OWINGS MILLS, Md. — As a member of the Alabama football team, Marlon Humphrey knew what to expect against non-league foes such as Mercer and Kent State.
"We played a lot of teams that we definitely should easily run over," Humphrey recalled.
Now a rookie starting cornerback with the Baltimore Ravens, Humphrey finds himself in a seemingly similar situation entering Sunday's game against the winless Cleveland Browns.
The Ravens (7-6) are chasing a playoff berth. The Browns (0-13) are trying to avoid becoming the second 0-16 team in NFL history. In addition, Baltimore is 17-2 against Cleveland under coach John Harbaugh, having won four straight and six of seven in the lopsided series.
To Humphrey, this must seem like Alabama-Chattanooga all over again.
"The difference between then and now is that any team can beat you in the NFL. That's one of the things I learned pretty quickly," Humphrey said Wednesday. "You go into a game and think, 'We should beat this team,' and then you end up coming up short. There's never a guaranteed win in the NFL. You treat every team the same, no matter what their record is."
It is a lesson the Ravens learned in 2007 under coach Brian Billick. Facing the 0-13 Miami Dolphins on the road, Baltimore came out flat and lost 22-16 in overtime.
The defeat probably cost Billick his job. He was fired after that 5-11 season despite guiding Baltimore to a Super Bowl win in 2000.
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was a member of that Ravens team. He vividly remembers the loss, most notably the game-winning TD pass yielded by safety Ed Reed.
"Ed Reed, nine out of 10 times he's right," Suggs said. "He was just wrong on that one."
Suggs hasn't shared his recollection of that embarrassing loss with his current teammates — yet.
"I didn't bring it up, but maybe it's something to put in their ear," Suggs said. "We're competitors. We're expecting Cleveland's best shot. We're not taking them lightly."
The Ravens need to win their last three games to be assured an AFC wild-card slot, and Harbaugh couldn't give a hoot about Cleveland's desperate bid to avoid finishing winless.
"Their motivation is not really a concern of ours. It's our motivation that we're concerned with, and we have a lot to play for," Harbaugh said.
Browns coach Hue Jackson, a former assistant in Baltimore, knows too well that Harbaugh won't let the Ravens' 39-38 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday night — or Cleveland's record — alter the Ravens' preparation for this game.
"That's not John's style," Jackson said. "John's a week-to-week guy, and last week is over. He knows they're playing a pro team at our venue, so he's going to have those guys ready to go."
It's the playoffs or bust, and the journey begins in Cleveland.
"It would be no different than playing any other team in the league at this point of the season," safely Eric Weddle said. "We need a win to keep our playoff hopes alive. It just happens to be Cleveland."
Although Baltimore's three-game winning streak ended Sunday night, the Ravens can't complain about where they stand with three weeks to go.
"We definitely are fortunate and are very hungry and feel good about where we are," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It could be better for us at this point, but we're excited about the opportunity."
Alex Collins made his Ravens debut against the Browns on Sept. 17, rushing seven times for 42 yards in a 24-10 victory. He's a starter now, and wise enough to know that Cleveland is going to give Baltimore its best shot.
"I know they're going to be coming at us," Collins said, "so we're going to do the same thing."
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