The Browns have won four of their last seven games. They’ve won two straight for the first time in more than a year. They have the entire 53-man roster healthy and available.
They have, in a word, confidence.
“Those young guys are seeing what it takes to win and finish a game, and they’re starting to like that feeling,” left tackle and captain Joe Thomas said. “I think it’s sort of a contagious thing that hopefully can carry on through the rest of the season and into next year.”
The Browns (4-8) upset the Steelers on Nov. 25, beating the rival for just the second time in 18 tries. Last week they went to Oakland and snapped a 12-game road losing streak.
They haven’t won three straight since the end of 2009, but enter today’s game against the Chiefs (2-10) as 6½-point favorites.
“I finally feel like guys are gaining the confidence that whatever they’re doing throughout the week, whatever they’ve been doing, it’s finally paying off for them,” middle linebacker and captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “Creating a bully and creating a foundation of winning, it forms a habit. Right now, I feel like we’re forming that habit and it’s a great opportunity to do it this weekend.”
The Chiefs are looking for back-to-back wins for the first time this season, but they’re dealing with more important issues. The pain is fresh. The memories strong. The questions unanswered.
Just eight days ago, the Chiefs lived through an unthinkable tragedy as linebacker Jovan Belcher shot and killed his girlfriend — the mother of his 3-month-old daughter — then drove to team headquarters and killed himself in front of general manager Scott Pioli, coach Romeo Crennel and defensive assistant Gary Gibbs.
The Chiefs decided to play last Sunday and beat the Panthers 27-21 for only their second win of the year. But the diversion was temporary, real life resumed Sunday afternoon and their hearts were still heavy as they boarded the plane for Cleveland.
Despite the baggage, they will put on the pads and buckle the chinstraps.
“When you go out there on that field and you cross the white line, even though you have problems and you’re feeling bad for yourself, when the ball is snapped the opponent is going to try to beat you,” Crennel said. “And if you’re not mentally ready, then you’re going to get beat and you’re going to lose.
“And so you have to be focused on the job at hand and to do that job the best you can.”
Without the tragedy, the story of this matchup would’ve been the return of the former Browns. It’s still relevant, just not to the same degree.
Crennel went 24-40 as Cleveland’s coach from 2005-08. He went 10-6 in 2007 — the best record of the expansion era — but missed the playoffs and was fired after going 4-12 the next season.
Crennel hired Brian Daboll to be his offensive coordinator this year. Daboll held the same title under Eric Mangini with the Browns in 2009-10.
Daboll was calling the plays when bruising running back Peyton Hillis burst onto the NFL scene in 2010. He rushed for 1,177 yards and became a fan favorite, even winning a national vote to be on the cover of the Madden videogame.
Hillis’ tenure in Cleveland turned ugly last season. He wanted a new contract, and his teammates accused him of refusing to play and valuing a new deal more than the team.
“They’re gonna be ready for us and come in here and be a lot of tension,” special teamer Joshua Cribbs said. “They’re gonna gear themselves up, even Romeo. They’re going to be itching to get back at the Browns.
“But I gotta tell them, ‘This ain’t the same team. It ain’t the same coaches. Ain’t the same organization.”
The last key member of the ex-Browns brigade is quarterback Brady Quinn. The No. 22 pick of the 2007 draft started 12 games here before being traded to Denver after the 2009 season.
He opened the year as Kansas City’s backup but replaced the struggling Matt Cassel. Quinn went 19-for-23 for 201 yards last week, throwing his first two touchdowns and earning his first win since his days in Cleveland.
“I think anytime you have more experience in playing the game and more game experience, you’re going to continue to grow and become more comfortable,” Quinn said. “I’ve been through so many different offenses and coaching changes and scenarios that at this point I feel like I can do a decent job of adjusting to pretty much anything.”
Quinn’s roller-coaster career is nothing compared to the carousel that’s been the Browns’ quarterback position. Crennel alone had Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Quinn, Ken Dorsey and Bruce Gradkowski start for him.
“If you don’t have what people consider to be a quality quarterback, then eventually you work and try to acquire that position,” Crennel said.
After Crennel left, the Browns kept trying Quinn and Anderson, moved on to Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy, and arrived at Brandon Weeden this year. He’s coming off a career-best 364 yards in Oakland despite suffering a concussion the previous week. He’s won four of seven, but his return as the starter next season depends on the postseason moves made by CEO Joe Banner.
Weeden has learned all about the revolving door and hopes to lock down the job for the long haul.
“That’s my plan. Or else I wouldn’t have put myself in this position,” he said. “I wanted to come in and be the guy and be the guy for the long term. And that takes playing well and showing that I can be that guy.
“I think if I can take care of what I can control, and that’s playing well, winning games, taking care of this locker room and being the guy that everybody looks to to lead this team, then hopefully I’ll be around for a while and help this organization win some games.”
Weeden sees the confidence rising in the young team and is getting greedy.
“We need to win three in a row,” he said. “We need to go on a streak here. We have four games left and we need to finish this thing out right and how we want to do it.”
