Closing the Gap on AFC North?

Haden, Cribbs think Browns making stride within division

BEREA — Pat Shurmur always says the best way to make sure your team is in the playoffs is to win your division, and that starts with winning the division games.

John Harbaugh has termed this week's game a ‘must win.'

Shurmur said he's made his team well aware of the importance of the division games, as well.

"They've been made well aware of it," Shurmur said. "It's really important because the way to guarantee a spot in the postseason is to win the division. You can't do that unless you win your share of the division games. They are award of that."

In recent history, the Browns haven't done very well in that department. After losing all six AFC North games last season, the Browns dropped their first two this season, until defeating the Bengals three weeks ago. The best record the Browns have had within their division since returning in 1999 is just 3-3 (2002 & 2007). Their overall record within the division since 1999 is a dismal 21-60 (.259 pct.)

The Browns will be able to gauge where they stand in the AFC North in this week's game with the Ravens. The Browns could get back to even within the division with a win over the Ravens Sunday, with two games left with the Steelers.

Joe Haden says he feels the Browns are closing the gap on the other three teams in the division—whom all made the playoffs in 2011.

"We definitely feel like that," Haden said. "We feel like we were in the division (games), but we were just a couple plays off. Now, that we've beat Cincinnati and we're coming off of this last week's win, we just feel like there's no reason why we can't keep these wins coming."

Josh Cribbs feels the gap in the division is getting closer between the Browns and the other teams.

"It is. You see us making great strides," Cribbs said. "For me personally, I can't wait to play against this team special teams-wise. Not because of the concussion, but mainly because they're ranked high in special teams. It's a challenge for our special teams. We have great special teams unit so this is a challenge for us."

Haden doesn't feel there is any team the Browns cannot compete with.

"(The Ravens are) a beatable team," he said. "They're really talented though, not to put anything past them, but everybody in the division is beatable. We just feel like our team is on the verge of being at the top."

Haden, who didn't play in the first meeting with the Ravens, feels the Browns are better than their record.

"The record is completely different than how we feel as a team," Haden said. "We know that our record could be so much better. A couple plays here, a couple plays there, but we're starting to make those. We feel like we're starting to make those and we're starting to get over the hump. We're starting to finally be a team that can go out and win consecutive games. Why not win three games in a row, four games in a row, just get on spurts and keep winning."

Even though the Browns could've won more games than they have, Shurmur said your record is what it is and the Browns are 2-6 at the midway point of the season.

"You're right, you can't have games back," Shurmur said. "That's why you have to push forward. We have eight games to play and we have to make the most of it. I've been with teams that started fast and faded and teams that did the opposite."


Big Phil to Play: DL Phil Taylor is expected to make his 2012 debut against the Ravens after missing the first eight games on the PUP list recovering from a torn pectoral muscle.

Shurmur said that he will be in the rotation.

"We're going to monitor him," Shurmur said. "I'm going to keep an eye on him just like we do Trent. The coaches will keep track like we always do."

Defensive coordinator Dick Jauron is glad to have him back.

"It's great to have Phil back practicing," he said. "As of now, we'll rotate him into the game, but we don't want to overdo it."

Jauron knows it will take some time for Taylor to get back to the level he was at the end of last season.

"Phil is a giant of a man and played at a high level last year," he said. "It will take him a little time to get back to that level."

Jauron feels the experience that rookies Billy Winn and John Hughes have received has been invaluable.

"Anytime you lose a starter, it impacts everyone," he said. "We've talked all along about the nice job that John and Billy have done.

"It's given the young guys a lot more experience," he said. "I think we'll have a really good inside rotation."

Injury Update: DB Dimitri Patterson (ankle), DL Ahtyba Rubin (calf) and DL Brian Sanford (knee) did not practice. DL John Hughes (arm), LB D'Qwell Jackson (foot/toe), RB Trent Richardson (chest/rib), DB T.J. Ward (hand/shoulder) and DB Ray Ventrone (hand/calf) were limited.

Shurmur said Rubin's injury was different from when he first injured his calf. He missed a game and then started against the Colts, before injuring his calf again.

Mack Attack: Ravens' DL Haloti Ngata called C Alex Mack the best center in the AFC North on a conference call Wednesday.

"That's high praise from Haloti," Shurmur said. "I'd flip it around because he is one of the best players in the league himself."

Shurmur said that Mack is consistently doing a good job and has helped QB Brandon Weeden a lot.

"He's doing a good job," Shurmur said. "I tend to lean on him a lot. The center has a lot of calls and with a young quarterback, he's very important."

Mo Mass Back: WR Mohamed Massaquoi has missed five-straight games with a hamstring injury.

Shurmur was asked if he was concerned with he and Weeden being on the same page.

"I don't worry about chemistry," Shurmur said. "I see a pretty good connection between him and Weeden."

Offensive coordinator Brad Childress said Massaquoi has looked pretty good in practice.

"He looked to have good participation (in practice)," Childress said. "It's kind of a building thing and we'll see if he's ready for primetime on the he game day."

Shurmur said the coaches will have to make decisions on who plays. Since Massaquoi's injury, rookie WR Josh Gordon has become the starter and made several big plays.

"He looked good (in practice)," Shurmur said. "I did think Mo got off to a good start, but the injury set him back. It's a good thing if you have healthy scratches."

Massaquoi had nine receptions for 145 yards and no touchdowns in the first three games before he was injured.

Davis to Practice Squad: The Browns signed DL Hall Davis to the practice squad. He was originally drafted by the Rams in the fifth-round of the 2010 draft out of Louisiana-Lafayette. Davis is 6-4 and 270 pounds.

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