BEREA — After doubling their win total from the past two years in the first five weeks of this season, the Browns believe they're a legitimate force.
"We feel like we’re a contender," free safety Damarious Randall said Wednesday as the Browns (2-2-1) prepared for Sunday's home game against the Los Angeles Chargers (3-2). "We feel like we’re one of the best teams."
"I know we are," wide receiver Rashard Higgins added. "We've got one of the best defenses, and the offense is major as well. People tend to sleep on us, but we're going to wake them up."
Are the Browns, 1-0-1 in the AFC North and 1½ games behind the first-place Cincinnati Bengals (4-1), thinking playoffs?
"Absolutely," Higgins replied. "That's the only thing I'm thinking about."
The play of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield and the defense are the main reasons the Browns, in the aftermath of 1-31, are off to their best start since 2014, when they went 3-2 and finished 7-9.
At the NFL Scouting Combine in early March, almost two months before General Manager John Dorsey drafted him first overall, Mayfield said if anybody could turn the Browns around it would be him. They're 2-1 since he took the reins Sept. 20 midway through a "Thursday Night Football" game against the New York Jets.
"When everybody said I was a short quarterback that could not do much, I said if anybody is going to do it, I believed in myself to do that," Mayfield said. "That's something that I carry with me.
"I have known that the Browns were not bad since the second I stepped foot into this franchise. We had a special team from the get-go."
With Sunday's 12-9 overtime win over Baltimore, Mayfield became the first Browns rookie quarterback to defeat the Ravens (3-2) since they hired coach John Harbaugh in 2008.
"He's a playmaker, man," Higgins said. "He just knows how to win. Some got it. Some don't. For Baker to come in like he has and to get us where we're at right now is unbelievable."
"When you have a confident quarterback, the O-line plays confident, the receivers know the ball is going to be on them," left guard Joel Bitonio said. "You know there's a chance to make a big play."
The offense generated 63 points in Mayfield's first six quarters but was held to 12 by the Ravens, who were ranked second and third in the NFL in yards and points allowed, respectively, entering the game.
Mayfield said the Browns are "more than capable of scoring 30-plus points per game" and will if they correct some of the mistakes they made Sunday.
The defense held the Ravens to three field goals and snapped their streak of 13 consecutive games with at least 20 points. After finishing the 2017 season ranked last in the NFL in takeaways (13) and turnover differential (minus-28), the Browns are first in both categories with 15 takeaways and a plus-eight turnover differential.
Randall, who spent the past three seasons with the Green Bay Packers and went to the playoffs with them in 2015 and 2016, said the Browns have the best defense he's ever been on "by far." It fuels his belief the Browns are as good as his Packers teams and could be 4-1 or 5-0.
"This defense is talented," he said, "and it’s going to only get better."
Bitonio warned the Browns need to focus on one game at a time if they hope to prove their performance hasn't been "an early season fluke." Still, being on a relevant team is refreshing. "It is nice to not be talking about  draft picks right now," he said.
Bitonio was a rookie in 2014 the last time the Browns won consecutive games.
"The next step for us is to start winning back-to-back games regardless of who the opponent is," coach Hue Jackson said.
They also have a chance to win three home games in a row for the first time since 2014. They're 2-0-1 at home this season.
"This needs to be a place that people need to fear coming to play," Mayfield said.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns.