BALTIMORE - Too many times the Browns have had their hearts broken. Too many times the bounces have gone against them. Too many times they`ve walked off the field with their shoulders slumped and their heads shaking in disbelief.
Not this time.
On one improbable Sunday in Crab Cake Country, everything went the Browns` way. The carom, the call and the coin toss.
When all was said and done and 65 minutes and 50 seconds of football had been played, the Browns walked off the M&T Bank Stadium field - some of them for the second time - with a 33-30 overtime win over the hated Ravens.
The Browns improved to 6-4 and closed the gap on first-place Pittsburgh (7-3), which lost to the Jets. The Ravens fell to 4-6, 0-5 in the AFC North and all but out of playoff contention.
"I feel very fortunate to win the game," coach Romeo Crennel said. "Sometimes the ball bounces a lot of different ways, because it`s oblong. So it bounced in our favor."
The Browns had blown a 27-14 fourth-quarter lead and trailed 30-27 when the offense took over at its 43-yard line with 16 seconds left following Matt Stover`s 47-yard field goal and Joshua Cribbs` kickoff return. Derek Anderson hit Joe Jurevicius for 6 yards, then Braylon Edwards for 18 to the 33-yard line with three seconds left. Anderson had a Raven hanging on him when he threw it down the middle for Edwards.
Phil Dawson, the longest-tenured member of the Browns, trotted on after a timeout and drilled the kick from 51 yards. It glanced off the left upright and dropped onto the curved extension that goes from the crossbar into the ground. When the ball bounced back into play in front of the crossbar, one of the officials standing under the goalpost signaled no good.
"I thought it was over," Crennel said.
Some of the players prayed together, others went into the locker room and Crennel congratulated Ravens coach Brian Billick. But referee Pete Morelli wasn`t sure about the ruling.
"After a discussion on the field, the ball hit the extension which, in fact, is a good field goal," he announced after much of the crowd had already left. The players came back on the field â€“ nearly the entire Ravens team was gone â€“ and overtime was needed.
The Browns won the toss, Cribbs returned the kickoff to the Cleveland 41-yard line and Anderson hit Kellen Winslow twice for 29 yards, including an 18-yarder in traffic to the 30-yard line on third-and-10. Four runs and a first down later, Dawson kicked a 33-yarder winner.
"It was meant for us to win," said running back Jamal Lewis, who had 92 rushing yards in his first trip back to his former hometown.
"I was teary-eyed," tackle Ryan Tucker said. "Finally."
"I`ve never seen anything like this," Crennel said. "There`s a first time for everything. It was crazy."
Morelli said one of the two officials at the goalpost told him the ball hit the extension.
"Basically, you have to trust one of the decisions or what actually happened on the play," Morelli told a pool reporter. "One was very emphatic that the ball hit the extension and came back across. We determined (the extension) was what it struck. Therefore, it made the field goal good."
Replays shown in the pressbox were clear that the ball cleared the crossbar by at least a yard. A Baltimore television station got footage of Morelli near the replay booth with headphones on talking to someone. Field goals are not reviewable.
"I did not go under the hood or use replay at all," Morelli said.
The Browns lost the infamous "Bottlegate" game in Cleveland in 2001 when a late challenge didn`t go their way and hurt their playoff chances. This year the Browns are in contention for the postseason again, and believe the breaks are finally going their way.
"Last year, we don`t get any of these calls," receiver Joe Jurevicius said.
For three quarters, it was a game the Browns controlled. With two minutes to go in the first half, they had outgained the Ravens 215 yards to 6. They led 27-14 when safety Brodney Pool returned an interception a franchise-record 100 yards with 3:42 left in the third quarter. Safety Sean Jones blitzed, hit Boller and caused the ball to flutter.
"Sean got pressure and I got a freebie," said Pool, who got a big block from Robaire Smith, who had two sacks. "He knocked the dude out. I just saw green. I only ran hard for 3 yards."
It quickly became a game the Browns shouldn`t lose but were going to anyway. The defense blitzed less, Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller got in a rhythm and the Cleveland offense quit moving the ball.
Stover, the last Raven who was an original Brown, kicked three field goals in the fourth quarter and Boller hit Devard Darling for a 27-yard touchdown. The Ravens compiled 330 yards in the second half, as the Browns defense crumbled for the second straight week.
"We have to play better," Crennel said. "We tend to get ahead and relax or whatever. We shot ourselves in the foot on several occasions."
This time the defense was saved, as Anderson looked like Ben Roethlisberger shrugging off a pass rusher on the completion to Edwards to set up the tying field goal.
"The guy wasn`t giving up," Edwards said of Anderson, who was 24-for-38 for 274 yards, an interception and a rushing touchdown. "He had the will and determination to make the play."
Anderson wasn`t alone. Edwards fought for the ball over the middle and Winslow extended the overtime drive by winning the battle in midair.
"Braylon seemed a little out of it," Jurevicius said. "I told him big-time players step up. He fought through some things and made the play when it counted."
After an ending none in attendance had witnessed before, the Browns were exuberant, exhausted and grateful. The Browns had two turnovers (Baltimore had four) and committed 12 penalties for 104 yards, but they boarded a plane back to Cleveland victorious.
"It was one of the ugliest games," Tucker said. "We screwed it up over and over, but hung in there."
"It went our way today," cornerback Leigh Bodden said. "Hopefully our luck is changing."
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or email@example.com.