Other than trying to save a coach’s job, secure the No. 1 overall draft pick or simply survive, the Browns haven’t played many meaningful games in December or January.
Sunday is an exception.
With a chance to further legitimize themselves as no longer being the “same ‘ol Browns,” and with their playoff pulse accelerating, the Browns go on the road to play the Houston Texans, who have won eight straight games and have perhaps the NFL’s best defensive front seven.
It’s a daunting challenge for the Browns (4-6-1), but they feel up to it.
With back-to-back wins for the first time since 2014, Cleveland’s players are brimming with confidence. They’re following brash rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield’s lead and believe they can not only play with any team, but they can beat any team.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry isn’t quite ready to say the Browns have arrived. But after so many miserable seasons, they’re headed in the right direction.
“Listen, we’re on our way,” Landry said in a lively locker room earlier this week. “We’re still not there. We’re on our way. We’ve put complete games together, these last two have definitely been complete. But I believe that you never really, truly arrive. You’re always trying to look for ways to get better. You’re always trying to find things individually, as a team, as an offense to get better. But I’ll say we’re on our way. We’re definitely on our way.”
The Browns avoided infamy last week by snapping their 25-game road losing streak with a resounding 35-20 win at Cincinnati, a victory punctuated by Mayfield’s chilly handshake with former coach Hue Jackson afterward.
The Mayfield-Jackson affair created some big headlines and debate, and also overshadowed the bigger story surrounding the Browns, who haven’t been to the postseason since 2002.
With a win on Sunday, Cleveland, which went 0-16 last season and went 1-31 under Jackson, would move deeper into the AFC playoff picture, though still behind several teams.
The fact the Browns are even playing a significant game in December is an accomplishment, and they’d like to be in a few more.
“If we want to have any postseason dreams, we got to keep this little streak going,” defensive end Myles Garrett said.
Cleveland hasn’t fared well in late-season games, going 2-21 since 2013 in December and January, and 9-38 over the past 10 seasons. But those are past Browns teams, not this one, and after ending several losing streaks this season, Landry said he and his teammates understand what’s in front of them.
“This game,” said Landry, one of the few current Browns who has been to the playoffs — with Miami in 2016. “Win this game. That’s the next step for us.”
If they’re to be taken seriously, and if they intend to become consistent winners, the Browns must beat a quality team and the Texans certainly qualify. Houston is clicking following on 0-3 start. Quarterback Deshaun Watson looks fully recovered following knee surgery that ended his rookie season, and star defensive end J.J. Watt is healthy and terrorizing quarterbacks.
“We don’t care about what they’re doing,” Landry said. “Obviously, we understand that they’re on an eight-game winning streak. But for us, we know it’s going to come down to us executing and doing the things that we do to put us in place to win the game. We’re not really worried about what they’re going to do. Obviously, we understand that they are a good football team, a great football team and we have to play our best game.”
If they can pull off the upset, the playoff talk in Cleveland might be heard from coast to coast. Mayfield, who has thrown seven TD passes and just 10 incompletions in his past two games, knows better than to look too far ahead.
“It is always great to have a big picture mindset, but for us right now, we have to take it one week at a time,” he said. “If we do not take care of business, then it does not really matter. We have to win and focus each week for everything else to fall into place.”
NOTES: S Damarious Randall was added to the injury report with a hamstring issue and his questionable for Sunday. Interim coach Gregg Williams doesn’t think Randall will miss the game.
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