FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The Browns have had a surge in confidence since beating Cincinnati and Baltimore. They’ve been included in the discussion of most improved teams. They are starting to resemble a real NFL team.
The Patriots (4-0) are 161/2-point favorites to beat them today. They’re the no-brainer pick in the survivor pool. They’re No. 1 on every expert’s power rankings.
They’re the perfect opponent for the Browns to gauge their progress.
“For us, it’s an opportunity to make a point and test ourselves,” receiver Joe Jurevicius said.
“Obviously that’s what we aspire to be, to be in their situation. I think it would mean a great deal to us (to win).”
An upset would steal some of the spotlight from the Indians and turn the Browns into a big orange blob in the middle of the NFL radar.
“It would be huge for us,” kick returner Joshua Cribbs said. “It would let us know we’re capable of anything. Let everybody else know we’re capable of anything. Let us know that this is not the same team.”
Cribbs is in his third year and tends to get carried away. Veterans Andra Davis and Hank Fraley and coach Romeo Crennel refrained from hyperbole when asked about a hypothetical win.
“We’re not worried about being on the map,” Davis said. “We’re just trying to go out there and win.”
“New England is one of the better teams in the NFL,” Crennel said. “Hopefully we would be able to build on it going down the road for the rest of the season.”
The Patriots look a lot better than one of the better teams in the league. They’ve outscored their opponents 148-48 and have the top-ranked defense and second-ranked offense. Coach Bill Belichick is already being asked if this is his best team and if it could go undefeated — and he’s a guy who coached a record three Super Bowl winners in a four-year span.
“I think that’s the kind of thing you talk about at the end of the year,” Belichick said.
He’s a master of motivation and concentration. He thrived back in the days when the Patriots were underdogs and has deftly navigated the suffocating expectations his success created.
So Browns fans can hope New England falls prey to the “trap game” and overlooks Cleveland between a Monday nighter in Cincinnati and a marquee matchup with Dallas.
They just shouldn’t count on it.
“Bill does a pretty good job of not letting guys relax,” said Crennel, who began coaching with Belichick in 1981 and was his defensive coordinator for the Patriots’ three Super Bowl wins. “Up there in New England, I’m coach of the year, we’ve got the best defense in the NFL and an explosive offense. Those guys will be fired up.”
Belichick was thick with the praise of the Browns all week, but it’s the Patriots that deserve the attention. Quarterback Tom Brady has completed an unheard of 79.2 percent of his passes and has a 134.7 rating. Receiver Randy Moss has four 100-yard games and seven touchdowns. They’re at or near the top of just about every statistical category.
They have the pedigree to match. The Patriots have won 85 of their last 110 games. They’ve won at least one playoff game the last four years. They’re 38-9 at home since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.
“They’re still playing smart football,” said Fraley, who lost to the Patriots in the Super Bowl after the 2004 season.
“They’re probably the best team in football,” said linebacker Willie McGinest, who spent 12 years with New England.
“Look at their credentials. Look what they’re doing now,” Davis said. “It’s going to take a total team effort to be able to compete with them.”
Despite the huge point spread and Grand Canyon-sized gap between the recent fortunes of the franchises, the Browns seemed at ease during the week. There were no bold proclamations or foolish guarantees, just a quiet self-assuredness.
“We’re very confident,” Cribbs said. “They’re a very good football team and we know we have to have limited mistakes against them.
“But any given Sunday.”
The Browns waived right tackle Kelly Butler on Saturday to make room for Ryan Tucker, who was activated following a four-game steroid suspension.
• Safety Gary Baxter (knees) was downgraded from questionable to out and didn’t make the trip.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHERE: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
TIME: 1 p.m.
RECORDS: Browns 2-2; Patriots 4-0
LAST WEEK: Browns beat Ravens 27-13; Patriots beat Bengals 34-13 on Monday night
SERIES: Browns lead 11-8
SERIES AT NEW ENGLAND: Browns lead 5-4
LAST MEETING: Patriots won 42-15 Dec. 5, 2004, in Cleveland
COACHES: Romeo Crennel is 12-24 with Browns and overall; Bill Belichick is 91-39 with Patriots and 128-84 overall (37-45 with the Browns)
TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with broadcasters Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf; WMMS 100.7-FM
NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns — offense 11th (15th rushing, 10th passing), defense 31st (30th rushing, T-30th passing); Patriots — offense 2nd (4th rushing, 5th passing), defense 1st (3rd rushing, 4th passing)
BROWNS UPDATE: KR Joshua Cribbs was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month. He averaged 34.3 yards on 16 kickoff returns in September, including a 99-yard touchdown. He needs 49 yards to pass Dino Hall as the team’s all-time leader in kickoff return yards.
