Although the Browns won't make the playoffs this year, their season finale Sunday on the road against the Baltimore Ravens will have a special feel to it.
"We'll treat this like it's our playoff game," Browns interim coach Gregg Williams said Monday during a conference call. "We'll treat it that way because that's how intense the game is going to be."
The AFC North showdown has been changed from a 1 p.m. start to 4:25 p.m. because of the playoff implications: If the Ravens win, they're in.
The Ravens (9-6) will claim the division title with a victory or a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers (8-6-1), who'll visit the Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at 4:25 p.m. Sunday. If the Browns and Steelers prevail, the Steelers will take the crown and the playoff berth that goes with it.
Meanwhile, the Browns (7-7-1) are aiming for their first winning season since 2007.
"Even though that we are out of it from a playoff perspective, we have to go and do our job," Williams said less than 24 hours after the Browns defeated the Bengals 26-18 in front of a sellout crowd Sunday during the home finale at FirstEnergy Stadium.
"None of us do this job to lose. None of us do this job to lose a play, to lose a game or to lose a practice. We do it because we want to win, and we're never going to apologize for how important that is."
Williams has guided the Browns to a record of 5-2 since they promoted him from defensive coordinator to interim coach and Freddie Kitchens from running backs coach/associate head coach to offensive coordinator on Oct. 29, the same day they fired coach Hue Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
By triumphing in five of their past six games, the Browns have improved their win total from last season's 0-16 record by seven. It's the largest turnaround from one season to the next in franchise history. They previously had two six-win improvements (from 3-11 in 1975 to 9-5 in 1976 and from 4-12 in 2006 to 10-6 in 2007).
"I don’t ever walk into any game thinking that we can’t win, and I thought that last year, Williams said. "I thought we played extremely well enough in many of those games to win games, and that's how close and tough the league is. It comes down to anywhere from three-to-four to four-to-five plays a game.
"Now we're making more of those plays determining outcomes of the game, and then the more you make, the easier it is to make. The more you make, the easier it is to buy into understanding this is how we play as a team. A team wins the game, not individuals."
With the turnaround happening on Williams' watch, he has strengthened his case to become the next full-time head coach of the Browns. He was asked if he would like ownership to call off the coaching search led by General Manager John Dorsey and give him the job.
"That's a very good question that you know that I can’t answer because we're on to the Ravens," Williams said.
Like the Browns, the Ravens have won five of their past six games. Unlike the Browns, a coaching change didn't spark a reversal of fortunes.
Instead, inserting rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson into the starting lineup did the trick. A year before Browns rookie quarterback and No. 1 overall draft pick Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy last year at Oklahoma, Jackson, the 32nd overall selection in April, earned the honor at Louisville.
When the Browns defeated the Ravens 12-9 in overtime on Oct. 7 in Cleveland, Joe Flacco was the Ravens' starting quarterback. Flacco suffered a hip injury against the Steelers on Nov. 4, opening the door for his high-profile backup.
Jackson is 5-1 as a Ravens starter. He has completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 1,022 yards and six touchdowns with three interceptions for a rating of 84.9. He has rushed 127 times for 605 yards (4.8 average) and three TDs and taken 14 sacks.
"He has been able to play at an awfully high level," Williams said. "They don’t just hand out the Heisman Trophy to anybody that just shows up. He has earned those things, he has earned his time there and he has also earned the respect of the staff of that team to give him a chance to play, and he has done very well."
The Ravens' defense is ranked first in fewest yards (284.1) and points (17.5) allowed per game.
"They have played dominant," Williams said. "It's going to be a fistfight. It's going to be a tough, hard-nosed battle."
• Williams said he didn't know whether rookie cornerback Denzel Ward would be shut down for the finale. Ward suffered a concussion in the fourth quarter against the Bengals after missing the previous two games with a concussion. Williams reiterated Ward needs to change his tackling technique. "You have to understand who you're playing against," he said. "You can’t be up that high anymore on those kinds of people."
• Williams said he had not seen TV footage of Mayfield staring down Hue Jackson on the Bengals' sideline. "And if I had anything to say [to Mayfield] about it, that would be behind closed doors," Williams said.
• Williams said he had exchanged text messages with offensive line coach Bob Wylie, who's in the hospital after suffering a broken ankle and undergoing surgery Thursday. Some of the team's offensive linemen took Wylie a game ball Sunday. "We knew that his heart and his mind were in it with us, even though he couldn’t be at the game," Williams said.
• Browns players were off for "victory Monday" and will be off Tuesday as well before returning to work Wednesday. The players are off on Tuesdays throughout the season, except when they play on a day other than Sunday. This time, their normal off day happened to fall on Christmas.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.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.