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Despite being the NFL’s best defensive team over the previous four seasons, the Baltimore Ravens haven’t been nearly as stingy this year. They’ll look to get back to their dominating ways when they face the inconsistent offense of the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.
After leading for most of the game, Baltimore (2-1) had to rally in the final two minutes for a 26-23 home victory over Arizona last week. For the second straight game, the Ravens had to battle for a tight victory despite building a commanding first-half advantage.
A week earlier, the Ravens gave up 10 points in the last 10 minutes of their 20-13 victory over the New York Jets, and nearly saw the game tied on a late drive in which three Jets receivers dropped potential touchdown passes.
Fortunately for the Ravens, they’ve gotten strong play from their quarterbacks - something they haven’t always been able to count on over the past few seasons. Boller was 8-for-10 for 83 yards in the fourth quarter last week in place of Steve McNair.
McNair started against the Cardinals after missing the Week 2 win with a groin injury. He completed 20 of 27 passes for 198 yards and a touchdown, but was replaced by Boller to start the final period when the injury flared back up.
The Ravens needed the strong offensive performance after the defense struggled again late in a game. Baltimore gave up a season-high 364 yards of offense, its most since surrendering 367 in a win at Tennessee on Nov. 12.
Baltimore’s offense had it best showing of the year, finishing with 381 yards for its highest total since gaining 421 against the Titans last year.
The Ravens rushed for 129 yards - 98 coming on Willis McGahee’s 21 carries.
Baltimore coach Brian Billick said Monday that he will be cautious with McNair - something he can seemingly afford to do after Boller’s strong fourth quarter and the effective overall job by the offense.
“The one thing with Kyle is that the offense still goes,” McNair said. “Guys go in, guys go out, the bottom line is that we get the job done.”
Since the start of the 2003 season, the Ravens have allowed the fewest yards in the league, holding opponents to a 280.9-yard average. With the NFL’s top-ranked defense in 2006, they limited teams to 264.1 yards and 12.6 points a contest, but in three games this year, those numbers have increased to 301.3 and 21.0.
Baltimore’s defense could bounce back against Cleveland (1-2), which ranks ninth in the NFL offensively with 362.3 yards a game but has been unable to produce consistent results.
One week after racking up 554 yards in a 51-45 win over Cincinnati, Cleveland was held to 312 in a 26-24 loss at lowly Oakland on Sunday. Prior to the win against the Bengals, the Browns had only 221 total yards in a season-opening 34-7 defeat to Pittsburgh.
On Sunday, the Browns’ Phil Dawson made a last-second 40-yard field goal that appeared to win the game, but the Raiders had called timeout before the kick. Dawson’s second try was blocked.
“We fought with enough fortitude and enough will and determination to win and then to not have it go through … it hurts,” said wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who had four catches for 83 yards and a TD.
Derek Anderson completed 18 of 37 passes for 248 yards, threw for a touchdown and recorded his first career rushing TD, but had two interceptions in his second start of the year for Cleveland.
The Browns were held to 88 rushing yards, with top back Jamal Lewis limited to 56 on 15 carries. Against Cincinnati, Cleveland gained 226 on the ground - 216 by Lewis.
Cleveland’s defense, second-worst in the league with 430.7 yards allowed per game, gave up 396 to Oakland.
The Browns could be in for another tough game against a Ravens team that leads the all-time series 11-5, winning four of the last five meetings and both last year. The Ravens have held the Browns to 256 yards or fewer in each of the last nine matchups, limiting them to 236 in a 27-17 home victory Dec. 17 that clinched a playoff berth.
The Browns will look to former Raven Lewis to lead them past Baltimore. He spent his first six seasons with the Ravens and is the franchise leader in total yards (7,801) and touchdowns (45).
Lewis, who had the best game of his career against Cleveland on Sept. 14, 2003 when he rushed for 295 yards and two TD, signed a one-year contract with Cleveland on March 7, one week after being cut by Baltimore.
The Ravens look to win three straight in the series with the Browns for the first time since taking four in a row from Sept. 26, 1999-Nov. 26, 2000.
Baltimore, 6-2 on the road last year, has won five of eight at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The previous two matchups there were decided by four points or fewer, the last being the Ravens’ 15-14 victory Sept. 24, 2006.