Cleveland’s 30-17 win over the Super Bowl champion Saints in New Orleans had the football world buzzing Sunday. The Browns’ game plan was tremendous and their execution superb, qualities not normally associated with a 2-5 team holding down last place in the AFC North Division.
“I really believe that anything is possible because this is a good group of guys that work hard every single day,” Cleveland coach Eric Mangini said Monday. “I don’t think this group, at any point, has lacked confidence.
“They might have been frustrated because we weren’t getting the results we had hoped for, but they’re not going to be intimidated or discouraged.”
If there was any doubt about the latter point, it was erased in the last two weeks when the Browns were competitive for two-and-a-half quarters before losing 28-10 at archrival Pittsburgh, then thoroughly outplayed New Orleans on the road.
The upset of the Saints earned Cleveland’s players a bonus day off, though they will practice today and Wednesday before being given an extended weekend away from football.
Mangini and his staff, however, will be at the Browns’ headquarters conducting business as usual.
“I’m excited about the bye week because it gives us a chance as a staff and as a team to figure out, ‘What did we do wrong?’ and ‘What did we do poorly?’” he said.
“I’m a big believer that if we use this time wisely, we can make a big jump and grow from it. I’m confident that we can go into the second half of the season as a better team.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, three NFL teams since 1990 have made the playoffs after starting 2-5. The 1990 Saints and 1995 Lions were wild-card qualifiers, while the 2002 Jets won the AFC East.
Cleveland is currently three games out of a wild-card spot and 3½ behind the North-leading Steelers with nine games to play. Those numbers should put a damper on any wild fan optimism, but also show that a postseason bid is not mathematically impossible.
“The most important thing is to never make your focus on what’s nine weeks down the road,” Mangini cautioned. “The only thing that we can affect is right now and the next game (New England on Nov. 7). Win that one, then deal with the next one. That’s the approach that works.
“I’ve been in situations where it looked like (playoffs) were going to be an inevitabil-ity, and it just doesn’t work. You have to focus on today and the next day.”
The coach said the same approach applies to his future with the Browns.
After posting a 5-11 record last season and surviving a job review by incoming team president Mike Holmgren, Mangini is clearly under pressure to win this year. He has the vocal support of his players, as well as his assistant coaches, but the only opinion that truly matters is Holmgren’s.
“You become a hypocrite when you ask others to focus on today, while you’re looking down the road,” Mangini said. “It’s not really my approach or how I’mwired to look that way. To me, all those things will work themselves out, but what I can do and we can do is work on the next game and go from there.
“(My job security) is not going to be my focus now, or four weeks from now, or six weeks from now. I think our expectation internally is that we’re gonna be successful every week. All of us should have that expectation, but it’s got to be backed up.”
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.