“We’ve been the kid brother for a while, and we need to stand up in this division and do the things that we need to do,” coach Rob Chudzinski said.
There’s only one way to make the bullying cease: Win. For nearly six years, the Browns have been unable to protect their underwear, ears and noggins from the Ravens.
They have lost 11 straight in the rivalry, the longest active streak in the NFL. Baltimore leads the all-time series 22-7.
“As the years go by, the teams change,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “The Ravens aren’t the Ravens of old. They’re still a really good, really talented team, division opponent.
“But at the same time, our team is a whole different team, it’s a different squad. We still haven’t got over the hump, but I think there’s no reason why we can’t.”
The confidence was shared throughout the locker room.
“The whole team wants to get that monkey off our back,” cornerback Buster Skrine said.
“We’ve been seeing it all week. It’s time for us to get a win against Baltimore, and I think we can get a win.
“This year we’re a better team. There’s a positive attitude around here. We’ve still got a chance to make big things happen.”
The Ravens (3-4) are not only reigning Super Bowl champs, they’ve owned the AFC North, winning 13 of their last 16. The Browns are on the opposite end of the spectrum, going 23-64 against Cincinnati, Baltimore and Pittsburgh since 1999.
“You’ve got to first earn respect,” said quarterback Jason Campbell, who will make his second straight start. “How you earn respect is winning games. That’s what we have to do. The fight is always there.”
The second half of the Browns’ schedule starts today with the visit from Baltimore. It’s difficult to overstate the importance of the game if the Browns (3-5) are going to be relevant for the season’s last two months.
The Browns have lost three straight — after winning three straight — to fall out of first place in the division. A loss today would send the Browns into their bye week on a four-game skid and kill any hope that lingers within the fan base.
“This game is very important for us, so we don’t dig a hole and we can still be up for the lead in the division,” safety T.J. Ward said.
A win over coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco — who’ve never lost to the Browns in 11 tries — would bolster the optimism that remains within the team after the impressive display from Campbell in his first start last week against Kansas City.
“When it comes late November and December, those are the teams that start to separate themselves,” Campbell said. “So we want to have an opportunity to be in the hunt come late in the season. It’s a big part right now. We’re sitting at a 3-5 record and a situation where we have to do what we have to do.”
Today’s game begins a three-game stretch of division games. After the bye, the Browns travel to Cincinnati (6-3), then host Pittsburgh (2-5).
The Browns have already beaten Cincinnati this year. Wins today and Nov. 17 at Paul Brown Stadium would get the Browns to 5-5 and breathing down the neck of the Bengals, who lost Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins for the season in a loss to Miami on Thursday night.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “It’s wide open in the AFC North right now. It’s definitely our chance to move up the ladder in the division.”
Jackson joins left tackle and fellow captain Joe Thomas as the only players who’ve beaten the Ravens with Cleveland. The year was 2007, and the Browns swept the season series behind quarterback Derek Anderson.
“I’m glad you brought that to my attention,” Jackson said. “We’re well overdue.
“This is our game right before the bye week, so a lot of guys have put extra effort into this week and I like what I’ve been seeing this week, the tempo of practice, guys being focused on the small details. I’m more confident this week that we can come out with a win. We very desperately need a win.”
The game is just as crucial for the Ravens. They’ve lost two straight, three of four and can’t get going offensively because of an uncharacteristically weak running game. Ray Rice has averaged only 2.8 yards a carry — down from his career average of 4.4 — but Baltimore thinks he’s recovered from a hip injury suffered in the 14-6 win over the Browns in Week 2.
The Ravens had a bye last week, which could be bad news for the Browns, who are 2-2 at home. The Ravens have won 10 of their last 11 after a bye, and Harbaugh is 5-0.
“We’re right in the middle of the pack right now,” Harbaugh said. “So we can either go down, stay the same or get better. We intend to get better. I think we understand how to solve problems.”
The Ravens haven’t resembled the Super Bowl champs and are still adjusting to life without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Anquan Boldin. But they are no pushover.
Their last three losses were by a total of eight points, they’ve allowed a league-low six touchdowns in the last six games — after seven to Denver in the opener — have at least two sacks in 15 straight games, own the league’s best red zone defense (26.3 percent) and held the Browns to 259 yards in Week 2.
“This is a great team that we’re playing, and it will be a great test and challenge for us,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll be ready for it, and we’re excited for it.”
The midpoint of the season signifies a fresh start. The Trent Richardson trade, Josh Gordon rumors and quarterback carousel appear to be in the rearview mirror. All that’s left is to start winning games.
“All the outside noise that’s going to take away our focus, I think that’s all out of the window now,” Jackson said. “I like our odds, man. I really do. I like where our team is mentally.”
That means being prepared to stand up to the bully — without help from mom.
“I never felt like we were the little brother,” tight end Jordan Cameron said. “I don’t think guys think that on this team. It is time to make a stand. You get kind of sick of losing to the same team.
“So we’ve got to come out and really fight. It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got the guys to do it. It’s huge for our team to try to get this win and really believe that we can do it. And I think our guys really do believe we can get this.”