BEREA — Size, strength, quickness and sure hands have always been Kellen Winslow’s best attributes.
Maturity just made the list.
Winslow entered the league as a brash 20-year-old with a Hall of Fame father, rare athleticism and a mouth that roared. A broken leg as a rookie, a mangled leg from a motorcycle accident and all the pain and suffering that followed changed the Browns tight end.
“When I came in, I just felt like I had a lot to prove,” he said Sunday. “I didn’t really know how to go about it. I wanted to tell everybody how good I was. I learned that you don’t have to do that. The great ones don’t do that. You just go do it and let other people tell you.
“You just live and learn. I was 20 years old. I’m 24 now, I’m growing up. I’m married now, I’ve got my wife. I love that girl.”
Winslow (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) could barely get those last words out. He was highly emotional after his best game as a professional helped the Browns (5-3) rally to beat the Seattle Seahawks 33-30 in overtime. Winslow tied a career high with 11 catches for a career-high 125 yards.
Ten of the 11 catches went for first downs. He had five catches for 58 yards in the fourth quarter and picked up four first downs, two on third down and one on fourth down.
“That’s huge to be able to move the chains,” coach Romeo Crennel said Monday.
Winslow choked up and shed a tear when asked to reflect on the big day. Then he was asked if he would’ve cried in his younger days.
“I probably would’ve,” he said. “I’m an emotional guy. But I’m maturing.”
There is little debate. The off-the-field distractions have subsided, while his play has improved. He has 42 catches for 657 yards (15.6 average) and three touchdowns. He’s on pace for 84 catches, 1,314 yards and six touchdowns.
In his only full season last year, he finished with 89 catches for 875 yards and three touchdowns.
“Kellen has always been a studious student of the game,” Crennel said. “As you mature, you become more patient. Winning helps make guys more patient.”
Even in his days of big proclamations — “I’m a soldier,” and “I think my 90 percent is still better than every tight end out there,” were his highest-profile sound bites — Winslow was most interested in the team’s success. But he was easily frustrated by losses, and the frustration grew when he thought his role wasn’t large enough to help change the outcome.
Those rants have disappeared this year. The winning helps, coordinator Rob Chudzinski helps and his new attitude helps.
“He’s a lot different,” said cornerback Leigh Bodden, one of Winslow’s closest friends on the team. “He learned how to control his emotions out there on the field and just grew up as a player. He just grew up as a person and as a player.”
The motorcycle accident in the 2005 offseason was a turning point. He will revisit the scene of the accident on an episode of “E:60,” ESPN’s new magazine-style show that airs tonight at 7.
The multiple surgeries to repair the knee and remove a staph infection left Winslow vulnerable. He carries the pain with him every day, and it was exacerbated Sunday when he fell hard on his left side, then suffered a blow to his partially dislocated shoulder. He left the game each time, only to return and make more plays.
“He plays through a lot,” Bodden said. “He plays hard no matter what. You gotta love that guy.”
Crennel hesitated to single out Winslow’s toughness when other players are also dealing with pain. But he acknowledged it’s difficult to keep Winslow off the field.
“That’s what he wants to do and that’s what he feels like he is obligated to do,” Crennel said. “He’ll work through a lot to be out there because he wants to win and he wants to help the team win.”
Winslow had his own explanation for his success.
“Just want-to. That’s all it is,” he said. “How bad do you want it in the crunch time?
“When it’s three seconds left, do you want the ball? When it was fourth down, I know it’s coming, so I’m ready. I prepare myself for these situations my whole life.”
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
TOP-FLIGHT TIGHT ENDS
Browns tight end Kellen Winslow is one of the NFL’s top tight ends when it comes to catching passes. Here are the numbers for the top 5:
Player No. Yds. Avg. TDs
Tony Gonazalez, Chiefs 52 615 11.8 4
Antonio Gates, Chargers 47 649 13.8 5
Jason Witten, Cowboys 45 617 13.7 5
Kellen Winslow, Browns 42 657 15.6 3
Owen Daniels, Texans 39 468 12.0 0