CLEVELAND (AP) — There’s never been any love lost between the Ravens and Browns, NFL step-brothers with a shared history.
And when the AFC North rivals get together twice each season, there’s usually more than the normal amount of pushing, shoving, trash talking — even spitting.
“I didn’t like playing the Browns,” said Cleveland running back Willis McGahee, who spent four seasons with Baltimore. “We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy game. They were going to fight. It was just that we were going to keep punching.”
The Ravens (3-4) have been landing knockout blows for five years, winning 11 straight over the Browns (3-5). They’ll try to make it a dirty dozen wins in a row Sunday in a game both teams need to keep their division hopes alive.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco have never lost to the Browns, winning all 11 matchups since 2008. But neither is taking anything for granted despite the lopsided results of their recent meetings with Cleveland, which led 6-0 at half on Sept. 15 before the Ravens rallied for a 14-6 win.
“It’s always a really good game,” Flacco said. “We haven’t won 11 straight on accident, and we haven’t planned on winning 11 straight. We’ve taken them one game at a time, and it just so happened that it’s worked out this way. We know that they’re a good opponent, so we don’t take them lightly in any way.
“They’re a physical front. They’re a good secondary that hasn’t let up a lot of yards at all this year. We have a lot of challenges ahead of us, and that’s kind of how we look at it.”
Browns cornerback Joe Haden is 0-7 against the Ravens. But without Ray Lewis or Ed Reed, they don’t seem to be as menacing as they once were.
“The Ravens aren’t the Ravens of old,” Haden said. “They’re still a really good team, a division opponent, but at the same time, our team is a whole different team. It’s a different squad. We still haven’t gotten over the hump, but there’s no reason why we can’t.”
Browns safety T.J. Ward, too, feels the Ravens’ 11-game stranglehold doesn’t guarantee it will become 12.
“The past 10 or whatever, those have been completely different teams, different owners, different coaches, different everything. So that’s not really what we’re worried about,” he said. “It’s the Ravens. It’s a big rivalry. We don’t like them, they don’t like us, and that’s just what it is. It’s a physical game, it’s a head knocker, close games, and I don’t see why this one would be any different.”
SPIT TAKE: In their previous game, Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor accused running back Ray Rice of spitting in his face, a charge the Ravens star denied.
“We were two guys jawing at each other, and I had my mouthpiece in,” Rice explained. “So when I went to say something back to him, it looked as if I projected toward him. I was saying something, he was saying something, and then, obviously, that’s what happened.”
Taylor said he’s moved on from the incident, but don’t think for a second the Browns aren’t using it as motivation.
COOL CAMPBELL: Browns quarterback Jason Campbell showed poise in last week’s loss at Kansas City. And although he didn’t rally the Browns to victory, the nine-year veteran has hopefully brought some continuity after Cleveland went through three QBs in four weeks.
“He’s a pro and he’s been around it,” offensive coordinator Jason Campbell said. “You know what you’re getting every day from him. He’s done a great job.”
BOILED RICE: Rice hasn’t been the same player since straining his left hip flexor during the third quarter against the Browns. He’s averaging just 2.8 yards on 82 carries, and the three-time Pro Bowler doesn’t have his usual burst. Still, the Browns know he can be a handful.
“He has been one of the better backs in this league for the last few years,” Ward said. “Whatever’s going on with him and their offense or his injuries, you can never underestimate him.”
BYE BLACKBIRD: The Ravens have been one of the league’s best teams following a bye week. Since 2002, they’re 10-1 in the week after a break and 5-0 under Harbaugh, who believes his team has the potential to do something special this season.
“We’re not going to be perfect on Sunday, but we need to be our best right now and hope that will be good enough,” he said. “But I really believe that we can be a great football team. We’ve just got to go get it done.”
GORDON GLOWS: Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon didn’t play earlier this season against Baltimore as he served the second game of his suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Unfortunately for the Ravens, Gordon wasn’t traded earlier this week by the Browns, who hung on to the 22-year-old in hopes he will blossom into a star and stay clean.
Gordon is averaging 18.2 yards per catch and 97 yards per game, second highest in the league.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)