By Nate Ulrich
Beacon Journal sports writer
BEREA: The Baltimore Ravens pushed the buttons of Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor in Week 2, but he and his teammates believe they’ll have the last laugh when the two AFC North rivals meet for a rematch Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Taylor drew a 15-yard unnecessary roughness penalty when he smacked running back Ray Rice in the helmet after the second play from scrimmage in the Browns’ 14-6 loss to the Ravens Sept. 15 at M&T Bank Stadium. Taylor has never flat-out said Rice spit in his face, but several Browns players have suggested it.
“They are going to try stuff, try to get under my skin, but that’s what every team does,” Taylor said Thursday before practice. “They try and draw the penalty or whatever, so [I need to] just go out there and play my game, and we will come out victorious.”
Taylor knows he must keep his cool this time as the Browns (3-5) attempt to maintain the momentum they created by allowing just 50 yards and three points during the second half Sunday in a 23-17 loss to the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs. Cornerback Joe Haden said coach Rob Chudzinski and defensive coordinator Ray Horton chewed the defense out at halftime like they never had before. Horton said his men were “embarrassed” by their performances in the first half, and he hopes halftime at Arrowhead Stadium proves to be a turning point for them.
The defense, after all, has its swagger back this week despite the Browns’ 11-game losing streak against the Ravens (3-4).
“The Ravens aren’t the Ravens of old,” Haden said. “They’re still really good, a real talented team, a division opponent. But at the same time, our team is a whole different team. We still haven’t gotten over the hump, but I think that there’s no reason why we can’t.”
Haden said the defense isn’t intimidated by anybody.
“We come up there and we do the talking,” Haden said. “It’s not about anybody else coming in and trying to punk you. Our defensive mind frame is, ‘No, we’re going to be the bullies,’ and you can’t talk trash to a bully.”
Perhaps that’s an example of what happened when Taylor and Rice had their altercation.
“I don’t think it’ll be an issue during the game,” strong safety T.J. Ward said. “But I don’t see any reason why you would want to give Phil Taylor any extra motivation. So I’m sure he’s going to be on his ‘A’ game this week.”
Rice told Baltimore reporters his side of the story Wednesday.
“We were two guys jawing at each other, and I had my mouthpiece in,” Rice said. “So when I went to say something back to him, it looked as if I projected towards him. But I had my mouthpiece in. I was saying something, he was saying something, and then, obviously, that’s what happened.”
When told of Rice’s explanation, Taylor said, “It is what it is. So we’re both moving on from it and getting ready for this game.”
Horton said he doesn’t feel the need to talk to Taylor about keeping his emotions in check against the Ravens.
“It is not that hard because they talk trash, and I talk trash, too,” Taylor said. “So it really does not get to me.
“I apologized to my team for getting a penalty. I play with a lot of passion, and a lot of people can respect that.”
Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, strained his left hip flexor during the third quarter against the Browns and has had a disappointing season thus far, tallying 82 carries for 242 yards (2.8 average) and three touchdowns to go along with 24 catches for 114 yards. Rice never finished any of his first five NFL seasons with an average of fewer than 4.0 yards per carry.
“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 coming into a game.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn’t been bashful about stating his team must get Rice and the running game going coming off its Week 8 bye. Rice’s 958 rushing yards in 11 games against the Browns are the most he’s had against one team in his career.
“The coach has come out publicly and said they want to get back to running the ball, get back to Baltimore Ravens football,” defensive end Desmond Bryant said. “So I think that’s going to be one of their objectives in this game. I think we’re ready and we’re prepared to stop them from being able to do that.”
The defense hasn’t forgotten the incident between Taylor and Rice. Maybe the memory will give the Browns the extra motivation they need to get over the hump against the Ravens.
“We’re already fired up,” Ward 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. We’re going to go out there, and we’re going to play that way. Every time we play them, it’s a physical game, it’s a head knocker, close games, and I don’t see why this one would be any different.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.