• QB Derek Anderson’s nine touchdown passes rank fourth in the NFL behind New England’s Tom Brady (13), Dallas’ Tony Romo (11) and Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer (10).
PATRIOTS UPDATE: Brady is 27-2 as a starter on artificial turf, and the Patriots switched to FieldTurf during last season. Brady leads the NFL with a 134.7 rating. Romo is second at 112.9. Brady has thrown 13 TDs and 2 INTs.
• WR Randy Moss leads the league with 505 receiving yards and seven TDs on 31 catches. He’s had four straight 100-yard games.
• The Patriots have punted just five times.
• LB Mike Vrabel, from Ohio State, has nine TD catches, including two in the playoffs. Every catch he’s made has been for a TD.
BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out: S Gary Baxter (knees); Questionable: DE Orpheus Roye (knee), G Eric Steinbach (neck), P Dave Zastudil (back); Probable: TE Kellen Winslow (shoulder), LB Willie McGinest (back), LB Antwan Peek (foot), K Phil Dawson (personal)
PATRIOTS INJURY REPORT: Out: TE Dave Thomas (foot); Questionable: LB Rosevelt Colvin (ankle), CB Randall Gay (thigh), C Dan Koppen (ankle), RB Laurence Maroney (groin), G Stephen Neal (shoulder), WR Donte Stallworth (knee), WR Kelley Washington (hamstring); Probable: QB Tom Brady (right shoulder).
THE PICK: In measuring-stick game, the Browns come up a little short. Patriots 27-17.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Patriots are averaging 37 points a game after scoring 38 three times and 34 once. The Browns have allowed an average of 29.5, so odds are good the Patriots will put up plenty of points.
That puts the pressure squarely on the Browns offense to make it a game. The Browns are averaging 27.3 points, including 34.0 in the last three, but the Patriots defense is first in yards allowed (207) and fourth in points allowed (12). The Patriots have proved they can blow out teams — four straight wins by at least 20 points — so the Browns must match any early scores to hang around and build confidence.
Receiver Randy Moss has had a huge impact in his first four games with the Patriots, catching 31 passes for 505 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s shown he’s still an elite receiver, and Browns safety Brodney Pool said he could be the fastest receiver in the league at age 30.
Leigh Bodden considers himself one of the best cornerbacks in the league and will be in charge of stopping Moss, but he won’t be asked to do it alone. Safeties Pool, Sean Jones and Mike Adams must provide support deep, where Moss is at his most dangerous. If Moss is allowed to make big plays, it will open up everything else for quarterback Tom Brady and the running game.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Browns WR Braylon Edwards
vs. Patriots CB Asante Samuel
Bodden ranks Samuel among the upper echelon of corners in the league, right up there with Champ Bailey and Rashean Mathis. It will be interesting to see if the Patriots trust him to cover Edwards
Edwards has 18 catches for 375 yards (20.8 average) and four touchdowns. He had a 78-yarder vs. Baltimore’s Chris McAlister last week and has a catch of at least 21 yards in four straight games.
Samuel had a crucial interception Monday night against Cincinnati, his second of the year. He has 18 regular-season picks in his five-year career.
Patriots defensive end Ty Warren and linebacker Mike Vrabel
vs. Browns right tackle Kevin Shaffer
Warren is tied for the team lead with 25 tackles and seven quarterback hits, and has a sack. Vrabel has 18 tackles, 3.5 sacks and seven quarterback hits. They form a tough tandem on the left side.
Shaffer has played better after moving to the right side in the preseason, and the line has allowed just one sack in the last three games. Ryan Tucker, the starting right tackle the last five years, is back from a steroid suspension, so Shaffer knows he must perform to keep the job. The Patriots will try to confuse quarterback Derek Anderson, so Shaffer and the rest of the line must give him the time he needs to decipher the coverages.