Passan: It's Inconceivable!

The Browns have such a swagger about them that even conservative play-calling can't slow them down. Rich Passan has seen the team turn around in 2007, and offers his thought on the Browns next step...

A normal game for the Browns? No way.

Four quarters with no mystery, no drama? No way.

No last-second field goals bouncing off strange places on a goalpost? No last-minute heroics that cause palpitations? No way.

The defense that leads the National Football League is sieve-like performances surrenders just 17 points with seven of those coming meaninglessly in the final minutes? No way.

That same defense holds a running back to less than 100 yards? No way.

A rookie cornerback, Brandon McDonald, starts his first game and helps shut down Andre Johnson, one of the best receivers in the NFL, intercepts a pass and makes several special-teams tackles? No way.

Joshua Cribbs compiles a measly 75 yards in returns and the Browns win? No way.

The offense sputters (3-for-13 on third downs) like a Model-T and yet 27 points go up on the board? No way.

That's right. In this season of miracles, a new set emerges just about every game. And the 27-17 victory over the Houston Texans is proof positive this is a David Copperfield season in progress for the Browns.

Since returning in 1999, Cleveland Browns Stadium has been a chamber of horrors for the home team with just 20 victories in 64 attempts. Less than three victories a season. So much for home-field advantage. More like home-field disadvantage.

Teams frothed when they looked at the schedule and saw a trip to Cleveland. An automatic victory was a virtual certainty. Never used to be that way at the old Cleveland Stadium.

Murphy's Law became commonplace at CBS. Dwayne Rudd anyone? Bottlegate? Crying quarterbacks?

The fans tried to implore their team. Oh how they tried. But a combination of awful drafting and questionable coaching reduced the diehards and zealots to shoulder shrugging and agonizing, almost maddening, frustration.

Somehow, some way, opposing teams knew the Browns would implode somewhere along the line. And way more often than not, the hosts were all too accommodating. It was Christmas Day just about every Sunday afternoon at CBS eight times a year between September and December.

But all that has changed and in a most enjoyable way.

This season, CBS has been nothing short of home sweet home for the Browns with five straight victories after that embarrassing season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They are well on their way to obliterating the home scoring mark for a Browns team since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. With 186 home points thus far – they average 36 points during their five-game home win streak – the Browns are within 16 points of smashing the previous eight-game record of 201, set by the 1994 team, with two games remaining.

Prior to this season, the best the Browns could do at CBS was 4-4 in 2001 and 2005. Even during their lone playoff venture in 2002, they were just 3-5 at home and 6-2 on the road, including five straight victories.

Not even the Brian Sipe-led Kardiac Kids in the late 1970s and early 1980s put up numbers like Derek Anderson and his merry men have in the last five home games.

What in the name of Pete Rozelle is going on here?

It's all about winning. Winning breeds winning. It's contagious and builds a confidence level within the team that cannot be ignored.

And with victories like those against Seattle and Houston at home and against Baltimore on the road, the Browns' confidence has to be as high as it's been since . . . well, since can't remember when.

It has reached the point where the Browns enter games knowing – not thinking or hoping – knowing they are going to win. No matter how unevenly they play – and they got off to a rough start against the Texans Sunday, looking sluggish on both sides of the ball – there seems to be a resolve that does not allow them to drop their heads. Sort of a silent swagger.

Give credit to the winning atmosphere created by the offense for that posture.

Not even Rob Chudzinski going Republican with his offense could stop the Browns against Houston. What in the world has scared the offensive coordinator that he buttons up an offense that routinely scores at least 30 points a game with nominal effort?

It seems as though he has abandoned the vertical passing game. The offense could have done so much more damage against the weak Houston secondary and put the game out of reach much earlier than it did.

It's almost as though Chudzinski is determined to send a message to other teams that if you're going to overprotect against the pass, we're going to run on you. To be fair, it did eventually pay off against the Texans, who looked exhausted on defense in the final quarter.

Jamal Lewis' gas gauge read full all afternoon. His high-octane performance against an active Houston front seven silenced, at least for the moment, those who believe there are just a few drops of petrol left in his tank.

Still, the main personality of this team is the passing game. That's what it does best. No need to shy away from what got them to where they are at this point in the season. Besides, the offensive line is much better at pass blocking than run blocking, although the latter is easier.

Unless they're inside the opponent's 20, the Browns have a difficult time converting third-and-short yardage situations with the infantry.

So what set up valuable points against the Texans? The pass.

First, there was the third-and-1 play early in the second quarter when Anderson hooked up with Joe Jurevicius on a beautifully conceived misdirection play that picked up 25 yards. It kick-started an offense that had begun the game with a pair of three-and-outs and a four-and-out and was on the verge of lapsing into a malaise.

Finally some imagination. It led to the first touchdown of the afternoon.

And it was an Anderson slant pass to Braylon Edwards on a fourth-and-3 at the Houston 32 in the final moments of the first half (kudos to Romeo Crennel for manning up and going for it) that set up a seven-yard scoring hitch to Kellen Winslow Jr. three plays later and gave the Browns a lead they never relinquished. .

Passing the ball sets up just about everything else with this team. Not the other way around. Kind of reminiscent of the way Sipe played when he riverboat gambled nearly 30 years ago.

Now comes the month of the season that separates the pretenders from the contenders, the month where collars tighten and mistakes are amplified. It's the month where each play is scrutinized more closely than usual. It's the month where teams in contention had better be ready for anything.

The Browns are 7-4 and it's December, the month where playoff hopes live and die.

And given the manner in which they have performed the last six weeks, (they are only a second-half meltdown against Pittsburgh away from a six-game winning streak), they appear to be ready to do something no clear thinking person thought possible in early September.

The offense is primed and the defense shows definitive signs of improvement with its new and distinctively more aggressive approach.

It's December and the Browns, the laughingstock of the NFL for far too long, are in a position to silence the chuckling critics and raise even more eyebrows.

The national spotlight that accompanies what the Browns are doing this season intensifies in the next five weeks. The stage grows larger.

Can they handle that kind of pressure? Or is this be a big tease leading to a bigger disappointment? We'll find out soon enough.


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