Everyone knew the Browns were a different team this year.

Now the masses are realizing just how different the Browns are since Gregg Williams became their interim coach four weeks ago.

"You’re starting to see the team that everybody in this building knew was here," center JC Tretter said during a conference call Monday, less than 24 hours after the Browns smashed the Cincinnati Bengals 35-20 to snap a 25-game road losing streak and win consecutive games for the first time since 2014.

"This team is believing," running back Duke Johnson said in the locker room at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Browns are 2-1 since they fired coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley on Oct. 29 and promoted Williams from defensive coordinator and Freddie Kitchens from running backs coach/associate head coach to offensive coordinator.

"[Williams] has good messages and team meetings and the team has been rallying around behind it after Hue and Todd got let go a couple of weeks ago," middle linebacker Joe Schobert said on a conference call. "Everybody kind of needed to refocus, and he's done a good job of keeping everybody refocused."

Tretter echoed what General Manager John Dorsey said Nov. 14 during a bye-week news conference: The team's improved discipline under Williams has made a huge difference.

"It’s something that we desperately needed," Tretter said. "I think he’s really reined everybody in and got everybody focused on one single goal. I think his leadership has been very strong. He fires up the team. He’s got that personality.

"The rules and what’s expected of each person on the team when it comes to penalties and missed assignments and all these little things, they’re spelled out for you. There’s no confusion about what’s going on."

At 4-6-1 with five games remaining, the Browns are still on the periphery of the playoff picture with a chance to stay in it if they keep winning.

"Being in the hunt in December is all you can really ask for when you start the season," Schobert said. "So just to have meaningful games is big for the morale in the whole building as well as the fans."

Staying focused

One of the primary challenges for the Browns will be to avoid getting too far ahead of themselves. If anyone is confident he can keep a young team focused, it's Williams.

When Williams got wind of his players discussing the playoff hunt, he broached the subject in a team meeting last week.

He explained during a conference call his message was "all of that stuff doesn't mean anything if we don't get better today and if we don't take this next game correctly. Everything is eliminated if we don't understand the immediacy of each and every day and each and every practice. It was a way to pound that in."

Remaining in the playoff conversation is "definitely a motivation" for the players, Tretter said.

"We understand if we do take it one game at a time and everything goes our way," he added, "there’s an opportunity to keep playing football games into January, into February."

Coming up

On Sunday, the Browns will visit the Houston Texans (7-3 entering Monday night's game against the Tennessee Titans). Then they'll host the Carolina Panthers (6-5), visit the Denver Broncos (5-6), host the Bengals (5-6) and visit the Baltimore Ravens (6-5) to finish the season.

"We know our backs are against the wall right now," free safety Damarious Randall said Sunday. "... We’re going to go into every game just like it was a playoff game, and we’re just going to try to keep chipping away."

Although Dorsey said Williams will receive an interview to become the full-time head coach, he's likely a long shot to secure the job. Winning is the best way he can strengthen his case, and he has recently tapped into a key to success.

"We as athletes, we as young men and we as grown men, we crave discipline," Williams said. "We want discipline. We just want fair discipline.

"It's about being on time, doing things the right way, not doing things halfway and doing things all the way. That's what is needed at this level. Ability alone does not win at this level.

"You have to go above and beyond. When you go above and beyond in doing things the right way and doing things the best that you individually can do, then the team will get better too because everybody trusts each other."

After Sunday's game, defensive end Chris Smith said Williams expects nothing less than perfection.

"He always says no excuses," Smith added. "I think we've instilled that in the offense, the defense and special teams, and you're seeing us put full games together.

"There's still a lot of football left. Anything can happen. I've seen teams go on runs and get that wild card."

 

Nate Ulrich can be reached at nulrich@thebeaconjournal.com. Read his Browns coverage at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ByNateUlrich and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.