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JUST THE FACTS
• WHO: Cleveland vs. Kansas City
• TIME: 1 p.m.
• WHERE: Cleveland Browns Stadium
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19; WMMS 100.7-FM, WTAM 1100-AM
• RECORDS: Browns 4-8; Chiefs 2-10
• LAST WEEK: Browns beat Raiders 20-17 on the road; Chiefs beat Panthers 27-21 at home
• SERIES: Tied 10-10-2
• SERIES IN CLEVELAND: Browns lead 7-3-1
• LAST MEETING: Chiefs won 16-14 on Sept. 19, 2010
• COACHES: Pat Shurmur is 8-20 with Browns and overall; Romeo Crennel is 4-11 with Chiefs and
• NFL RANKINGS: Browns – offense 27th (25th rushing, 20th passing), defense 23rd (16th rushing, 24th passing); Chiefs — offense 21st (5th rushing, 29th passing), defense 16th (26th rushing, 9th passing)
• BROWNS UPDATE: Rookie WR Josh Gordon set career highs last week with six catches and 116 receiving yards, and had a 44-yard touchdown. He leads NFL rookies with 646 receiving yards and is tied for the lead with five receiving TDs — all from at least 20 yards.
• RB Trent Richardson’s seven rushing TDs are tied for the second most by a Browns rookie. Jim Brown leads with nine in 1957; Travis Prentice (2000) and Ron Johnson (1969) had seven.
• Richardson is second among NFL rookies with 1,166 yards from scrimmage and third with 827 rushing yards. The yards from scrimmage are a Browns rookie record.
• WR Joshua Cribbs returned two kickoffs for TDs at Kansas City in 2009 to become the NFL’s all-time leader with eight. He hasn’t scored on a kickoff return since.
• K Phil Dawson had made a personal- and
team-best 29 straight field goals before having one deflected in Oakland. He needs one field goal to become the 25th in NFL history with 300.
• The Browns have a 15-18-1 record against former Cleveland coaches. They were 7-5 against Paul Brown and are 2-4 against Bill Belichick.
• The 26 takeaways are tied for fifth in the NFL. The plus-seven turnover ratio is tied for eighth.
• CB Sheldon Brown has played in 172 straight games. He had an INT and four passes defensed last week and shares the team lead with three INTs.
• LB D’Qwell Jackson leads the team with 90 tackles.
• DE Juqua Parker leads the team with four sacks.
• TE/FB Alex Smith will appear in his 100th game.
• CHIEFS UPDATE: Kansas City is on the road for the first time since Nov. 12.
• The Chiefs had their longest drive of the year last week, a 17-play, 87-yarder that took 9:56.
• The Chiefs have been outscored 322-188, yet have more first downs than their opponents,
237-212, and the edge in time of possession, 31:35-28:25.
• They’re last in the NFL with a minus-21 turnover ratio. They’ve thrown 16 INTs and lost 16 fumbles.
• Kansas City ranks 31st with 15.7 points per game.
• CB Brandon Flowers returned a Seneca Wallace INT 33 yards for a TD to help beat the Browns in the last meeting in 2010.
• LB Derrick Johnson is fifth in team history with 846 tackles. He has 86 this year.
• P Dustin Colquitt has 33 punts inside the 20-yard line, leading the NFL. He’s the Chiefs’
all-time leader with 238.
• All three TDs last week were firsts for 2012.
• RB Peyton Hillis ran in from 2 yards, TE Tony Moeaki caught a 1-yarder and WR Jon Baldwin caught a
• Benched QB Matt Cassel has a 66.7 rating.
• The Chiefs committed one penalty last week.
• Crennel has five Super Bowl rings as an assistant.
• DL Shaun Smith played for the Browns in 2007-08.
• GM Scott Pioli worked in the Browns’ personnel department from 1992-95.
• Assistant head coach Maurice Carthon was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator in 2005-06.
• DL coach Anthony Pleasant played for the Browns from 1990-95.
• Director of football administration Trip MacCraken was with the Browns from 1999-2009 in the football operations department.
• BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Probable: WR Travis Benjamin (finger), TE Jordan Cameron (groin), WR Joshua Cribbs (shoulder/chest), LB James-Michael Johnson (finger), OL Ryan Miller (forearm), CB Dimitri Patterson (ankle), RB Trent Richardson (chest/rib/finger), DE Frostee Rucker (shoulder/finger), S Bubba Ventrone (calf), S Usama Young (concussion)
• CHIEFS INJURY REPORT: Doubtful: S Abram Elam (quadriceps); Questionable: T Branden Albert (back), G Jeff Allen (illness), S Eric Berry (hand), CB Brandon Flowers (hamstring), G Russ Hochstein (back), LB Derrick Johnson (hamstring), S Kendrick Lewis (shoulder); Probable: LB Tamba Hali (knee), C/G Ryan Lilja (knee)
• SCOTT’s PICK: Peyton Hillis gets a touchdown, but Joe Thomas gets the last laugh with a three-game winning streak. Browns 27, Chiefs 16