The message was loud and clear. It was the football version of a poker player announcing he would win with four aces before the cards were even dealt.
Despite Ravens running back Jamal Lewis' pre-game boast that he would set an NFL record for rushing yards in a single game, the Cleveland Browns were powerless to stop the fourth-year pro as Lewis racked up 295 yards in yesterday's 33-13 victory at M&T; Bank Stadium.
Finding themselves on the wrong end of history left several Cleveland players using words like "sick" and "disgusting."
"It's flat-out embarrassing," linebacker Kevin Bentley said of the defensive performance. "Not even the fact that history was made, just the way we looked out there. It was embarrassing."
Said defensive tackle Gerard Warren: "It was like he was taking us out behind the wood shed."
Free safety Earl Little, who heard about Lewis' prediction to break Corey Dillon's mark of 278 yards and told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that Lewis wasn't nearly that special, did not back down from his comments.
"I know what I said, and I said what I said," Little said. "The only thing I said was that he was a good back. I didn't say he was a sorry player or anything like that. [Lewis' claim] was just disrespectful. But he came out here and did his thing."
Some players didn't even bother to voice their opinions. Defensive tackle Orpheus Roye vacated his locker before the media entered the Browns' locker room, and defensive end Kenard Lang turned away reporters.
Strong safety Robert Griffith muttered, "It's ... embarrassing" before walking out of the locker room without further comment.
What made the situation even more frustrating was that Cleveland - which had held Edgerrin James and the Indianapolis Colts to 67 rushing yards in Week 1 - was expecting the Ravens to give the ball to Lewis rather than rely on rookie quarterback Kyle Boller.
Forcing a team to become one-dimensional is the goal of every defense, but even with that knowledge, the Browns offered little resistance.
"I don't think they could've beat us going out there and throwing the ball all day," said cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. "They wanted to get the ball in 31's hands. They said he didn't have a great week last week. So they were going to give the ball to him. It was up to us to go out there and stop him. We didn't do that."
Cleveland's inability to slow Lewis boiled down to two factors. When the Ravens offensive line opened holes for Lewis, the Browns linebackers failed to fill the gaps and force Lewis - an end zone-to-end zone runner - to run sideline to sideline.
Cleveland also tried to arm-tackle Lewis, who - at 5 feet 11 and 231 pounds - is too big for such a technique.
"We tried to take some big shots on him and then he bounced off of those hits," Bentley said. "He runs low, he runs hard. ... We didn't wrap up as well as we needed to."