CLEVELAND — Cleveland Browns Stadium has seen more than its share of clunkers in its nine years.
On Christmas Eve 2005, the Browns lost 41-0 to Pittsburgh. On Christmas Eve 2006, they lost 22-7 to Tampa Bay. In November 2006, they lost 30-0 to Cincinnati.
The vibe inside the stadium has changed drastically. After the opening debacle this season, the Browns have won three straight at home as they prepare to face the Seattle Seahawks today in a matchup of
4-3 playoff contenders.
It’s the biggest home game since William Green ran over the Atlanta Falcons on the way to the playoffs in 2002.
“This is probably one of the most important games of the year for us,” linebacker Antwan Peek said. “It could define a lot of things for us as a team. We come out and win this game, it’ll make a difference for us. Everyone will take us seriously.”
A win would give the Browns three straight wins for the first time since Butch Davis won in Weeks 2-4 in his first season as coach in 2001. It would put the Browns two games above .500 for the first time since they finished 2002 9-7. It would legitimize the current two-game winning streak vs. a pair of winless teams.
It would add meaning to the trip to Pittsburgh next Sunday.
“It’s a big game for us. It would help ourselves quite a bit to win this game,” said coach Romeo Crennel, quickly applying the brakes. “But it doesn’t put us into the playoffs, doesn’t make us world-beaters.”
The positive feelings along the lakefront began with the 51-point outburst against Cincinnati in Week 2, and continued with wins over Baltimore and Miami. Running back Jason Wright said the Browns must stockpile all the momentum possible with a difficult stretch staring them in the face.
“It’s significant primarily because we’re about to be four of five on the road after this,” he said. “We play so much better at home, we have such an environment at home. That really aids what we do on offense and the team as a whole.
“The energy from the crowd is the primary thing. It’s a lot of fun.”
Fans know it wasn’t always fun to sit in the orange seats. The Browns entered the year 6-10 at home under Crennel and 20-44 since 1999. The best home finishes were 4-4 in 2001 and ’05. They could tie the win total today, with visits from Houston, Buffalo and San Francisco yet to come.
“It’s good to play at home when you’re winning like this,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said. “We’re trying to keep this going.”
No one relates to the fans better than receiver Joe Jurevicius. He grew up in an eastern suburb, rooted for the Browns his whole life and couldn’t wait to sign a contract to play at home. He relishes the blue-collar label and knows what the shot-and-beer crowd in the Dawg Pound is feeling.
“It’s huge. Not only for us, but for our fans,” he said. “Not that we’ve done anything yet, but we’re definitely on our way. And I think that right now, we’re giving our fans something to cheer about.
“And, whether they realize it or not, they’re a huge part of why we’re where we’re at. We’re winning at home, they’re getting behind us, they’re staying late in the games. All that stuff’s important, it just creates the atmosphere.”
The Browns are a win today from being relevant. That should be enough motivation for the fans to bring their “A” game. The first 4:05 home start of the year should help.
“They might be fired up,” quarterback Derek Anderson said.
“More time for the beer to flow,” Jurevicius said. “That’s all part of pro football. There are no better fans than what we have here.
“They’re deserving, just like they were in basketball and baseball. I don’t know if there’s a better time to be in the city of Cleveland than the past year. Now it’s football season. We’re working our rear ends off to give them what they deserve. We’re helping each other out.”
Crennel has stressed the importance of building a home-field advantage since the start of the season.
“I appreciate what they’ve done all year,” he said. “Both teams are playing for something. It should be exciting. The thing that we have going for us is that we’re playing at home.”
As Crennel got up to walk away from the podium he was asked about the Colts-Patriots game that has been billed at Super Bowl XLI½ and is at the same time as the Browns-Seahawks.
“The biggest game of the year is right here in Cleveland,” he said.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
KEYS TO THE GAME
SOMETHING’S GOTtA GIVE
The Browns offense ranks fourth in the NFL, scoring 27.7 points per game. The Seahawks defense ranks third, allowing 15.4. Whichever side emerges triumphant — the irresistible force or the immovable object — will likely carry its team to victory.
Derek Anderson is playing inspired football and has received plenty of help from Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Joe Jurevicius and Jamal Lewis. They’re especially good at Cleveland Browns Stadium, where they’re averaging 39.7 points in Anderson’s three starts. The Seahawks have a veteran defense that is strong upfront and smart in the back.
Edwards is being mentioned as one of the league’s elite receivers — and he deserves to be. He has 37 catches for 669 yards and nine touchdowns, including five in the last two games. He’s been at his best using his leaping ability on jump balls in the end zone.
