BEREA — Forget about Hue Jackson's return to Cleveland for a moment because the Browns have another ax to grind with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Strong safety Jabrill Peppers explained Friday he hasn't gotten over the insults Bengals players were firing at him and free safety Damarious Randall before the Nov. 25 meeting between the two AFC North rivals in Cincinnati.
The background story goes like this: Two days before the game, Randall said if seven-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green were to sit out with an injury, the Bengals would get "their ass beat." Well, some Bengals players took exception to Randall's bulletin-board material and directed verbal shots toward him and Peppers during pregame warm-ups at Paul Brown Stadium.
After the Browns won 35-20, Peppers revealed Bengals players lit a fire under him beforehand by saying, "How you all talking [trash]? You play for the Browns."
Peppers felt slighted then, and the sentiment hasn't faded.
"That was probably the most disrespectful thing somebody said to us," Peppers said. "That’s why I think we’re going to come out here with the same type of tenacity because stuff like that, that sticks with you. Like these guys really, really don’t respect us as an organization and as players. So that makes you want to go out there with that extra oomph."
The Browns (6-7-1) have won four of their past five games, and the Bengals (6-8) have lost five of their past six.
A Browns win Sunday would give them their first season sweep of a divisional foe since 2007 and their first one against the Bengals since 2002.
"We don’t want to say we’re a force or anything like that, but you’re going to respect us, and if you don’t, you still got to put the ball down and play us," Peppers said. "And if you don’t respect us and we beat you, then don’t say anything for how we talk. So that’s my thing."
Fewer teams are disrespecting the Browns now that they've snapped back from going 1-31 the past two seasons.
"Last year, we heard it all," Peppers said. "They wouldn’t stop talking, but this year, when we talk, nobody wants to talk to us. Nobody wants to now that we kind of got this thing rolling. It’s kind of dope to see."
Called out, then sold out
The power of rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield came to the forefront this week when the Browns sold out Sunday's game. Mayfield called out fans for not filling FirstEnergy Stadium on Dec. 9, when the Browns beat the Carolina Panthers 26-20, and said he wanted to play in front of a sellout crowd in the home finale this weekend.
"It doesn't surprise me that the fans are jumping on the bandwagon for everything," interim coach Gregg Williams said. "I think it's fantastic. That's why we love playing at home. You want that. I can’t wait to hear them."
Left guard Joel Bitonio said he thought Browns fans had been doing a good job all season.
"I'm sure [Mayfield is] used to Oklahoma, where it's sold out every game for every year for the last 20 years or whatever," Bitonio said. "But for us, I thought we had a good crowd. I've been used to it being pretty empty at the end of the year.
"It should be fun, man. Baker has that power. Baker's a popular dude, and it's cool to see what he can do with the fans and that interaction."
The Browns going 4-2 since Williams took control helps attendance, too, but Mayfield's teammates are convinced the No. 1 overall pick's influence is the biggest factor.
"Baker, he's just a guy who everyone just gravitates to, and when you're playing well, you can say things like [what he said about the fans]," Peppers said. "They believe in him. That's why they're coming out."
Aiming for 1,000
Nick Chubb may not get a "Run, William, Run" call, but he finds himself in position to fly by the guy who did.
With two games left, the rookie second-round draft pick needs just 28 rushing yards to pass the 887 yards racked up by William Green when the latter was a rookie first-round pick in 2002.
Green's most memorable run that year (and his career, as it turned out) was a 64-yard touchdown dash during a home and season finale the Browns needed to clinch a playoff berth. The run, against the Atlanta Falcons, elicited one of Jim Donovan's career-best radio calls and led to the only postseason berth of the expansion era.
The Browns head into their 2018 home finale needing a miracle to make the playoffs, but with Chubb enjoying a steadier rookie year than Green did. He has run 164 times for 860 yards for a 5.2 average that is way ahead of Green's rookie clip of 3.7.
Chubb has produced his own long runs, among them a 63-yarder in September at Oakland, a franchise-record 92-yarder Nov. 11 against the Falcons, and a 40-yarder last Sunday at Denver.
While passing Green, Chubb also has his sights set on the 1,000-yard barrier, which he can reach by averaging 70 yards against the Bengals and at Baltimore.
“It's something I take pride in every year," said Chubb, who topped 1,100 yards in all three of his full seasons at Georgia (he was injured another year). "Dating back since high school, I always get at least 1,000.
"It is definitely a goal I set for every year.”
There is a chance Chubb will get the call for the Pro Bowl, for which he has been designated as a second alternate.
"Whatever happens, happens," he said. "If I have a chance to go, I will definitely go. If not, there is always next year."
— Steve Doerschuk
The Bengals have been decimated by injuries on offense. Starters A.J. Green (toe), quarterback Andy Dalton (thumb) and tight end Tyler Eifert (ankle) are on injured reserve, and the Bengals ruled out 1,000-yard receiver Tyler Boyd (knee) for Sunday.
So, from a defensive perspective, the Browns are concerned most about running back Joe Mixon, who has rushed for 995 yards and eight TDs on 207 carries (4.8 average) and caught 40 passes for 284 yards and a TD.
"He's the main focal point because right now he is their offense," defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said. "He has a lot of touches, a lot of targets. The game goes through him."
Rookie Phillip Lindsay entered the Browns' 17-16 win over the Denver Broncos on Saturday night with an NFL-high 5.8 yards per carry, but Cleveland held him to an average of 1.7 (14 carries for 24 yards).
"Mixon and Lindsay are two different animals," linebacker Joe Schobert said. "So we’re going to have to do some different stuff for Mixon than we did for Lindsay but, overall, yeah, it’s a similar thought process going in."
Mixon's power stands out.
"You can have everything gap sound, force sound, and then all of a sudden, he runs over your face or he's able to cut and run through two people," Williams said.
• The Baltimore Ravens announced John Harbaugh will remain their coach for the 2019 season and the two sides are working on a contract extension. There had been some speculation Harbaugh could emerge as a candidate for the Browns' job if the Ravens had fired him.
• In an officiating video distributed to media Friday, NFL head of officiating Al Riveron said on fourth-and-2 from the Broncos 35-yard line with 1:12 left in the fourth quarter, running back Devontae Booker lowered his helmet and initiated contact with Browns rookie linebacker Genard Avery in the chest area, so Booker should have been penalized. A flag would have wiped out the 15-yard gain by the Broncos, who advanced to the 50, where Peppers got the game-clinching sack four plays later.
• The Browns listed Peppers (neck), Ogunjobi (biceps), center JC Tretter (ankle), rookie guard/center Austin Corbett (foot), cornerback Phillip Gaines (knee) and linebacker Tanner Vallejo (hamstring) as questionable to play Sunday. Peppers said he'll play. Ogunjobi and Tretter are expected to face the Bengals, too. Peppers and Tretter returned to practice Friday.
• Ogunjobi discussed playing through the fully torn biceps he suffered Dec. 2 in Houston. "It sucks," he said, "but at the same time, I'm able to go out there and make plays and help my team, so as long as I can do that, I'll be out there." Ogunjobi said he'll decide during the offseason whether he'll undergo surgery.
• In addition to Boyd, the Bengals ruled out linebacker Jordan Evans (ankle) and cornerback Tony McRae (hamstring). They listed linebacker Vontaze Burfict (concussion) as questionable.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.