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Banks, Ravens come back to earth in Miami


Ravens quarterback Tony Banks couldn't make hay in the rain Sunday night. Banks took the field as the AFC offensive player of the week, following a five-touchdown performance against Jacksonville in week two, but was unable to capitalize on his time in the spotlight. Banks fumbled twice, was intercepted once and sacked six times, often the result of his indecisiveness.

Baltimore had a chance in the fourth quarter to cut into the Dolphins' 13-0 lead, but on first-and-goal from the Miami one-yard line, Banks was sacked by safety Brian Walker. A second-down scramble put the Ravens back inside the Dolphins three-yard line, but on third down Banks was caught by defensive end Jason Taylor.

Those two sacks would end the Ravens night. Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler engineered a touchdown drive on the ensuing possession and Banks' inability to score amounted to a 10-point swing.

"It's going to be along ride home," the quarterback surmised. "I think a lot of us were envisioning ourselves 3-0, playing a home game next week."

Banks and coach Brian Billick have incentive this week to get things back on track. Backup quarterback Trent Dilfer, who injured his knee in practice last Thursday, was set to have surgery today to repair ligament damage. He's out of action for a minimum of two weeks, which leaves the coach with only third-round draft choice Chris Redmond to back up Banks.

Look for rookie running back Jamal Lewis to get more action this Sunday against Cincinnati. Lewis ripped off runs of 45, 17 and 10 yards in the second half, en route to a 76-yard night.

The loss dropped Baltimore's defense another notch. Miami's 19 points makes it 55 the Baltimore defense has allowed in the last two outings. In five games prior to the Jacksonville win, the Ravens had only allowed 52.

Miami had success running the football, which angered Billick, along with the fact that his pass-rush never could quite catch up with Fiedler.

"They kicked our (butt)," Billick said. "Put it in quotations, put it behind any question you have and that'll just about answer it."

The Ravens are now 1-4 in nationally-televised games. They have one more this season, Oct. 8, in Jacksonville.

Up next: Cincinnati, 0-2


The Browns celebrated their first home win in almost five years on Sunday, when they beat the Steelers, 23-20. The fact that it was Pittsburgh made it more appealing and the fact that rookie defensive end Courtney Brown sealed it late in the fourth quarter was icing on the cake.

Brown sacked quarterback Kent Graham with 11 seconds left to play and six yards separating the Steelers from victory. It was the third sack of the day for Brown, who had been a factor in the first two games, but hadn't delivered the almighty sack to date.

The win elevates Cleveland into a first place tie in the AFC Central with Baltimore and Jacksonville. It also gave them consecutive wins for the first time since September of 1995, and consecutive wins over the Steelers for the first time since 1988-89.

There was some question before the game as to the validity of the Browns-Steelers rivalry. It took one hit on punter Chris Gardocki to put that to rest. Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter blindsided Gardocki, which left the kicker lying on the field for several minutes. The crowd at Cleveland Browns Stadium turned on the Steelers sideline, and so did Gardocki with his middle finger raised in honor of Porter.

"You don't bury a kicker," Cleveland cornerback Corey Fuller said. "That's a low blow. That's dirty."

The Browns weren't beneath a low blow themselves. Running back Erric Rhett went after the sore ankle of Steelers Pro-Bowl linebacker Levon Kirkland.

"Some guys take the scouting reports a little too seriously," Kirkland said after the game. "It's a cheap tactic; whatever, that's fine. We all do that in this game. You can look at the NFL rule book and it can say this and that, but the players know better."

Browns quarterback Tim Couch looked a first pick for the first time. The game was tied 20-20 in the fourth quarter when Couch took the field inside his own 10-yard line. Less than seven minutes remained when he connected with Kevin Johnson for a 79-yard completion, which led to the game-winning field goal.

Couch threw for a career-high 316 yards and moved his passer rating to 107.7.

Up next: at Oakland, 2-1


The Steelers are 0-2 for the first time since 1993, Bill Cowher's second season in Pittsburgh. The difference between that team and Cowher's current bunch is that the 1993 group rebounded to finish 9-7 and earn a wild-card playoff spot. The 2000 team is staring straight at a loaded gun, with Tennessee, Jacksonville and the New York Jets in their next three games.

