Browns 20, Ravens 3
All week long, members of the Cleveland Browns' defense had made proclamations about what they thought of Jamal Lewis, the Baltimore Ravens' running back who dominated them a year ago.
Safety Earl Little referred to Lewis, who rushed for the second-highest total in NFL history in 2003, as "just another running back." Defensive end Kenard Lang declared that Lewis wasn't going to make it past the first line of the Browns' defense.
Those seemed like idle boasts at the time. But on Sunday, they seemed more like premonitions, as Lewis was held to 57 yards on 20 carries. The rest of the Ravens' offense sputtered, the defense gave up two big plays that led to scores, and what resulted was a 20-3 season-opening loss to AFC North Division rival Cleveland in front of 73,068 at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
"They're a different team, and of course they weren't going to let us come in and do what we did last year," Lewis said. "I doubt they play that defense [four linemen and four linebackers] against anybody else. They played it against us because they know we're going to run the football, so they kind of put an extra back in there, and stayed kind of tight in the front so you couldn't get through and try to get those long runs. They played good solid defense."
Lewis ran for a combined 500 yards in two Baltimore victories over the Browns in 2003, including an NFL-record 295 yards in the second game of the season. He averaged 7.3 yards per carry in six previous games against Cleveland.
Both of Lewis's performances in 2003 were marked by long runs. On Sunday, however, he could never break free. He was stopped for a loss or no gain four times, all in the second half. His longest run was nine yards; he had one longer run -- a 11-yarder in which he just ran over safety Robert Griffith -- late in the first quarter, but that was waved off because of an illegal motion penalty.
It didn't help that the Ravens were without two starting linemen, center Mike Flynn (broken collarbone) and all-pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden (sprained knee). Two veterans filled in -- Casey Rabach at center and Ethan Brooks at left tackle -- but it wasn't the same, especially on the left side.
Lang, who lined up across from Brooks, had a career-high three sacks, and on the final one, he knocked the ball out of quarterback Kyle Boller's hands and the Browns recovered on Baltimore's 6-yard line. That play led to Cleveland's final touchdown, a three-yard run by quarterback Jeff Garcia with 4 minutes 20 seconds left in the game.
"When you lose two of your starting offensive linemen, things are going to be a little different," Lewis said. "Of course you're going to miss the little stuff when you don't have your starting guys."
Baltimore, which led the NFL in rushing a year ago, gained just 88 yards on the ground and was held to 254 yards of total offense. The Ravens never advanced inside Cleveland's 20-yard line, and they often had a long way to go when they started their drives (their average starting position was their 20-yard line). Boller was 22 of 38 for 191 yards and threw two interceptions. He tried to hit wide receiver Travis Taylor on a deep ball on a third and one in the first quarter, but Taylor didn't have that extra burst to catch up with the pass. Tight end Todd Heap made a leaping grab of a 24-yard pass that kept alive Baltimore's one scoring drive, which culminated in a 42-yard field goal from Matt Stover.
Garcia, who joined the Browns in the offseason, was 15 of 24 for 180 yards. He connected with wide receiver Quincy Morgan on a 46-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter; Morgan was wide open behind the Ravens' defense. In the fourth quarter, Garcia found receiver Andre Davis on the left side; Davis was also wide open behind the secondary and, if he hadn't tripped, would have wound up with a 93-yard touchdown instead of a 51-yard reception. Cleveland's Phil Dawson made a 25-yard field goal to end that drive and give the Browns a 13-3 advantage.
"That should not happen with this group because they have been together long enough and they know how to communicate," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said of his defense. "When we do not give up big plays, we are very effective. [Giving up big plays] happened in the preseason a couple of times, and it happened here in the opener. It goes beyond coincidence, certainly. We cannot dismiss them and say, 'That's just the breaks of the game.' That is unacceptable."
Ravens Notes: Cornerback Deion Sanders said he felt "wonderful" after his first game in three years. He lined up outside at cornerback, opposite Chris McAlister, in passing situations, but was not challenged. Sanders returned a punt early in the third quarter but was brought down after a five-yard gain. . . . Taylor (groin) and Brooks (knee) will undergo MRI exams; Taylor aggravated a previous injury. Nose tackle Kelly Gregg will have the knee he injured earlier in the week re-examined Monday. Cornerback Gary Baxter left the game late in the first quarter after splitting the webbing between the thumb and forefinger on his left hand; he returned after having it stitched up and heavily taped.