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Despite squandering a two-touchdown advantage, despite losing quarterback Steve McNair to a hand injury that wasn’t serious yet kept him out, and in spite of and because of backup quarterback Kyle Boller, the Baltimore Ravens managed to forge a 27-17 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium that carries much more significance than how it actually transpired.
The Ravens (11-3) are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2003 and have an opportunity to win the AFC North title tonight if the Cincinnati Bengals lose to the Indianapolis Colts. Boller completed 13 of 21 passes for 238 yards, a pair of touchdown passes, including a 77-yard toss to rookie Demetrius Williams. It was the longest completion and reception of their respective careers. Boller also lost a fumble on an attempted handoff and threw an interception into heavy coverage. A somewhat sloppy effort was sufficient to accomplish the big-picture task.
2. The Ravens’ defense confused former Baltimore practice squad quarterback Derek Anderson at times, with cornerback Chris McAlister and safety Dawan Landry intercepting two of his errant throws while also allowing two touchdown passes and 223 passing yards. The immobile 6-foot-6, 229-pound pocket passer was sacked five times as the Ravens broke their franchise record for sacks with 52 for the season. The Browns’ futility on third down, going 0-for-11, was a major factor as they simply couldn’t sustain drives to stay competitive.
3. Running back Jamal Lewis ripped off his longest run of the season, a 52-yard burst up the middle on a sharp cutback. The former Pro Bowl runner finished with 109 yards on 22 carries, contributing a 7-yard touchdown run to grant Baltimore a 7-3 lead in the first quarter.
4. Defensive end Trevor Pryce registered two sacks, and is up to a dozen for the year with 9 1/2 in the past eight games. His 109.5 sack yards is second in the franchise single-season record book, and he tied Terrell Suggs for third on the single-season sacks list. The sack record is held by Peter Boulware with 15 in 2001.
5. Besides being without McNair with a soft-tissue injury with X-rays ruled negative, the Ravens’ depth in the secondary was tested severely as starting cornerback Samari Rolle (shoulder stinger/sprain) and nickel back Corey Ivy (concussion) went down with injuries. The Browns selectively targeted backup cornerback Evan Oglesby, isolating him for touchdown passes to Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius. The defensive backs held up well enough to win the game and made Anderson pay twice with turnovers. The Ravens also endured minor injuries to offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe) and tight end Todd Heap (thigh bruise).
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland