BEREA: Considering their three-game losing streak, it’s almost shocking how confident the Browns are that they can defeat the Baltimore Ravens for the first time since 2007 when the two AFC North rivals meet at 4:25 p.m. today at FirstEnergy Stadium.
Then again, good quarterback play and a defensive awakening certainly can lift a team out of a funk. Quarterback Jason Campbell’s solid performance and defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s men allowing only 50 yards and three points in the second half of a 23-17 loss on the road last week against the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs gave the Browns what they hope will be a blueprint for success entering the second half of this season.
Not to mention, the NFL trade deadline passed Tuesday without the organization shipping away the offense’s most dangerous weapon, wide receiver Josh Gordon. The lifted burden of a possible deal cannot hurt his focus moving forward, and everyone in the Browns’ locker room knows that could be significant as well.
“Now we know who’s playing quarterback,” inside linebacker and defensive captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “Now we know the guys that are going to continue this season are going to be here. All the outside noise that’s going to take away our focus, I think that’s all out of the window now. I think guys are able to focus in more and come out faster. Now at the midway point, we’re tired of the noise, and we have to start fast, hit guys in the mouth early and get that lead going into halftime and focus on the things we’ve done better in the second half.”
The Browns (3-5) are convinced that recipe can end their 11-game skid against the Ravens (3-4), and they desperately need a win before their Week 10 bye if they want to make a push in the division. Four of the Browns’ final eight games are against AFC North foes.
“Everybody knows everything’s still in front of us,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “We have to turn it around. We have to start winning games and tightening it up. Everything is still looking positive if we turn it around and do what we’ve got to do. We have so many division games in front of us, and nobody’s really out there. Cincinnati’s ahead, but we could always catch up because we’ve got to play the [Pittsburgh] Steelers [2-5] twice. We’ve still got to play Baltimore. We’ve still got to play Cincinnati. We still have everything ahead of us that we want to do. We just need to do it.”
The Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) had won four games in a row after falling to the Browns 17-6 in Week 4, but they lost 22-20 to the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night. During the game, All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, adding to the Bengals’ long list of significant injuries.
The Bengals’ defeat adds more drama to the Browns’ rematch with the defending Super Bowl-champion Ravens, who prevailed 14-6 in Week 2 when quarterback Brandon Weeden started for the Browns.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,” Jackson said. “It’s wide open in the AFC North right now. The Bengals had won four straight and they lost [Thursday] night, so it’s definitely our chance to move up the ladder in the division.”
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski wasn’t bashful last week about stating his goal to make such a move.
“This is a tough division,” Chudzinski said. “The AFC North, multiple Super Bowl winners, multiple playoff teams, everybody has been in the playoffs. 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.”
The Browns, after all, are overdue to show the Ravens can no longer push them around.
“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, especially because they beat us 11 times in a row. 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.”
History, though, is not on the Browns’ side.
• The Browns have had four head coaches, including Chudzinski, and five starting quarterbacks during their 11-game losing streak against the Ravens.
• Jackson and Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas are the only players on the roster who have defeated the Ravens as members of the Browns. The last time it happened was in 2007 when the Browns actually beat the Ravens twice, the second meeting a 33-30 overtime victory on Nov. 18, 2007.
• The Ravens are coming off a bye. They’re 5-0 following a bye during coach John Harbaugh’s tenure.
• Harbaugh, quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice are 11-0 against the Browns.
“This team has only been 0-1 against them,” strong safety T.J. Ward said, referring to the Browns’ Week 2 loss. “So the past is really not what we’re worried about. We’re worried about the last game, what we can improve from that game. The past 10 or whatever, those have been completely different teams, different owners, different coaches, different everything. So that’s not really what we’re worried about.”
The leaders of the Browns — specifically Chudzinski, Jackson, Thomas and Campbell — insisted they believe the team is better now than it was when it fell to the Ravens in the first meeting this season. Now it’s time for the Browns to put up or shut up if they want to get over the hump against the Ravens.
“The whole team wants to get that monkey off our back,” cornerback Buster Skrine said. “It’s time for us to get a win against Baltimore, and I think we can get a win.
“We’re a better team. We’ve had a lot of tight games, but everybody’s positive. There’s a positive attitude around here. We’ve still got a chance to make big things happen.”
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.