Ravens 27, Browns 13
Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed slowed as he neared the end zone on his NFL record 106-yard interception return and savored the final few steps of the play that sealed the Ravens' 27-13 win over the Cleveland Browns in front of 69,781 at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday night.
"I just said I'm going to coast on in, like a Raven's supposed to," Reed said. "I've been saying all night we've been flying in with our black uniforms -- we Ravens, that's all it was."
The Ravens -- who wore black uniforms for the first time -- won in typical fashion, using big plays on special teams and defense to compensate for an offense that struggled to move into the red zone, let alone score. The victory puts the Ravens at 5-3; Cleveland fell to 3-5.
Throughout the week, several Ravens spoke about the importance of this game, and the point was driven home earlier in the day with Pittsburgh's dominating 27-3 win over Philadelphia. A loss would have put the Ravens three games behind the Steelers (7-1) in the AFC North and would have seriously threatened the playoff hopes of a team that before the season talked openly about going to the Super Bowl.
Baltimore's offense was once again without two Pro Bowlers -- tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and left tackle Jonathan Ogden (hamstring) -- but the Ravens welcomed back Pro Bowl running back Jamal Lewis from a two-game NFL suspension for violating the league's drug policy.
The Browns held Lewis largely in check. He finished with 81 yards on 22 carries. The Ravens amassed 240 yards of total offense, but managed to find the end zone just once -- following a nine-yard drive that was set up by a bizarre seven-yard punt.
"I didn't feel rusty, but I kind of wanted my number called a little more," Lewis said. "Defense always has our back, but sooner or later, if we want to take it to the next level we'll have to step it up a notch on offense, some way, somehow."
Cleveland took a 13-12 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 29-yard field goal from Phil Dawson. Baltimore was forced to punt on its next possession, and that changed the game for the Ravens. Rookie B.J. Sams leapt into the end zone to bat Dave Zastudil's punt back into the field, and Chad Williams downed the ball on the 1-yard line.
"It's just fundamentals: Make sure your feet are not in the end zone and tap the ball out. Coach told me to go in and make a play, and that's what I did," said Sams, an undrafted rookie from McNeese State who leads the league with two punt returns for touchdowns. "I was telling all the coaches and all the players, no doubt at all -- I didn't put my foot in the end zone at all."
The Ravens needed a big series from their defense to help set up the stymied offense, and they got one. Two runs by William Green netted a total of one yard. Quarterback Jeff Garcia was pressured by Marques Douglas on third down and his pass to Aaron Shea wasn't even close. Derrick Frost, punting from his end zone, had to deal with a poor snap and shanked the ball out of bounds to the right.
Baltimore took over on the Cleveland 9. The Ravens didn't mess around, running Lewis three straight times, the last carry a two-yard touchdown run. Quarterback Kyle Boller (17 for 30, 142 yards) tossed a pass to 6-foot-6 rookie Clarence Moore for the two-point conversion and a 20-13 advantage with 7 minutes 3 seconds left in the game.
That was plenty of time for the Browns to string together one final drive. Garcia gamely moved the Browns from their own 41 to the Ravens 5, converting three third downs along the way. But his pass to Shea on second and goal from the 5 glanced off the tight end and into the hands of Reed, who ran the length of the field for the touchdown with 26 seconds left.
"Huge. Huge," Coach Brian Billick said of Reed, who has four interceptions this year and 16 in his three-year career. "He just seems to always be around it when you need it. Kind of waited till the end to do it; it would've saved my heart a little bit if he had done it earlier."
Much of the pregame electricity inside the stadium was drained on the opening kickoff. Richard Alston, who was signed off of the Browns' practice squad earlier in the week, gathered the kick at the 7, eluded the two Ravens who had a good shot at bringing him down -- Corey Fuller and Williams -- and then scooted by kickoff specialist Wade Richey. Alston ran untouched down the right sideline to complete the 93-yard touchdown, the first time in Ravens history that an opponent returned the opening kickoff for a score.
That play -- which took all of 14 seconds -- was the only real excitement of the half, which featured two lost fumbles (one per team) and just 69 yards of total offense from Cleveland. The Ravens' offense was slightly better (155 yards).
Lewis -- who ran over and through the Browns for a total of 500 yards in two games last season -- didn't touch the ball until the second play of the second Baltimore drive. The Ravens wound up with a 44-yard field goal from Matt Stover, the first of his four first-half field goals.
Ravens Note: Cornerback Deion Sanders left the game in the second quarter with a toe injury on his left foot and did not return.