Reporting Daryl Ruiter
BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Browns enter Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens in familiar territory – the basement of the AFC North.
You’d never know it by walking through the Browns locker room this week in Berea.
With their average margin of loss at 7.2 points, players feel the 2-6 record is a tad deceiving.
“The record is completely different than how we feel as a team,” Cornerback Joe Haden said. “We know that our record could be so much better. A couple plays here, a couple plays there, but we’re starting to make those. We feel like we’re starting to make those and we’re starting to get over the hump. We’re starting to finally be a team that can go out and win consecutive games.
“Why not win three games in a row? Four games in a row? Just get on spurts and keep winning.”
Either somebody hasn’t told the Browns it’s been their place since the division was born in 2002 to be cellar dwellers or the memo found the recycle bin before being read.
“I think you build confidence when you win football games,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “The last few weeks we won a couple. When you’re trying to build something, you can look at the season in quarters and halves and we’ve got a half a season left to play. We’ve got some division games in there to play. We need to go out and just fight to win each game each Sunday and add them up at the end.”
The Browns, who are coming off of their 2nd win in 3 weeks, are young, confident and don’t sound like a team bracing for what has become an annual tradition in Cleveland – a long and painful plummet trough November and December.
“It’s not the same old Browns, this is a different team,” receiver Josh Cribbs said. “[The young players] don’t carry that, ‘Let’s just pack it in because it’s just like last year’ [mentality] which is refreshing.”
Cribbs would know.
He along with Joe Thomas and D’Qwell Jackson have been a part of plenty of teams who’ve packed it in over the years down the stretch.
In 2008 the Browns lost 8 of their last 9 to end the season. In 2010 they dropped 6 of their last 8 and they wrapped up last season by losing 9 of 10. 2009 was the lone exception when they won their final 4 after a 1-11 start.
With 8 games to play, the 2012 Browns look to finish strong.
There’s renewed optimism with a solid foundation in place thanks to general manager Tom Heckert, who ironically is now fighting to keep his job with the team under new ownership.
The years of old, slow, overpaid and under-performing rosters are over.
Heckert has built a solid core of young talent in 3 years which is now centered around 3 rookies – quarterback Brandon Weeden, receiver Josh Gordon and running back Trent Richardson.
“I think they’re becoming more comfortable with the offense and with their role,” Thomas said. “They’re all playing better right now so hopefully we’re going to have an improved record in the second half, definitely.”
Richardson has rushed for 5 touchdowns and is averaging 3.7 yards per carry despite nursing knee and rib injuries through his first 8 games.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface as to how good we can be because the guy behind us is so special,” Thomas said of Richardson.
Weeden continues to grow within the offense and Gordon, a risky supplemental pick in July, burst onto the scene by catching 4 touchdowns in 3 weeks prior to last week’s 7-6 victory over the Chargers.
“We just know that we’re good,” Haden said. “That’s the only thing. Like, we’re losing by a little bit, but we know it’s changing. It’s really changing and everybody believes it.”
Sunday’s game against Baltimore will be tell everyone just how much it’s changing.
Since the formation of the AFC North in 2002, the Browns are 15-48 and the best that they’ve finished a season within the division is 3-3 – twice.
But that doesn’t matter now.
With youth comes ignorance and in the Browns case that could be the best thing for them. Not knowing how bad it’s been keeps them from saying, ‘Here we go again.’
“We feel like we were in the division [games], but we were just a couple plays off,” Haden said. “Now that we’ve beat Cincinnati and we’re coming off of this last week’s win, we just feel like there’s no reason why we can’t keep these wins coming.
“They’re a beatable team, they’re really talented though not to put anything past them, but everybody in the division is beatable. We just feel like our team is on the verge of being at the top.”
As for facing the Ravens, the Browns haven’t beaten them since a 33-30 overtime victory Nov. 18, 2007 at Baltimore.
They are 0-9 since, including a tough 23-16 loss at Baltimore in week 4.
For Weeden, it was a game that got away.
A pick 6 to end the 3rd quarter provided the final margin and his final throw sailed high of Greg Little in the end zone as time expired.
“More than anything it’s a divisional game,” Weeden said. “We’re 2-6 and we’re trying to win a divisional game. They hit us in the mouth and they played well. We’ve grown up a lot since then and they’ve gotten better, so you know it’s a big game for both teams. They’re coming off a bye week, we’re coming off a win and want to keep going off that.
“It’s a divisional game and both teams are ready to rock and roll.”
If they can win and find away to reverse their fortunes in the AFC North, Cleveland will be too.