"We Have the Town Behind Us"

Confidence is growing as the Cleveland Browns prepare to face what is perhaps the NFL's best team. Here's the mood of the Browns are they get ready for the Patriots, plus some thoughts on match-ups and the history between the two clubs.

Two weeks ago, the Browns were feeling pretty good about themselves after knocking off the Bengals 51-45. They went to Oakland expecting to dust off the Raiders, came out flat and lost 26-24.

Even though the Browns recovered from a 16-0 start in Oakland to take a 17-16 lead, the slow start is what cost them.

The Browns beat Baltimore 27-13 last week. It is incomprehensible to imagine the Browns would be overconfident against New England Sunday in Foxboro, Mass., but veteran linebacker Willie McGinest wants to make sure his teammates know what to expect.

Asked what it means to be 2-1 in the AFC North (they lost to the Steelers in the opener), McGinest had a quick response.

"It doesn't mean anything," McGinest said. "We're 2-2. We have a long way to go. Each game we play only gets harder. The Patriots are one of the best if not the best team in the league.

"We can't relax. We can't start patting ourselves on the back. It's a one-week season for us."

Win or lose, the Browns have a '24-hour rule,' meaning they ponder the game recently played for 24 hours and then forget it and get on with the next one.

Obviously, they are a lot more accustomed to forgetting games they lost than forgetting games they won. The fact they have had only one winning season in eight years heading into 2007 is proof.

Some players in the locker room talked about how far beating the Ravens could carry the Browns. They did not talk as confidently after beating the Bengals because in that game, the defense allowed seven touchdowns, six of them through the air. The defense, offense and special teams played well against the Ravens.

"We have the town behind us," said special teams star Josh Cribbs. "We have guys saying we can win the division and that playoffs are right around the corner. We have the confidence and we have the work ethic."

Joe Jurevicius did not get as carried away as Cribbs, but even the 10th-year receiver says the game against the Ravens could pay benefits down the road.

"We've shown we're a team to be reckoned with," Jurevicius said.

The most documented number reflecting the futility of the Browns since their return to the NFL in 1999 is the ever-growing string of games they have played without winning two straight in the same season. That streak is now at 62. They won games 5 and 6 in 2003, and since then have not won two straight in the same year.

If the Browns do not beat the Patriots, the chance for two straight would not begin until they win their next game, and since losing would mean that could not happen until they host Miami in the sixth game, it would mean going a minimum of four years without two straight victories in the same year. They did win their last game in 2003 and their first in 2004, but no one is counting that as a winning streak.

"I'm going to tell the guys about the team I know," said McGinest. "That team plays hard and is good is in every phase of the game. Our offense has to be good. Our defense has to stop them. The special teams need to show up.

"They're well-coached and disciplined. They have a lot of leadership. Guys play with a lot of heart and pride over there. We have to match their intensity and go hard."

McGinest played 12 seasons with the Patriots before signing with the Browns in 2006.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Of course, it's a little emotional. But it's like any other game. I'll prepare and not do anything out of the ordinary this week or try to be Superman. I'll play aggressively and do what I do." -- Linebacker Willie McGinest, on playing the Patriots, with whom he played from 1994-2005.

GAME PLAN: The Browns gave up 418 yards to the Ravens. Statistically, it was not pretty, but they accomplished their goal of not letting the receivers get behind them. Matt Stover attempted four field goals and missed wide right from 46 and 41 yards.

Playing the same bend-but-don't-break defense against the Patriots would give the Browns their best chance of winning, but it will not be as easy. Randy Moss is a more difficult challenge for Leigh Bodden, but the mission is the same -- don't let the receivers get behind the safeties. Bodden kept the play in front of him last week and intercepted a pass from Steve McNair.


Browns RB Jamal Lewis vs. Patriots ILB Adalius Thomas
. Lewis knows all about Thomas from the days when they were teammates with the Ravens. Last week, the Browns took Ray Lewis out of the game by running directly at him. The Browns could use the same tactic vs. Thomas. If they try running laterally, Thomas will track Lewis or Jason Wright down.

Browns KR Josh Cribbs vs. Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski. Cribbs is a major reason the Browns are 2-1 in the AFC North. He will be hesitant to run out if Gostkowski kicks deep in the end zone, but if he does get a chance at a return, he can give the Browns momentum as he did last week against the Ravens. Cribbs is shiftier than some kick returners, but he is not afraid of contact and will break tackles if the New England special teams players try to arm tackle him.

Dave Zastudil is punting without restriction. If he is cleared and has no setbacks, the Browns could release Scott Player to clear a roster spot for Ryan Tucker.

The Browns will monitor Kellen Winslow Jr. closely in practice. He has a partially dislocated left shoulder. He played with it last week and he plans to play Sunday. He did not practice Wednesday or Thursday last week.

Orpheus Roye is practicing sparingly because of a sore knee. Shaun Smith will start at left end for the second straight week if Roye cannot play.

20th meeting. Browns lead the series, 11-8. The Browns had most of their success against the Patriots during the five years Bill Belichick coached the Browns from 1991-95. The Browns played New England five times in that span, including one playoff game, and won four times.

The 20-13 wild-card victory over the Patriots on Jan. 1, 1995, was the most recent playoff game the Browns won. Vinny Testaverde threw for 286 yards and threw a five-yard touchdown pass to Mark Carrier. Leroy Hoard scored on a 10-yard run and Matt Stover kicked two field goals.

Belichick's first victory as Browns head coach was against the Patriots on the road. The Browns shut out the Patriots 20-0, and after the game, Belichick ran to where Browns fans were sitting to slap hands with them.

Browns head coach Romeo Crennel was the Patriots defensive coordinator from 2001-2004. He was on the staff of three Super Bowl champions. This is Crennel's first game against his former team.

Scott Pioli, the Patriots vice president, player personnel, broke into the NFL in the Browns scouting department when Belichick was a rookie head coach in 1991.

Two of the most contrasted games against the Patriots were played in back-to-back years. The Pats won a battle of field goals, 9-3, in New England in 2003. A year later in Cleveland, New England ripped the Browns 42-15 behind two touchdown runs by Corey Dillon and a touchdown pass by Tom Brady.

The Patriots sacked rookie quarterback Luke McCown three times in the 2004 game. Derek Anderson, the current quarterback, has been sacked only once in three starts this season.

One more note from the 42-15 loss: It was the first game for interim head coach Terry Robiskie. Butch Davis walked out on the Browns six days earlier after experiencing an anxiety attack after the Browns lost to the Bengals 58-48.

109 -- The number of points scored by the Browns in four games this season, almost half of the 238 they scored all of 2006.

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