Joe Haden had never entered a bye week with more than two wins in his career.
He’d seen the Browns go a combined start of 6-14 (.300) before byes.
This season, the Browns are 4-5 and it feels like they’re two games from clinching a division.
Wednesday, the Browns left their locker room with a lot more confidence and a little more swagger than they have in recent seasons.
Some might consider swagger to be posing and extreme; Browns coach Rob Chudzinski calls it confidence borne from preparation. He has seen it. He’s lived it with the Miami Hurricanes. He has examples of it around him. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner coached under Jimmy Johnson and won Super Bowls with him. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton has no lack of confidence, and he’s brought an approach the defense likes. Russell Maryland played at the University of Miami with Chudzinski and went from having the last scholarship to being the first pick in the draft. He’s on the coaching staff. Wednesday, Chudzinski had Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin speak to the team.
Irvin said all the right things. But ... nobody remembered these speeches when the Browns were losing.
A team that hears this stuff and walks with swagger and doesn't win might as well be playing Tiddlywinks -- the swagger means nothing without results.
A 4-5 record might not be great results, but the way the past two games went seemed to bolster the team. The Browns hung in there against the team with the best record in the league, and they followed that performance by beating the defending Super Bowl champions.
Add to that the almost serene presence and excellent production Jason Campbell has brought -- Chudzinski said he “can’t say enough” about what Campbell has meant -- and the team takes a week off feeling good about itself instead of wondering where things will go the rest of the season.
For the first time in a long, long time, the Browns and their fans are talking about November in November, not April.
Haden said “by far” this is the best he’s felt about the Browns at a bye.
And he’s a good example of what is happening. In his first three seasons, Haden produced, but he also enjoyed his celebrity and newfound fame. A year ago, his four-game suspension was a key reason the Browns lost their first four games. As the season went on, he had other issues with practice and promptness.
This season, he’s a different guy.
He carries himself differently, acts differently and talks differently. He has a presence about him that screams he’s growing up and recognizing what it takes to win. Where a year ago, he might have fallen off the track, he now seems destined to come close to realizing how good he can be. The difference in his approach and personality is striking.
To a lesser extent, those traits seem to be present in other players, guys such as T.J. Ward, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, Jordan Cameron and Buster Skrine. Against Baltimore, even Greg Little looked like the player touted when he was drafted: A big, strong receiver who could go get the ball and run after a catch. Sprinkle a little veteran presence with Campbell and Willis McGahee and the mix seems to blend well.
Nine games do not make a season, and the test will be how the Browns finish. But this team has a different feel to it than past seasons. It just might be growing up and understanding what it takes to win.
Irvin spoke to the team about the commitment needed. Commitment doesn’t happen from words. It takes work and effort and drive and heart and unity and belief -- all intangibles that sound good until a team loses.
This same growth very well could have taken place with Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert.
But it’s happening under Chudzinski, and it’s important.
The Browns are developing the feel of a team.