Pittsburgh is in danger of starting a season 0-5 for the first time since 1968, the year before Chuck Noll arrived. Pittsburgh has lost five in a row to the Titans and three straight to the Jaguars.

The Steelers have always been a run-first football team, and for the first time in more than a year that strategy worked. Jerome Bettis was in the midst of a 122-yard afternoon, averaging a bruising 5.3 yards per carry in the loss to Cleveland.

He looked more like a bulldozer than a bus when he ripped off back to back 10-yard runs in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers leading 20-17. Then, Bettis was asked to throw the ball. He did, and his pass was intercepted by Corey Fuller.

What made the call most confusing is the fact that the Steelers' 6-6 rookie wide receiver, Plaxico Burress, had an eight-inch advantage over 5-9 cornerback Daylon McCutcheon. However, the Steelers did little to incorporate Burress into their offensive strategy.

On third down from the Browns six-yard line, with 14 seconds to play in the game and the Steelers out of times out, quarterback Kent Graham was sacked while looking for his first option, wide receiver Bobby Shaw. That sack ended the game, on a play in which Burress was considered to be open in the back-left corner of the end zone. Graham didn't look his way.

"All I can do, man, is try to make plays off the opportunities they give me," Burress said.

The Steelers continue downward. They've now lost nine of their last 10 games and 18 of their last 23. Pittsburgh used to have an iron grasp on the AFC Central, but has lost eight consecutive games within the division, with at least one coming at the hands of every team.

Up next: Tennessee, 1-1


The Bengals thought they had their offensive line ready to go when the preseason ended a few weeks ago. They were wrong.

Three of Cincinnati's first six offensive plays in Jacksonville were negated by holding calls which was an ominous sign for the rest of the afternoon. Quarterback Akili Smith was sacked five times, which makes it 12 times in two games, and Smith was forced out of the pocket and was hit while throwing several more times.

It's tough for the young signal-caller to keep his head up, what with a single touchdown pass in two games and an offense that has scored just that touchdown in 26 offensive possessions.

"I don't feel as bad as I did last week," Smith said. "There were a lot of things out there not in my hands. I played a little better, but still not what I'm looking for at all."

Corey Dillon didn't stick around after the game long enough to talk to reporters. Dillon has just 73 rushing yards in his first two outings and, for a man playing with a $3 millon contract this season, that's $5,136.99 per yard.

Dillon ran for 1,200 yards last season, as the Bengals earned the sixth-best rushing total in the NFL, and the offensive line has just one new starter, and he's considered to be an upgrade. Still, only 33 of Cincinnati's 69 offensive plays against the Jaguars gained yardage, and that's weighing on the shoulders of the Bengals offensive front.

The defensive line feels good about itself after limiting the Jaguars to just 84 yards rushing. Defensive tackle Oliver Gibson led the way with four tackles and two sacks, while rookie middle linebacker Armegis Spearman had eight tackles in his first-ever NFL start. For Spearman, it was a chance to prove he should have been drafted. For the Bengals, it was a chance to see how they would play without injured linebacker Brian Simmons.

"He made the calls," Gibson said of Spearman, "and once he got through the first quarter, it was kind of like having Brian Simmons in there."

Up next: at Baltimore, 2-1


The Titans head into a week of practice not knowing who their starting quarterback will be in Pittsburgh Sunday. It's nothing new for Tennessee, which followed former Steeler Neil O'Donnell to a 4-1 record while Steve McNair was down with an injured back in 1999.

McNair is questionable after suffering a severe bruise to his chest against Kansas City last week. He spent two nights in a Nashville hospital and because the Titans had their bye last week, had a few extra days to rest. For the veteran quarterback, injuries are beginning to mount.

He struggled through the end of the 1998 season with a toe injury that caused Tennessee to lose four of their final six games. Then there was the back surgery that kept him sidelined for five games, and now it's a bruised sternum.

McNair's reckless style of play leaves him open to vicious hits, many of which he doesn't see coming, but he says that's just the way he plays.

"If I had to do it over again, I would," he explained. "That's the style of quarterback I am. You have to go out there and do whatever it takes to win. That's me."

It's hard to argue with him. Once he got back into the lineup, that style was good enough to take the Titans to the Super Bowl.

Up next: at Pittsburgh, 0-2

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