care that they had only 150 passing yards against the next-to-worst defense in the league or that their quarterback of the future looked a little like their quarterback of the past two games with three interceptions. And they weren't concerned that their new head coach had some questionable play-calling and that they beat an expansion team by a mere seven points.
Desperate teams take ugly wins, and the Ravens managed one yesterday in a 17-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns before 68,803 at PSINet Stadium. Not only did the Ravens win their first game of the season, but they also escaped national embarrassment for the franchise that left Cleveland under Ravens owner Art Modell nearly four years ago.
The Ravens couldn't hide their excitement after defeating the Browns (0-3), who left tied with Cincinnati for last place in the AFC Central. Modell is now 2-0 against Cleveland in 1999, having signed the coach the Browns coveted most last January in Brian Billick and then beating them on the field yesterday.
"The win is great for Art, especially when you consider all the trouble he went through bringing this franchise here," said Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware. "He was pretty quiet about this game all week. We didn't go into the game thinking we had to win it for him. We just wanted to get into the win column.
"We were 0-2 and struggling," said Boulware. "But when you win one, it can start a lot of great things happening. You have to win one to start a winning streak. We're a team that always plays hard, and when that happens, winning takes care of itself. We don't care if we win ugly; we just want to win. Today, it just happened to be against Cleveland."
And oh, was it ugly.
The only really impressive showing by the Ravens was their defense, which blitzed rookie quarterback Tim Couch for four sacks and countless knockdowns. The unit held Cleveland to 189 yards of total offense and contributed several big plays, one that led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Ravens quarterback Stoney Case in the second quarter and another an interception by rookie cornerback Chris McAlister down the sideline with 2: 18 left to finish off the Browns.
The Ravens couldn't put the Browns away until late, but it was clear which team controlled the tempo. Cleveland couldn't handle defensive ends Michael McCrary (five tackles, one sack) and Rob Burnett (five tackles) or Boulware (six tackles, two sacks) and fellow outside linebacker Jamie Sharper (10 unassisted tackles).
The Ravens blitzed from just about every position on the field and disguised coverages, mostly coming up to press on the Browns receivers at the last second.
"They have a great front seven," said Couch, the top pick in April's draft. "The linebacking corps is very good. They were just playing some loose coverage and forcing me to dump it to my backs and make me think my way down the field. I was just trying to take what was given."
That wasn't much.
Running back Terry Kirby was the Browns' primary weapon, catching seven passes for 75 yards and rushing for 51 yards on 18 attempts. His best play was a short pass over the middle that he turned into a 61-yard reception to the Ravens' 11. On the next play, Couch completed a touchdown pass to receiver Kevin Johnson, who beat cornerback Duane Starks in the right corner of the end zone on a fade route to pull Cleveland to 17-10 with 14: 03 left in the game.
"We made our share of mistakes that need to be corrected," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, who picked Baltimore over Cleveland in January partially because he thought the Ravens' defense would win him more games in his first season. "The defense, with just a couple of exceptions, played a dominant game today. Offensively, we didn't want to put our defense on the short end of the field with turnovers. Defensively, we wanted to put some pressure on the kid."
Cleveland, though, returned the favor. The Browns crammed seven to eight players near the line of scrimmage in the first half to shut off the run and dared the Ravens to beat them on the arm of Case, who was making his second career start.
Case had problems reading linebackers blitzing or dropping into coverage, throwing two of his interceptions on underneath passes.
The Ravens were fortunate to go into the half with a 10-0 lead. Case, replacing the benched Scott Mitchell, completed 12 of 25 passes for 165 yards. He failed to get anywhere close to several receivers on out patterns to the wide side of the field.
"I was pressing a little bit. I tried to make things happen," said Case. "It's one of those feast-or-famine things. The Browns tried to do a lot of things to mix things up. They knew it was my first start. In previous games, they had been quite simple on film."
Case couldn't beat the Browns with his arm, but his legs worked just fine. He scored twice on bootlegs, one of 1 yard with 10: 31 left in the first half after Boulware sacked Couch and McCrary recovered the fumble at the 1.
The other came on another 1-yard run around right end with 5: 30 left in the third quarter, which followed a 45-yard pass down the left sideline from Case to Qadry Ismail. Case rushed 11 times for 57 yards, but the top rushing performance belonged to Errict Rhett, who rushed for 113 yards on 22 carries, his second straight 100-yard performance.
Rhett got superb blocking from right tackle Harry Swayne and right guard Jeff Blackshear for most of the afternoon, but Billick still chose to pass or fake a pass in certain situations. At times, Billick may have gotten too cute.
On the Ravens' second series of the third quarter, Rhett ran off left tackle for 5 yards to the Ravens' 44. He ran around left end for 4 more yards on second down. On third-and-one, Billick went with four receivers and no backs and Case was sacked for no gain.
It got worse.
With 10: 19 left in the game, the Ravens, leading 17-10, took possession at the Browns' 42. The Ravens got as far as the Browns' 13. But on third-and-three, Case went into the shotgun formation, and center Jeff Mitchell hiked the ball over Case's head back to the 35. That took the Ravens out of range for a field goal that could have put the game away with 6: 10 left.
Why not run?
"It was a run," said Billick, defending the call, which was supposed to be a quarterback draw up the middle, according to Mitchell.
"Hey, I just snap the ball. I don't call the plays," said Mitchell.
Instead, the defense had to bail the Ravens out again. McAlister picked off Couch's final pass, which gave the Ravens their first win of the season and a victory over new rival Cleveland.
"It's just nice to get a win," said kicker Matt Stover, one of five ex-Browns still on the roster. "We had to get a win this time, because next time we play them, it will be in their house. I think they're going to be a little noisy, don't you think?"
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Atlanta Falcons
Site: Georgia Dome, Atlanta
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Series: First meeting
Line: Off the board