CLEVELAND (AP)—Sudden turmoil and rumors twisting around the Cleveland Browns led to something factual: their first division win.
Earlier this season, Northcutt twice brought back punts for TDs only to have them nullified by penalties. But after his third-quarter jaunt, when he reversed field and picked up some blocks, Northcutt checked to be certain there were no penalty flags and waved his arms like an official.
“I got one,” Northcutt said. “No flags. Finally. My goal was to get a few, but at least I got one.”
Cleveland safety Brian Russell’s second interception of Kyle Boller with 58 seconds left gave the Browns (6-10), who were embarrassed 41-0 by Pittsburgh a week ago, end the season with their first win in the AFC North.
They also finished with two more victories under first-year coach Romeo Crennel than they had in 2004, and they closed with a come-from-behind victory behind rookie quarterback Charlie Frye.
He survived a first-half pounding and finished 22-of-38 for 199 yards with a 6-yard TD pass to Antonio Bryant.
Cleveland’s Reuben Droughns got just 40 yards, but broke Hall of Famer Jim Brown’s club record for most rushing attempts in a season, ending with 309. Bryant had nine catches for a career-high 123 yards, giving him 1,009 this season.
“I’ve been here six years and this is one of our biggest wins,” tight end Aaron Shea said. “We fought back.”
The Browns’ home finale took place two days after a report the club was planning to fire general manager Phil Savage, who has been with Cleveland less than one year. Team president John Collins denied the move was even considered and said the young front office has worked out any differences.
Savage, who scouted a bowl game Saturday, refused to address his situation before the game. Afterward, he had little to say.
“I’m still general manager of the Browns,” said Savage, who was asked if he felt better about his status. “We won and I’m excited about that.”
Several of the Browns said they were caught off-guard by reports Savage’s job was in jeopardy. Not Northcutt.
“Nothing shocks me,” said Northcutt, drafted by Cleveland in 2000. “I’ve seen four coaches, four offensive coordinators, tons of quarterbacks and a couple of GMs, too.”
The Ravens (6-10) have lost 11 straight on the road and finished with their worst record since Brian Billick took over as coach in 1999. Earlier in the week, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti ended speculation over Billick’s future, saying his coach would be back in 2006.
Deion Sanders’ future isn’t so clear. Baltimore’s fleet-footed “Prime Time” cornerback may retire at the age of 38, ending his career as one of the game’s most gifted and flamboyant personalities.
“No retirement questions,” Sanders said. “We’ll handle that in Baltimore.”
The Ravens haven’t won outside Maryland since Nov. 14 last season when they beat the New York Jets in overtime.
“Today’s loss epitomized our season,” said cornerback Samari Rolle. “We’re not supposed to lose to them, and we wanted to send Deion out right. It was a dream come true to play with him. He has been great for the game.”
The Browns trailed by 10 when Frye’s TD pass to Bryant got Cleveland within 16-13 in the third quarter.
That’s when Northcutt came through.
Fielding Dave Zastudil’s kick near midfield, Northcutt started left, spun right out of a tackle and picked up a wall of blockers down the right sideline. Wide receiver Frisman Jackson dived to knock off the final tackler.
“I was running out of gas and Frisman gave me the final block,” Northcutt said. “I knew he’d be there.”
Northcutt didn’t know Jackson would appear again in the end zone seconds later. After bowing to the crowd, Northcutt was raising up when Jackson jumped over his head, clearing his teammate like a kid playing leap frog.
“It wasn’t anything we planned,” Jackson said. “I yelled to warn him, ‘I’m going to jump.’ Whether he bowed or not, I was going to jump on him. It was a great run.” ^Notes: Ravens K Matt Stover booted three field goals, giving him 1,593 points and moving him into eighth place on the NFL’s career scoring list. … Droughns (1,232 yards) and Bryant (1,009) are the first tandem of Browns to go over 1,000 in rushing and receiving in the same season since Mike Pruitt and Ozzie Newsome in 1981. … Browns K Phil Dawson had two field goals and tied his career high with 100 points.