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Ravens run defense challenged by Hillis

Many running backs have tried -- and failed -- to add their names to the short ledger of opponents who have gained 100yards on the ground against the Ravens. Peyton Hillis succeeded.

The Cleveland Browns' featured back, Hillis rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown, serving as one of the few bright spots in the team's 24-17 loss to the Ravens at M&T; Bank Stadium on Sunday.

"We knew that he's a downhill back, but we were thinking they were going to run the other guys some more," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "But they just lined him up and pounded him downhill and popped a lot of runs. It was really disappointing to us."

In becoming the fourth back to break the 100-yard ceiling against the Ravens since the beginning of last season (the Cincinnati Bengals' Cedric Benson did it twice, and the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson did it once), Hillis averaged 6.5yards a carry, rushing the ball 22 times.

Starting in place of Jerome Harrison, who was deactivated before the game because of a thigh injury, the 6-foot-2, 250-pound Hillis gashed his way through the heart of the defense, running over defenders and breaking tackles.

Defensive end Trevor Pryce said Hillis didn't just use his size to his advantage.

"He's a big back, but I don't think people understand that he's a fast back," Pryce said. "As big as he is, once you get 250pounds rolling fast, it's hard to stop that train. He was able to get a full head of steam, and once you get a full head of steam, he wins. And we didn't tackle very well. But we'll get it fixed."

Acquired with a pair of draft picks from the Denver Broncos for quarterback Brady Quinn, Hillis leads Cleveland in rushing yards (220) and touchdowns (three). "I always have to believe in myself, that I can have a big game," Hillis said. "Throughout my past, no one ever gave me much of a shot to do anything individually." It's fair to say Hillis made quite an impression on the Ravens, who next meet Rashard Mendenhall and the Pittsburgh Steelers. But linebacker Ray Lewis said the defense will improve.

"Unless you don't play for us, you can panic," Lewis said in response to whether the defense should be concerned. "But if you've been around here long enough, you come back to work and you go back to work, that's it."

Oher over personal foul

Michael Oher said he did not remember the unnecessary-roughness call he incurred in the fourth quarter.

With the offense set up on second-and-3 at the Browns' 36-yard line, Oher was flagged when he took a right-handed swipe at Cleveland defensive end Robaire Smith, who drove back tight end Todd Heap a couple of yards even though the play had been whistled dead because of a false start by wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

"That was so long [ago], I already put it behind me -- literally," Oher said when asked for his perspective on the play.

Oher did confirm that he was sticking up for Heap, saying: "That's my teammate. You got to have your teammate's back."

Another unusual penalty occurred when wide receiver Derrick Mason was whistled for delay of game when he heaved an incomplete pass into the air rather than giving it to an official in the third quarter.

Mason, who declined to speak with the media last week, maintained his silence Sunday.

Cundiff makes up for miss

Although he missed a field-goal try for the first time this season, Billy Cundiff redeemed himself quite nicely Sunday.

His 49-yard field goal with 5:29 left in the fourth quarter gave the Ravens their final points, and he launched three of his five kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks, thereby containing Joshua Cribbs, the NFL's all-time leader in kickoff return touchdowns.

Afterward, Cundiff said he played the 51-yard attempt in the third quarter that bounced off the left upright to ride a left-to-right wind so that it would curve inside the upright. That miss gave him confidence on the 49-yarder.

"Going with that 51-yarder, if you kind of frame things the right way, you can still have confidence going into the next kick, even if you missed it," said Cundiff, who is 3-for-4 on field-goal attempts and kicked six touchbacks in 11 kickoffs this season. "I knew that if I hit that ball nine times out of 10, it's going to make it. So why not turn around, go the other way, and let's just play it off the right side just a little bit? I just hit it down my line and kind of let it all hang out."

Cody inactive again

Despite a full week of practice, Terrence Cody did not play Sunday. The team elected to deactivate the rookie nose tackle even though he was no longer listed on the team's injury report after undergoing arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee Aug. 31.

"It was real close," Cody said. "They came up to me and said: 'We're going to sit you. You had a real good practice this week, but we just want to be safe and give you another week.'"

While denying that he was disappointed with the team's decision, Cody said he planned to be available Sunday against the Steelers, saying: "I'm practicing and playing this week, definitely. That's what I was told."

End zone

Running back Ray Rice left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained knee, and defensive end Cory Redding left in the third quarter with a concussion. Neither player returned to the game. Pryce sat out a few plays in the second quarter because of a twisted leg. "I twisted one way, and my leg twisted the other way," he said. "It burned, but it calmed down a little bit. Now it's kind of sore, but I'll be all right." … In addition to Cody, the Ravens deactivated defensive tackles Lamar Divens and rookie Arthur Jones, leaving the defense with just three interior linemen: Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata and Brandon McKinney. Offensive tackle Jared Gaither (thoracic disk in back), wide receiver Donte' Stallworth (broken left foot), inside linebacker Tavares Gooden (dislocated left shoulder), defensive end Paul Kruger and rookie cornerback Prince Miller were also scratched. … Marshal Yanda started at right tackle and Chris Chester at right guard for the third consecutive game. … The Browns played without three starters on offense: quarterback Jake Delhomme (high ankle sprain), running back Jerome Harrison (thigh) and wide receiver Brian Robiskie (hamstring) -- and two starters on defense -- nose tackle Shaun Rogers (ankle and hip) and inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson (chest). Jackson was placed on injured reserve Saturday and will miss the remainder of the season. Seneca Wallace started for Delhomme, Peyton Hillis for Harrison and Joshua Cribbs for Robiskie. Ahtyba Rubin replaced Rogers, and Eric Barton made his second straight start for Jackson. … Mason, Ngata and punter Sam Koch represented the Ravens for the pre-game coin toss.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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