CLEVELAND - The Browns didn`t need overtime. They didn`t need a ricochet field goal. Their fans didn`t need Maalox.
The Browns picked up an ordinary win Sunday - 27-17 over the Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns Stadium - and that`s what`s remarkable. After their last three games came down to field goals in the final seconds, the Browns got a comfortable win over a respectable team.
It was a victory worthy of a playoff contender, which is what the Browns have become. They`re 7-4, hold the second wild-card spot in the AFC and control their own destiny for a berth in the postseason.
"We have an opportunity of a lifetime if we continue to work hard and take it one game at a time," linebacker Antwan Peek said. "The sky`s the limit for this team. We`re really looking forward to seeing how far we can make it."
The Browns have won six of eight and are converting doubters by the week. They`ve won five straight at home since an opening loss, the most home wins in a season since 1994.
"This is breeding confidence within us and it`s breeding confidence within the city," receiver Joe Jurevicius said. "We`re definitely on the right road. I don`t think anybody can deny that."
The Derek Anderson-led offense has looked worthy of the playoffs since Week 2. The defense began to catch up Sunday.
The Browns held the eighth-ranked Houston (5-6) offense to 314 yards, 77 rushing. They forced three turnovers, sacked Matt Schaub (22-for-36 for 256 yards, two touchdowns) twice and hurried him repeatedly and made stops at the most critical times. The Texans were 2-for-10 on third down and 0-for-1 on fourth down.
"It seems like we`re starting to put everything together," safety Sean Jones said.
Jones made the first important third-down stop, tackling former Brown Andre Davis a yard short of a first down. Safety Brodney Pool forced a Houston field goal when he unloaded on Owen Daniels at the 5-yard line, causing the ball to pop out for an incompletion. Cornerback Leigh Bodden broke up a third-down pass and recovered a fumble.
Rookie nickelback Brandon McDonald also chipped in with starter Eric Wright out with a knee injury. He had a leaping fourth-quarter interception that set up a clinching touchdown and added four pass breakups. He was matched up on Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson often and didn`t back down. Johnson had three catches for 37 yards.
"He`s always making plays in practice," Jones said of McDonald. "He definitely has a lot of talent. He had an opportunity and went out and shined."
The high-powered offense that gave the Browns confidence early in the season and excited the Dawg Pound changed gears. Coordinator Rob Chudzinski came out running and stuck with it despite mixed results in the first half.
Jamal Lewis rushed for 91 of his 134 yards in the second half. The Browns had the ball for nearly 21 minutes of the half and ran six straight times on a field-goal drive in the third quarter.
"The first half might be a little tough, but the second half is the time when you start pounding them," said right tackle Kevin Shaffer, who played despite a knee injury. "That`s exactly what we did today."
Lewis carried a season-high 29 times - 21 in the second half - and when the Browns needed to salt away the game, he refused to be tackled and picked up the final first downs.
"Our defense held, so we could stick with the run," Lewis said. "We`re putting it all together."
Anderson was off-target at times in the first half, but he made more than enough clutch throws. He repeatedly took advantage of tiny openings in Houston`s zone to zip in a completion for a long gain.
Anderson found tight end Kellen Winslow 10 times for 107 yards and a touchdown and finished 24-for-35 for 253 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a 96.5 rating.
The combination of the pass, the run and the defense led to the first "comfortable" win since the middle of October.
"We finished today," said receiver Braylon Edwards, who had four catches for 57 yards and a touchdown.
Winslow has been subdued after the last two games, despite coming away victorious. Part of the reason is the beating he takes, but mostly he demands perfection from himself and his teammates.
"We`re 7-4, we`re not the Patriots," he said. "We don`t have any Super Bowl wins. We can play a lot better than what we`ve played."
A Cleveland Brown saying that after a double-digit win is as remarkable as the team`s record. But the players seem to be buying into coach Romeo Crennel`s preaching that they ignore the possibility of the playoffs and remain focused on the upcoming opponent.
"We don`t take anything for granted," Shaffer said. "Maybe when we have 10 or 11 (wins) I`ll rest a little bit. At seven, we can`t rest at all."
No. But for one day they can enjoy a win without high anxiety.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or email@example.com.