CLEVELAND - His fiery, fearsome eyes scanned Baltimore’s sideline looking for any teammate who didn’t believe a comeback was possible.
Ray Lewis wasn’t giving up, and he wasn’t about to let the Ravens quit either.
“He told the whole team, ‘We’re going to win this game’,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “You could see the truth in his eyes.”
Inspired by their emotional middle linebacker’s words, the Ravens scored 24 unanswered points in the final 16 minutes and rallied for a 37-27 win over the up-and-down Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
Matt Stover kicked three field goals, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco threw two touchdown passes and first-year running back Ray Rice ran for 154 yards to lead the Ravens (5-3), who seemed to be in big trouble when they fell behind 27-13 in the third quarter. But with Lewis leading the way, Baltimore bounced back and won its third straight.
“Ray Lewis is the greatest general, the greatest leader—hands down—of our time,” said Suggs, whose 42-yard interception return for a TD with 2:43 remaining put it away.
Lewis refused to take credit for the comeback, but knew his comments awakened the Ravens.
“I told every one of them, ‘Look me in the eye’,” Lewis said. “I told them we are going to win this game. We have to believe that. Adversity builds character.”
The Browns (3-5) had built their 14-point advantage thanks to return specialist Joshua Cribbs’ 92-yard kickoff return for a TD, two scoring passes by quarterback Derek Anderson and two field goals by Phil Dawson, who closed the first half by banging a career-long 54-yarder through the uprights.
But Cleveland collapsed and no play hurt more than wide receiver Braylon Edwards’ drop of a certain long touchdown early in the fourth quarter with the score tied. By the time the ball slipped through his hands and fell to the ground, the Browns’ promising season had fallen into serious jeopardy.
“We didn’t finish,” said running back Jamal Lewis, who was held to 49 yards on 19 attempts. “That’s the lesson of the day—finish.”’
Stover, who ranks fifth in league scoring history, made field goals of 41, 32 and 22 yards.
Flacco, who threw touchdown passes to Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason, completed 17 of 29 passes for 248 yards. Mason, the sure-handed 13-year veteran, had nine catches for 136 yards and Rice, filling in for the injured Willis McGahee, had a breakout game that included a critical 60-yard run in the fourth to set up Stover’s last field goal.
Flacco and Rice are getting better with each game, just as the Ravens had hoped.
“When they get drafted by the Baltimore Ravens, we expect them to play like that,” rookie coach John Harbaugh said. “Are we surprised? No.”
After Stover’s third field goal made it 30-27 with 5:36 left, the Ravens’ defense pressured Anderson, who threw the ball directly to Suggs. The linebacker snared the gift and raced untouched to the end zone where he taunted Cleveland’s famed Dawg Pound bleacher section with a spike and dance.
Anderson finished 17-of-33 for 219 yards but the Pro Bowler left the field with Browns fans screaming “Bra-dy! Bra-dy!” for popular backup Brady Quinn.
“I didn’t want to hold onto it and take a sack,” Anderson said of his ill-fated pass to Suggs. “I wish I would have handled that a little better, but I’m trying to win games.”
Anderson may not have to worry about that pass if Edwards had come through.
After Flacco’s 28-yard TD pass to Mason tied it at 27, Edwards got behind Baltimore’s secondary on third down but the talented wide receiver failed to squeeze a perfectly thrown ball from Anderson while he was in full stride. It was the latest drop by the Pro Bowler, who has been plagued by them all season.
Edwards declined interview requests afterward.
The play summed up Cleveland’s season, now on a downward spiral.
“It’s always deflating when you don’t make a play because we needed plays,” Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. “It’s deflating when they run the ball in for a touchdown. It’s deflating when they throw the ball over your head. It’s deflating when you don’t make a catch in the open. It’s deflating when you lose a game.”
The Ravens led 10-0 when Cribbs caught Stover’s kick at the 8 and took it all the way back for his fifth career kickoff return for a TD and first this season. Cribbs also brought a punt back 32 yards and finished with 278 return yards—237 on kickoffs and 41 on punts.
“He’s tough,” Stover said. “I kicked it left, right, popped it up and tried everything. He’s that good.”’
The Ravens won despite missing three starters in their secondary as Chris McAllister, Samari Rolle and Dawan Landry sat out with injuries. … Stover played in his 279th game, tying him with Bruce Smith for 12th all-time and he passed Jim Bakken for 13th place with 536 PATs. … Cribbs’ kickoff return total was the second most in team history, behind only his 245 at Baltimore last season. … Browns TE Kellen Winslow had five catches one week after sitting out following a team-imposed, one-game suspension that was later dropped. … Anderson had gone a career-best 132 passes without an interception before Suggs’ pick. … Browns OG Eric Steinbach left with a rib injury in the third quarter and did not return. … Following the game, Browns fans mingled with 80,000 attendees at a rally for presidential candidate Barack Obama in downtown Cleveland that included Bruce Springsteen.