Turning the corner, substitute defensive backs excel

The Baltimore Sun

CLEVELAND - In what might pass as a preview of next year's defensive backfield, the Ravens' secondary weathered the storm that quarterback Derek Anderson and NFL fate threw at it yesterday.

Here's how tough things were in Cleveland: Absent two injured starting cornerbacks, the Ravens had to have their next two corners overcome injuries as well.

Remarkably, both Fabian Washington and Frank Walker came through the litmus test intact in a 37-27 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

"Our secondary was battered and bruised and we've got guys down," safety Ed Reed said. "But as you can see, these guys have been playing in this league for a reason - because they can play.

"Frank Walker and Fabian Washington, Corey Ivy and Evan Oglesby, those guys know how to play this game."

Minus injured cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle for the third straight week, and safety Dawan Landry for the sixth straight game, the Ravens were forced to play a dicey game of chance.

Washington, who has been hampered by a neck injury all season, missed one series in the fourth quarter with a stinger before returning to finish the game. Walker, who was limited in practice all week by a left thigh injury, was able to play through the pain.

A year ago, the Ravens were reduced to pulling free agents off the street to fill out their depleted secondary. Now they believe they have enough capable players to survive the injury crunch and make a run at the AFC North title.

"The backup corners, for them to play the way they did, to not give up a big play the way they did in this game, speaks volumes," coach John Harbaugh said after the Ravens' pushed their winning streak to three games.

"That's two starting corners. They played the way two starting corners play. Now we feel like we have four starting corners and we're looking for more."

Anderson passed for 219 yards and two touchdowns, but he also threw his first interception in 132 attempts when he floated a dump-off pass into the hands of linebacker Terrell Suggs, whose 42-yard touchdown return was his second in three games.

When it mattered most in the fourth quarter, after the Browns squandered a 27-13 lead and fell behind 30-27, Anderson was unable to even threaten.

Down by 14 points in the third quarter, Walker said he thought, "Oh, boy, we made this win a whole lot harder than what it should have been. But we knew we were going to win."

Walker was involved in both of Anderson's touchdown passes in the third quarter, although he didn't agree with the touchdown call on a 28-yard pass to Braylon Edwards in the end zone to break a 13-13 tie.

"I don't want to say nothing wrong where [the league] wants to talk to me, but I think I caught it," Walker said.

Asked whether Edwards had his hands on the ball, he said: "Yeah, when we were rolling on the ground. But in the air, I caught it. We'll look at it on film, [but] I wouldn't say he had it if he did have it."

On Anderson's next touchdown pass, Jason Wright took a short swing pass to the right and ran through Walker to the end zone.

The Ravens were in survival mode for a time yesterday but came out of it with a chance to tie for the division lead if the Pittsburgh Steelers lose to the Redskins at Washington tonight.

"I feel great," Washington said. "We're not where we want to be exactly, but we're in the race to win the division and make the playoffs. There's nothing wrong with that."

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