BEREA, Ohio—It's well documented how the Browns finished the 2009 season with four wins despite throwing just 31 passes over that four-game streak.
A huge reason they were able to win was the rushing attack. The Browns were the number one running team in the NFL over that last quarter of the season and finished eighth overall, for the season.
Sure, the line blocked well and the offense was in sync. But, there was no question that Jerome Harrison was the catalyst of the attack. He started his three game explosion with a 34 carry, 286-yard (8.4 avg.) performance against this week's opponent, the Kansas City Chiefs. He followed it up with a 39 carry, 148-yard (3.8 avg.) performance against the Raiders and then closed out the season with a 33 carry, 127-yard (3.8 avg.) game against the Jaguars.
He gained 561 yards in just three games and his performance against the Chiefs was the BEST in the Browns storied history. It was also the third-best performance in NFL history.
Eric Mangini was asked on Friday if the plan was to give Harrison so many carries in the last three games or was it out of necessity with a shortage of backs or because he did such a good job.
"I think it was a combination of all three of those things," he said. "He was doing such a good job that we kept feeding him the ball."
It's not like that was all Harrison has ever done. When Jamal Lewis was injured in the fourth week of the 2009 season, Harrison was called upon 29 times and he answered with 121 yards (4.2 avg.). He also caught five passes for 31 yards.
He was rewarded for that performance by getting sent back to the bench and getting just 23 carries over the next seven games, including being inactive in a game.
Harrison has averaged 4.8 yards per carry in his first four NFL seasons, despite his limited opportunity.
Chiefs coach Todd Haley said in the conference call with the Cleveland media on Wednesday that the Chiefs will ‘definitely have a guy wearing a number 35 jersey this week.'
That happens when you rush for 286 yards against a team in the previous season, as Harrison did.
"That's a real compliment," Harrison said.
Harrison was asked if he thought he would be a marked man this week.
"Hopefully, I'm a (marked man) every Sunday."
Harrison said his life in the NFL hasn't really changed much since he reeled off the record-breaking performance.
"You just hear about it a lot more," he said. "I go on playing the way I always have."
Harrison seems to get more respect outside of the Browns organization than within it.
Despite the emergence at the end of last season, the Browns still don't seem convinced he can be the franchise back. They acquired Peyton Hillis in a trade and traded up to get Montario Hardesty in the second-round, even though he's lost for the season with an ACL injury.
Hardly an endorsement that the Browns were counting on Harrison to be their featured back. In the NFL, obviously, teams need depth, but the way they went after Hardesty tipped their hand they weren't sold on Harrison.
Another clue was that Harrison was a restricted free agent and instead of signing him to a long-term extension, the Browns offered him a one-year contract at the second-round tender, risking losing him after this season.
Harrison has gone over 100 yards four times in his career. Harrison has been given a chance to carry the ball 20 or more times in four different games.
"Twenty carries gives you the chance to get in a rhythm and get in a groove and get a feel for the defense," Harrison said.
That's what is so perplexing about the season opening loss to Tampa Bay as Harrison only carried the ball nine times for 52 yards (5.8 avg.), including a 39-yard run. Harrison is the type of back who has proven he can break off the big play at any time. In 2008, Harrison scored the last touchdown of the season on a 72-yard run against the Bills on Monday Night Football. He played little the rest of that season, despite having six games to play.
When Hardesty had the season-ending injury, it appeared that Harrison was going to get the chance to be the featured back—again. However, the coaching staff, at least in the first game, decided to split carries between he and Hillis.
Hillis had nine carries and Josh Cribbs had three, but instead of wearing the Buccaneers down in the heat and humidity, the Browns threw the ball 38 times in the game to just 23 rushes. Tampa Bay was the 32nd ranked defense against the rush in 2009. Keep in mind the Browns didn't have to throw as much as they did as they lead the entire game until just 6:45 was left in the fourth quarter.
Mangini was asked if Harrison is playing like he did last year.
"I think he's doing the same things he was doing last season," he said. "In terms of running as well or not as well, objectively, is it just the numbers? Is it the style? I think he's playing at a higher level than he was at this time last year. I think he's continued to improve and grow as a player. I don't have any doubts in terms of his ability to keep improving either."
"I guess it happens everywhere," Harrison said.
Does Harrison stay up late trying to figure out what he needs to do to get the ball more?
"Am I scratching my head?" Harrison said. "No, I can only control what I can control. I'm just a player, I'm not the coach. If I was the coach, I'd give myself the ball just about every (darn) play because I believe in myself like that."
It worked the last three games last year and the result was three wins.