Safety Brian Russell has helped stabilize the back of the Seahawks defense. Edwards ripped Russell to the media last year for a legal hit on Bengals receiver Chad Johnson — and that was while Russell and Edwards were Browns teammates. That didn’t go over well with Russell, who will be looking to deliver a big hit. Russell has made a career preventing the big play, but that’s where the Browns have excelled, with 33 plays of at least 20 yards.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Seahawks defensive end Darryl Tapp and linebacker Julian Peterson vs. Browns left tackle
Seattle is fourth in the league with 23 sacks, led by Peterson’s seven and Tapp’s 5½. They get them in bunches, as Tapp tied a franchise record with four vs. St. Louis and Peterson had three vs. San Francisco.
Tapp will line up across from Thomas on most plays, but Thomas must also be aware of a blitzing Peterson. Thomas has been outstanding in his rookie year, and would like to impress his idol, Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones.
Seahawks running back Shaun Alexander vs. Browns linebacker Andra Davis
This hasn’t been the season either had imagined. Alexander doesn’t look like the elite back he was two years ago, and Davis has lost much of his playing time. But both have the opportunity for big days.
Alexander has rushed for 460 yards and a 3.4 average, but he has just two touchdowns and hasn’t been above 47 yards or a 2.5 average since Week 4. The Browns’
29th-ranked rush defense presents an opportunity for him to get back on track. Davis will be on the field all day in place of the injured D’Qwell Jackson, giving him a chance to prove he still belongs out there for more than just running plays.
WHERE: Cleveland Browns Stadium
TIME: 4:05 p.m.
RECORDS: Browns 4-3; Seahawks 4-3
LAST WEEK: Browns beat Rams 27-20; Seahawks had bye (beat Rams 33-6 on Oct. 21)
SERIES: Seahawks lead 11-4
SERIES AT CLEVELAND: Seahawks lead 4-1
LAST MEETING: Seahawks won 34-7 on Nov. 30, 2003, in Seattle
COACHES: Romeo Crennel is 14-25 with Browns and overall; Mike Holmgren is 79-64 with Seahawks and 163-106 overall
TV/RADIO: Channel 8, with broadcasters Sam Rosen and Tim Ryan and sideline reporter Chris Myers; WMMS 100.7-FM, WTAM 1100-AM
NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns — offense 6th (14th rushing, 9th passing), defense 32nd (29th rushing, 31st passing); Seahawks — offense 16th (22nd rushing, 12th passing), defense 13th (T-13th rushing, 16th passing)
BROWNS UPDATE: QB Derek Anderson is second in the NFL with 17 touchdown passes. New England’s Tom Brady has 30. Anderson improved to 4-5 as a starter last week.
• The Browns are tied for third in the NFL with a 65 percent conversion rate in the red zone. They’ve scored 13 touchdowns on 20 trips inside the 20-yard line.
• K Phil Dawson is 11-of-12 on field goals this year — the only miss was a block in Oakland — and his career 82.7 field-goal percentage is fifth all time.
• WR Braylon Edwards ranks third in the NFL with 669 receiving yards, fourth with an 18.1-yard average and tied for second with nine touchdowns.
• FB Lawrence Vickers is 5-for-5 in third-and-1 situations.
SEAHAWKS UPDATE: The Seahawks will travel 33,586 miles this season, including the preseason.
• They’re tied for fourth in the NFL with a plus-7 turnover differential.
• The Seahawks are 2-6 after a bye under Holmgren, but have won the last two years.
• Seattle is 31-6 when RB Shaun Alexander rushes for 100 yards. He’s one of two players in NFL history to score 15 TDs in five straight seasons.
• Seattle is the only NFC team with a winning record in each of the last four seasons.
• LT Walter Jones has started all 160 games he’s played since being a first-round pick in 1997. He’s been selected to seven Pro Bowls, including the last six.
• LG Rob Sims, who played at Ohio State, is expected to start.
BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out — LB D’Qwell Jackson (ankle); Doubtful — LB Kris Griffin (Achilles); Probable — CB Leigh Bodden (back), FB Lawrence Vickers (concussion)
SEAHAWKS INJURY REPORT: Out — TE Marcus Pollard (knee), T Ray Willis (knee); Questionable — WR Deion Branch (foot); Probable — RB Shaun Alexander (wrist), DT Rocky Bernard (groin), QB Matt Hasselbeck (oblique), T Walter Jones (shoulder).
THE PICK: The Seahawks don’t have the firepower to keep up with the streaking Browns, especially on the lakefront. Browns 27-20.