Derry: Arrival Date 2007

Whether or not they make the playoffs, no one can deny the Cleveland Browns turnaround season...

Maybe Eric Mangini thinks he still works for the Browns. Maybe he thinks he's still serving food to the media, which was one of his jobs when he was the Browns' resident "go-fer" in the mid-1990s.

Maybe he doesn't enjoy working in the Big Apple. Maybe he would like to be reunited with Browns head coach Romeo Crennel.

Maybe his decision to kick a relatively short field goal instead of trying for a touchdown with less than two minutes to play in Sunday's game, with his New York Jets down 17-12, will be the deciding factor as the Browns battle for a playoff spot. If it is, then someone needs to send good buddy Eric a large bouquet of flowers. Or a gift certificate for a free dinner at Sardi's.

The Browns did just enough on their own to come away with a 24-18 victory, upping their mark to 8-5 to remain firmly entrenched as a potential wild card team. But the Jets showed why they have won only three games this year as they helped pave the road to victory for Cleveland.

Granted, the Jets still had three timeouts remaining after the 38-yard field goal by ex-Ohio State Buckeye Mike Nugent that cleared the crossbar with 1:43 remaining. That meant that even if the Jets failed to gain possession of the ensuing onside kick, they could still get the ball back with more than a minute to play if they held the Browns without a first down.

But Jamal Lewis put the Browns on his shoulders and pretty much iced the game with an incredible 31-yard touchdown run with 1:22 to play. Lewis broke countless tackles as he capped a 118-yard performance that should convince general manager Phil Savage that he MUST bring Lewis back next season.

In the mid to late 1980s, Earnest Byner was the "heart and soul" of the Browns' offense. Since those glory days, there had been no one who stepped forward to fill those huge shoes until Lewis arrived this past off-season as a free agent.

The 5-11, 245-pound Lewis, who is 28 years old, signed a one-year deal with the intention of proving to one and all that he still had plenty of life left in the muscular legs that head been overworked by the Ravens for  the past five years and six of the last seven.

Mission accomplished. If not next week against Buffalo, Lewis should definitely go over the 1,000-yard mark against the Bengals or the 49ers.

There seems little doubt that it'll still be the offense that will need to carry the Browns come next season. Without Lewis to carry the rushing load, that'll be a much more difficult task. That's why he must be retained.

The money it will take for Savage to sign both Lewis and quarterback Derek Anderson, also in the final year of his contract, will likely limit what he can do to improve the defense.

But now is not the time to worry about next year. Now is the time to concentrate on the present. 

Thanks to Sunday's victory, the Browns have set the stage for the biggest game since the franchise returned in 1999.  Cleveland currently leads Buffalo by one game in the race for the second wild card spot.

The Bills come to town next Sunday sporting a 7-6 record. They've won two straight and six of eight since their bye week. Their only two defeats have been blowout losses to New England and Jacksonville, both of whom are playoff-bound.

If the Browns defeat the Bills, they will have a huge leg up on making the post-season party. However, a loss to Buffalo would actually put the Browns behind the Bills, who would win a two-team tiebreaker because of their head-to-head victory.

The Bills are much like the Browns in that little was expected of them this year. The fact that they are even in the playoff picture in mid-December is a tribute to the fine job Dick Jauron has done with his team.

In fact, it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that Jauron and the Browns' Romeo Crennel are two of the leading candidates for the NFL Coach of the Year.

The home field has been very good for the Browns since their season-opening loss to the Steelers. They are 5-1 at Cleveland Browns Stadium and have found a way to win close games.

Win or lose or Sunday, this game and this whole season will go down as incredible learning experience for Crennel's team. They have already accomplished things, especially on offense, that bode very well for the future of this organization. The days of being the laughing stock of the league are long gone.

Making the playoffs will be a feather in the cap for all involved. But if in the next three weeks the ball doesn't bounce the Browns' way, or if an official makes a bad call that costs them a victory, no one should downplay the importance of what has been accomplished in one of the most exciting seasons in Browns history.

The Browns, after a way-too-long delay, have arrived. There's no maybe about it.


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