Cleveland—If the Ravens proved anything in improving to 3-0 for the first time in their history, it's that this team doesn't need everything to go perfectly for it to remain perfect.
Finding resiliency on defense and a new faith in their offensive leader, the Ravens overcame an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter to deliver an exhilarating, 15-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns before a stunned crowd of 72,474.
After cornerback Chris McAlister's drive-stopping interception in the end zone, quarterback Steve McNair put his authoritative stamp on this offense, essentially willing the team to a 12-play, 47-yard drive that left the game to kicker Matt Stover and the all-important weather.
Feeling the 25-mph wind to his back, Stover nailed the 52-yard field goal with 20 seconds left, the longest game-winner of his 17-year career.
The wind-aided victory blew new life in the Ravens, providing them with perhaps a sign of a charmed future.
"We grew up today as a team," McNair said. "All that plays a hand in how good this football team can be."
The beauty of the Ravens' fourth quarter as an offense was the ugliness of the first part of the game.
In the first three quarters, McNair was 13-for-25 for 173 yards. On the final drive, he was 6-for-9 for 52 yards, stepping up his play as well as his presence in the huddle.
"It all starts with Steve," tight end Todd Heap said. "He looked in every guy's eyes and told everyone what to expect and what we needed to do. It's really something when everybody has confidence in what's going on. To do it under pressure at the end of the game, it's a confidence-builder for our offense."
The Ravens' first victory in Cleveland since 2003 kept them tied atop the AFC North with the Cincinnati Bengals, broke a four-game losing streak in the division and provided a sense of accomplishment unlike the first two games this season.
"This was a huge emotional win on the road," coach Brian Billick said. "Don't underestimate what we just did."
The heroics of Stover and the offense could not have occurred without a timely effort by the defense.
After surrendering its first two touchdowns of the season -- ending its streak of holding teams out of the end zone at nine quarters -- the Ravens' defense buckled down when the team needed it the most.
In the second half, the defense gave up 91 yards and allowed the Browns to move past their 31-yard line only once. The defense learned more about itself in this clutch performance than it did in the more dominating efforts of the first two weeks.
"This came down to guts," said defensive end Trevor Pryce, who had 1 1/2 of the team's seven sacks. "I think we needed it badly as a defense."
The only time the defense flinched in the second half came after the Ravens had closed to 14-12 with 10:22 left in the game. The Browns went the length of the field, moving to the Ravens' 4-yard line and needing a touchdown to put the game out of reach.
But linebacker Bart Scott's rush from the blind side hurried quarterback Charlie Frye's throw to the end zone, where McAlister jumped in front of receiver Braylon Edwards for the interception.
"They came at me the last time down there so I had my antenna up and anticipated that they were going to go to him again," said McAlister, who was flagged for pass interference on his previous play in the end zone.
That key turnover handed the ball to the Ravens' suddenly vibrant offense.