Jimmy Haslam exudes confidence, and the Browns are mimicking their new owner’s personality as they enter the second half of this season.
They have an unusual, almost shocking, amount of swagger for a team that started the season with a record of 0-5. But winning two of the past three games has given the Browns (2-6) a significant morale boost heading into today, when they’ll host the Baltimore Ravens (5-2) at 1 p.m.
“The record is completely different compared to how we feel as a team,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We know that our record could be so much better — a couple plays here, a couple plays there — but we feel like we’re starting to make those, and we’re starting to get over the hump. We’re starting to just finally climb to be a team that can just go out and win consecutive games. Why not win three games in a row, four games in a row, just get on spurts and keep winning?”
The Browns know they can hang with the Ravens, as evidenced by their 23-16 loss in Week 4 when they threatened to force overtime in the waning moments at M&T Bank Stadium. Now the Browns must prove they can beat the defending AFC North champions. They’re 0-9 against the Ravens since coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco joined the franchise in 2008.
“I think if you go back and actually individually look at most of the games, it’s kind of crazy that we haven’t lost because there have been a lot of close ones,” Flacco said. “Even all the way back to my rookie year, they were beating us up there and we came back. There have been a lot of games that have come down to the wire, including the last one we played against them.”
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden took three shots at the end zone during the final possession of that Thursday night game Sept. 27, but each attempt was thwarted. In the end, the Browns were haunted by wide receiver Greg Little’s dropped pass in the end zone with 4:38 left in the fourth quarter and Weeden’s interception that was returned 63 yards for a touchdown with 15 seconds left in the third quarter.
Still, the young team learned something about itself.
“For us to be able to go down to the wire with a team like that with a bunch of young guys, it gives us confidence,” Weeden said. “We may not talk about it, we may not bring it up, but mentally it’s got to give us confidence going forward. It’s showing we can play with anybody in this league, and I don’t think teams really take us lightly anymore. I think we’ve got guys that have really raised some eyebrows and really make you stay on your toes. You can’t just come to Cleveland or when you show up on Sunday, you can’t just fold your tent. We’re going to compete and play hard and it shows.”
It’s safe to say the Browns are demanding attention as they hope to build on their 7-6 win over the San Diego Chargers.
“We have a young team that has no recollection of what it means to lose consecutively all the time,” wide receiver and returner Josh Cribbs said. “A lot of these guys, they come from winning programs. It’s not the same old Browns. This is a different team. They don’t carry that, ‘Oh, let’s just pack it in. This is just like last year.’ They don’t carry that with them, which is refreshing. The true vets on this team are letting them know, ‘Hey, we’re going to win games. We’re going to turn this thing around.’ And they believe it, and it’s showing with our last victory.”
Harbaugh said this is a “must-win game” for his team, which suffered an embarrassing 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans on Oct. 21 before resting last week during a bye. The Ravens have won 14 consecutive games after a loss and are 4-0 coming off a bye during the Harbaugh era.
However, the Ravens aren’t the same team the Browns encountered earlier this season. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis (torn right triceps) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (torn anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus) suffered season-ending injuries. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (partially torn right Achilles tendon) returned to face the Texans, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee, shoulder) is expected to play today despite his injuries.
“They’ve lost two of their better players, they’ve added one and they still have [free safety] Ed Reed in the back end, so they’re still a quality team,” wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi said. “The offense is good. They’re very well coached. So we have to make sure that we’re hitting on all cylinders so we go in there and get the result we want.”
Like the Ravens, the Browns have experienced notable changes since their first meeting. Nickel cornerback Dimitri Patterson (ankle) is out, and starting defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (calf) is expected to be sidelined, as well. On the other hand, Haden (suspension), Massaquoi (hamstring) and defensive tackle Phil Taylor (pectoral muscle) will play today.
The evolution of the Browns can’t be discounted as an important factor, either. One of the least-experienced teams in the NFL — which features Weeden, rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon and rookie running back Trent Richardson — is growing up.
“I feel like we’re a team on the rise, and we’re much better right now than where we were at the beginning of this season,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said. “We’ve got a rookie quarterback, a rookie No. 1 receiver and a rookie running back, which are the three most important skill positions on the offense, and I think they’re becoming more comfortable with the offense and more comfortable with their role. They’re all playing better right now, so hopefully we’re gonna have an improved record in the second half.”
If that happens, Haslam and the Browns will hold their heads even higher.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.