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Hurting Browns wince at task

THE BALTIMORE SUN

BEREA, Ohio -- Don't be alarmed if you hear a giant wheezing sound coming from Baltimore-Washington International Airport sometime this afternoon.

That's just the Cleveland Browns' offense arriving in town.

This week couldn't have come at a worse time for the 3-9 Browns, who have more bandages on their offense than the Mir Space Station, and they'll run into the league's best defense tomorrow at PSINet Stadium.

Assuming none of the current players slips while walking down the jetway, Cleveland comes to town missing six offensive starters. Among them are franchise quarterback Tim Couch, who broke his right thumb six weeks ago, and former Raven Errict Rhett, who tore ligaments in his foot when the Ravens blanked the Browns, 12-0, in Cleveland on Oct. 1.

Couch's backup, Ty Detmer, was lost during the preseason when he tore his Achilles' tendon. That has forced the Browns to go with Doug Pederson, who has led the team to one offensive touchdown since taking over the reins.

Also gone is rookie starting wide receiver JaJaun Dawson, who was lost early to a broke collarbone. His replacement, David Patten, who had 113 yards receiving the last time the Browns and Ravens matched up, has been bothered by a series of injuries all season.

"I'm not questioning the effort of the offense," Browns coach Chris Palmer said. "It's not their fault that they don't have all the sticks they need to swing right now."

And then there is the mess called the offensive line.

The team was already behind the eight-ball after tackle Orlando Brown was unable to recover from an eye injury suffered last season. Then in Week 2, left guard Jim Pyne tore ligaments in his knee and was lost for the season while celebrating a touchdown against Cincinnati.

Two weeks ago, replacement left guard Jim Bundren broke his ankle, and last week center DaveWohlabaugh sprained his ankle and is not expected to play tomorrow. That will force backup Shaun O'Hara, an undrafted rookie out of Rutgers, to make the first start of his career while staring at 330-pound tackles Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams.

Right tackle James Brown will make just his second start of the season after Steve Zahursky had to move to left guard to replace Bundren. That leaves just right guard Everett Lindsay and left tackle Roman Oben as the only two linemen who have played the same position all year.

It has all added up to disaster for the Browns. At one point they went more than 231 minutes without scoring a touchdown.

Last week, in a 24-10 loss at Tennessee, the Titans committed seven turnovers, but all the Browns' offense could manage was a field goal (the touchdown came on an interception return by Percy Ellsworth). The offense managed just five first downs.

"We're trying. We're doing everything possible," said Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson.

And now they face a Ravens team that has shut them out once this season and is looking to tie a modern NFL record of five shutouts in one season.

"It's an awesome task in front of us, but one we've faced all year," Pederson said. "We've got some great teams in this division, and we've got to play them twice."

And that's why there is speculation that the team's biggest wish tomorrow, other than simply scoring, will be to make it out of Baltimore in one piece.

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