CLEVELAND – Lardarius Webb has believed for weeks that he was getting close to breaking loose on a punt return.
His vision became a reality Sunday as he returned a low, short Brad Maynard punt 68 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Baltimore Ravens’ 24-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
Webb busted through an arm tackle before dashing away from the defense and doing an acrobatic tumble into the end zone to punctuate the score.
"My guys did a lot," Webb said after the first punt return for a score of his career. "All 10 guys, everybody got a guy. We’ve been working on it all week. Everybody get their man and we could make something happen.
"That’s just how important a punt return is, how it can change the game. The guys did a great job of blocking their guys and staying with them. They did a great job of getting me in there."
Doubling as the Ravens’ top cornerback, Webb hadn’t scored on a return since running back a kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown as a rookie.
"Huge, impressive, that keeps showing me how committed he is and how much love he has for the game," free safety Ed Reed said. "The guy is a player. I knew that coming in. He’s really been standing out. He changed a lot of things in the offseason. I’m real happy it’s paying off for him."
Webb entered the game averaging only 7.2 yards per punt return with a long return of 29 yards.
Now, he finally got the big play he’s been chasing.
"I just knew that this punt return team, it wasn’t doing what we usually do and how we play," Webb said. "We need that phase of the game because everything is not always going to go right. If we have a punt returner that could go the distance, we have to use it in the game. We just showed what we can do.
CUNDIFF MISSES TWICE: Usually reliable from short distances, Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff pushed two field goals wide right while dealing with sloppy field conditions.
He missed from 34 and 41 yards.
The 34-yarder is the lone field goal Cundiff has missed from under 40 yards this season. It’s his shortest miss since an errant 30-yard against the Chicago Bears two seasons ago.
"There’s some things technique wise that I already know what happened," Cundiff said. "I just have to continue to practice and get better. I know I can kick. The kicks that I missed weren’t impossible kicks. The frustration is more from letting the opportunity slide.
"Mentally, I felt like it was there if I got another chance I would take advantage of it and I would connect. I was really disappointed about the ones I missed."
Cundiff has converted on 26 of 34 field goals this season.
After the misses, he made a 21-yarder in the second quarter.
Cundiff acknowledged that the wet field was an issue.
"It’s pretty bad, it’s raining all day," Cundiff said. "If you look at the way Matt Stover kicked early in his career, he morphed into the type of kicker he became in Baltimore because of the conditions he had to deal with in Cleveland. I kick a certain way and I’m going to have to do the opposite and figure out what it takes to be successful.
"The good thing is we won. It’s nice to know if one side of the team is lacking the rest of the team can pick me up. There might be other games where we might have to carry the team."
A former special-teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles, Ravens coach John Harbaugh said that Cundiff was dealing with a tough set of circumstances.
"It was the worst possible situation," Harbaugh said. "We would have liked to gotten him in a little better situation there, maybe on the left hash. What you had was really bad footing. You had a cross wind coming from that corner, the Dawg Pound. We knew we weren’t going to be able to go really deep because of the crosswind coming from that corner.
"So, we had him on opposite hash with the wind coming from that corner and bad footing. The other one that we got him close, he almost took it to the left because he overcompensated with the wind to the right. That was how much trouble he was having keeping his plant foot down to get the ball where he wanted to."
R. LEWIS OUT AGAIN: All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis was sidelined for his third consecutive game due to a right turf toe injury.
Dannell Ellerbe filled the void at middle linebacker, tying inside linebacker Jameel McClain with seven tackles to lead the defense.
Ellerbe contributed heavily to the Ravens limiting Browns star running back Peyton Hillis to 45 yards on 12 carries.
"Yeah, I feel like I played pretty well," Ellerbe said. "After the first half, they didn’t really come at me. It’s always great to fill in for a great like Ray Lewis. The coaches had trust in me."
Ellerbe also emerged unscathed in terms of injuries, not aggravating hamstring and groin problems that sidelined him against the San Francisco 49ers.
"I felt great out there," he said. "No pulls out there, no pain, glad to make it out healthy."
The Browns only rushed for 59 yards as the linebackers reacted quickly to shut down runs.
"Hillis had some good runs early in the game," Ellerbe said. "We settled down and stopped him."
Ellerbe diagnosed a screen pass to running back Chris Ogbonnaya, running past blockers to make the tackle to prevent a potentially long gain.
"I was just playing my position and doing my part," he said. "I saw it on the film and that’s what we do on defense. You’ve got to go for it."
BIG-PLAY ROOKIE: Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith made his first NFL start, lining up at left cornerback.
The first-round draft pick intercepted his second pass of the season in the second quarter, reading a Colt McCoy pass meant for wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi for a 32-yard return down to the Browns’ 15-yard line.
"It was a deep out," Smith said. "I knew it was coming and I jumped it."
Smith also allowed a 22-yard touchdown pass to Evan Moore as he and Webb bit on a fake.
"It was a miscommunication," Smith said. "It was a mental error on our part. It’s something we can easily clean up and fix."
Webb had a similar take on the breakdown.
"I really don’t remember what exactly happened," Webb said. "We didn’t communicate. Me and Jimmy, he’s young and he’s growing up. If we’re on the same side, we have to communicate with each other because he’s still learning this game.
"It’s all about communicating. He got it right, I got it right. We’ll get better next week."
The first-round draft pick was in the game at the start of the first quarter along with cornerbacks Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb since the Browns lined up with three wide receivers.
Webb shifted inside to play the nickel and Smith and Williams lined up against the outside receivers.
"It felt good to be out there," Smith said. "I just want to help the team any way I can."
NFL DEBUT: Rookie backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor made his NFL regular-season debut, taking his first snap during the second quarter as the Ravens ran a variation of the old Troy Smith package.
Taylor lined up in the shotgun formation and ran for two yards to the right as quarterback Joe Flacco shifted out to wide receiver.
Running back Ray Rice scored a six-yard touchdown on the next play.
This marked the first time since Smith played against the Bears two years ago that anyone besides Flacco had taken a snap at quarterback.
MILESTONE: Wide receiver Anquan Boldin caught the 700th pass of his career during the third quarter.
Reaching the mark in 123 games, he’s the third-fastest player in NFL history to do so.
INJURY REPORT: Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk left the game briefly with a right shoulder sprain, but returned after one series where Andre Gurode stood in for him.
"It will be all right," said Birk, who went to the locker room to have his shoulder examined. "Luckily, I don’t have too many muscles. It’s not that serious."
The Ravens reported no other new injuries.
QUICK HITS: Besides Lewis, the Ravens deactivated rookie wide receivers LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss, cornerbacks Chris Carr (back) and Chykie Brown, rookie running back Anthony Allen (hamstring) and linebacker Sergio Kindle. … The Browns deactivated quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, safety T.J. Ward, former Ravens offensive lineman Oniel Cousins and offensive lineman Steve Vallos, tight end Jordan Cameron, linebacker Quinton Spears and defensive lineman Auston English. The Browns started Usama Young in place of Ward. … Harbaugh is awarding a game ball to WBAL radio personality Ron Smith. Smith retired last week and is dealing with pancreatic cancer. Smith spoke to the team on Friday. … Browns quarterback Colt McCoy left the game with a knee injury in the first quarter, returning for the ensuing series. … Rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee sacked McCoy twice and now has six sacks for the season. "I think I played pretty good," said McPhee, a fifth-round draft pick. "I had a couple good rushes. They kept drawing up a blocking scheme and we got a little pressure. Things are going very good, but I really want to get to double digits and win a championship."