BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Once he’s handed the ball on Thursday night, Trent Richardson knows what’s next.
Hall of Fame-level contact.
“Ray Lewis is going to come at me,” the Browns rookie running back said, “and I’m going to come right back at him. That’s football.”
Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and Cleveland’s other rookies are about to face the toughest test of their budding careers when the winless Browns visit Baltimore, one of the league’s most hostile stadiums where the Ravens have won 12 straight, 20 of 21 and where visitors are not welcomed.
Play at your own risk.
“You have to be on your `A’ game and be ready to rock and roll,” Weeden said Wednesday.
Or, get rocked and rolled — on national TV.
It’s tough to play on the road in a normal week, but the Browns have only had two days to prepare for the Ravens (2-1), who are coming off a last-second win over New England on Sunday night. Baltimore has won eight straight over Cleveland under coach John Harbaugh and some of the Ravens have posted some of their best stats at the expense of the Browns.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has never lost to Cleveland, going 8-0 the past four seasons. Safety Ed Reed has more interceptions (10), return yards (356) and touchdowns on picks (three) versus the Browns than any other opponent, and running back Ray Rice has averaged 118.5 yards per game against Cleveland.
And when they’re at home, the Ravens are a predatory bird.
“It’s one of the steeper tests in the NFL when you talk about playing in Baltimore,” Browns Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said. “And it’s a night game and on national TV, so the crowd is going to be that much louder and more into it. It’s going to be difficult to hear in the huddle and on the line. Throw in a great defense and the Hall of Fame guys that they have and it adds up to a tough task.”
There’s no doubt that the odds are stacked high against the Browns, who are 13-point underdogs. But Richardson believes they can hold their own against an AFC North power.
“It’s another ballgame for us,” he said. “People say that we don’t have a chance, but I know we’ve got a chance. If everybody straps up their jersey, step up their pads, we’ve still got a chance against them. I don’t care what they say. Lot of folks sleep on us. When people fall asleep on us, that’s when we come with our A-game.”
Cleveland is coming off a C-minus performance last week against Buffalo.
After falling behind 14-0, the Browns rallied but came up short and lost their ninth straight game dating to last season. As the final seconds ticked off, thousands of Bills fans celebrated like they were back home in Orchard Park. Fortunately for the Browns, the short week has allowed them to move on quickly from a stinging defeat.
“Physically, guys are a little sore,” Weeden said. “Mentally, it’s nice because you want to play as fast as you can after a loss. If you win, you’d rather have some time off. If you lose that game it’s nice to get out and play as soon as possible. Guys are eager to get back out and compete again.”
Weeden threw for 237 yards against the Bills, but he had two interceptions in the fourth quarter as he tried to rally the Browns. During his postgame news conference, Weeden said he played a “solid” game, but as he left the podium, the 28-year-old felt realized what he said came across poorly and made him look selfish.
Like one of his errant throws, he made a comment he’d like to have back.
“I thought about it before I even walked out the room,” he said. “First and foremost, the most important thing is winning the game. I didn’t do enough to win the game, so I didn’t play well enough. I shouldn’t have said I played well. I didn’t play well. I felt comfortable. I felt good. I just didn’t do enough to win the game. If we won by one, I would have said I played all right. I should have started with, `No, we didn’t win the game, so it doesn’t matter.'”
Richardson, too, wishes he had played better. After rushing for 109 yards the previous week at Cincinnati, he managed just 27 on 12 carries against the Bills, who made it a priority to stop him. He’s sure to get the same treatment from the Ravens and their cast of hard hitters led by Lewis and Reed.
Richardson has respect for the Ravens, not fear.
“It’s going to be an honor just to be on the same field with Ray Lewis,” he said. “I looked up to him for years. I still look up to him, especially to his leadership and how he handles stuff. But you know, it’s going to be like another game. I’m going to play like it’s my last game and go out and give all I can.”
Richardson is saying all the right things, but he’s never been lined up in the backfield with No. 52 staring back at him or Baltimore’s No. 20 waiting downfield.
As Browns offensive coordinator Brad Childress pointed out, there’s no substitute for playing the Ravens.
“You don’t get it until one of those guys gets right in your grill and then you get it,” he said. “Ray himself, you’ve got to witness that to experience it.”
Thomas has been there. He hasn’t won against Baltimore since his rookie season in 2007 and has seen young players unravel at the sight of Lewis and Reed.
“They are phenomenal Hall-of-Fame guys,” Thomas said. “You’ve just got to be careful not to let their names beat you. They’re great players and you’ve got to respect them, but you can’t go out there and be afraid of them. Brandon and Trent understand that.”
NOTES: WR Mohamed Massaquoi did not practice because of a hamstring and it’s unlikely he’ll play Thursday. TE Alex Smith also remains sidelined with a concussion. … S Ray Ventrone was chosen as the Browns’ fourth captain for Thursday. Ventrone returned and played last week for the first time since undergoing surgery for a broken thumb, which was fixed with pins and screws. … Incoming owner Jimmy Haslam III attended practice and spent several minutes talking with coach Pat Shurmur.