Almost every player on the Cleveland Browns watched Sunday’s game between Baltimore and Cincinnati.
There was that much interest -- and when the result came in and the Ravens had won in overtime the Browns understood what it meant.
As bizarre as it sounds for a sub-.500 team, the Browns now know they are in the middle of the AFC North hunt.
“We’ve got a chance to sweep Cincinnati and let them know there’s a new face in the AFC North,” defensive tackle Phil Taylor said.
Just the fact that the Browns can play a game in November that matters is a giant step forward. The previous five seasons, the Browns won 23 games total -- and never more than five in a season. The fans kept showing up, the team kept letting them down.
Which is why there’s excitment for a game in the 11th week of the season.
“You talk to the Cleveland community, I’m sure they’ll tell you it’s time,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said, “And I’m telling you personally it’s time.”
“I think guys are tired of that culture and that mindset of not being relevant in November,” tight end Jordan Cameron said.
The Browns have been buoyed by two factors. First is the competely unexpected play of Jason Campbell at quarterback. Campbell’s placid demeanor and approach seem to have calmed the entire team.
Second is that with Campbell starting the Browns came within three points of beating unbeaten Kansas City and did beat Baltimore.
Whether Campbell reverts to previous pre-Cleveland form or whether he is another Rich Gannon or Jim Plunkett remains to be seen. The key is that Campbell has given his team belief, whether it’s justified or not.
“The games we’ll play will tell the rest of the world and the community what type of team we have,” Jackson said.
Coach Rob Chudzinski isn’t the kind to discuss a team’s shortcomings, but he and his staff have worked with them this season. They’ve been helped by the fact that the players Tom Heckert drafted and Pat Shurmur coached have grown up, but they’ve also worked around the shortcoming to exceed expectations.
“I think the guys have seen that we can play with anybody if we’re on top of our game and doing the things that we need to do,” Chudzinski said.
To that end, Chudzinski does not want his team thinking playoffs, or even talking about it. He wants them focused on the small steps it needs to take to reach the playoffs.
“I want them to think that way, I want them to work that way,” Jackson said of even mentioning playoffs. “Walk it. Prepare like it. Play like it. But let it come. Let the chips fall where they may.
“If we get to that point I’ll be the first in line to talk about it.”
The Browns have an opportunity Sunday in Cincinnati that they have not had since 2007. It’s been six long years -- for the fans and the team. Which is why just being able to play in and watch a game that means something matters.
“It’s time for a change,” Taylor said. “We’re tired of losing in here.”