After the Browns edged the San Diego Chargers by a point six weeks ago, owner Jimmy Haslam congratulated his players in the locker room and told them to become greedy for more wins.
It took them a while, but the Browns (4-8) finally seem to be following the orders of their new boss. They’ll have a chance to establish a three-game winning streak today when they host the Kansas City Chiefs (2-10) at 1 p.m.
“We always had a good feeling about what’s going on and the direction of the team, but to finally be able to close out games and get wins, it’s definitely helping us out a whole lot,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “Everybody is just a lot more confident. Everybody is a lot happier. If a play goes wrong at practice, people aren’t stressing out about it. Everybody just has a whole new confidence, and everybody is really excited that we’re on the right track.”
The Browns haven’t won more than two games in a row since 2009, when coach Eric Mangini guided them to four consecutive victories to end the season and earned himself another year on the job. With Haslam and CEO Joe Banner now in charge, coach Pat Shurmur seemingly needs a strong finish in the final four games to have any shot at saving his job.
“I feel good about where we’re going,” Shurmur said. “We just have to keep going. It’s easy to let that momentum stop, and that’s what I’m guarding against.”
Along with Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert, rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is among the most important people who the new regime will evaluate at the end of the year. Weeden, 29, hopes to leave Haslam and Banner with a good impression in the final quarter of the season.
“I wanted to come in and be the guy and be the guy for the long term,” said Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in this year’s draft. “And that takes playing well and showing that I can be that guy. I think if I can take care of what I can control, and that’s playing well, winning games, taking care of this locker room and being the guy that everybody looks [at] to lead this team, then hopefully I’ll be around for a while and help this organization win some games.”
A source of the team’s renewed swagger stems from the clutch performance of Weeden and the offense last week in the Browns’ 20-17 win over the Oakland Raiders. After cornerback Sheldon Brown intercepted a pass from Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer with 9:31 left in the fourth quarter, the offense orchestrated a crucial 14-play, 94-yard touchdown drive to virtually seal the Browns’ second consecutive win.
“I was in awe watching it because they finally played like a team,” Brown said of the offense. “They were pushing the pile, fighting for every inch and they came together as a unit. It probably was one of the most critical times of the season, and they did it. It was amazing to watch.”
During the march, Weeden completed 5-of-6 passes for 70 yards and gained 3 yards while running a sneak on fourth-and-1 at the Raiders’ 45-yard line. Rookie running back Trent Richardson rushed for a 3-yard touchdown to cap the drive with 3:27 remaining.
“This game’s all about confidence,” said tight end Jordan Cameron, who broke a tackle and turned a short pass into a 23-yard completion four plays before Richardson scored. “I think the more we do stuff like that, it’s going to be huge, and I think we know now that we can make it happen when we need to make it happen.”
Chiefs band together
On the other hand, the Chiefs also proved something last week. They showed the power of uniting in the wake of tragedy by defeating the Carolina Panthers 27-21 a day after linebacker Jovan Belcher killed his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, the mother of their 3-month-old daughter, then drove to the team’s facility and committed suicide in front of Chiefs officials, including coach Romeo Crennel and General Manager Scott Pioli.
Crennel, who coached the Browns from 2005-08, realizes his team could be in danger of an emotional letdown.
“That’s a possibility and we have to be cognizant of that,” Crennel said during a conference call. “Just like last week, I was cognizant of the fact that I didn’t know how we were going to handle it mentally. Like I told them, ‘You are prepared to play a football game. You worked during the week. You’ve installed the game plan, and you’ve practiced and you are prepared to play in the game.’ But … can we put our tragedy aside for the few hours that we have to play and then still play?”
The Browns know the Chiefs can do it again.
“You can’t overlook them,” defensive end Frostee Rucker said. “If anything, they’re probably playing more together [after] the event that happened there. They came together, and got a win last week. Each week, there’s an obstacle every team has to get through, and we’ve got our hands full.”
The Browns know their defense must create takeaways — the Chiefs are ranked last in the league with a turnover differential of minus 21 — limit a formidable rushing attack featuring standout Jamaal Charles and backup Peyton Hillis, who played for the Browns from 2010-11, and force former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn to carry the load. They know their offense must build on its best drive of the season and limit miscues.
With four wins in their past seven games, the Browns believe they can accomplish those goals. They are convinced that the team’s 27 players with less than two full seasons of experience, including 17 rookies, are ready to turn the corner.
“I think it’s an exciting thing around here because we didn’t start the season very well and now we’re getting on a little bit of a roll,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “So I think those young guys are seeing what it takes to win and finish a game, and they’re starting to like that feeling. I think it’s sort of a contagious thing that hopefully can carry on through the rest of the season and into next year.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.