Savage Credits Crennel's Steady Hand

The head coach's trustworthiness leads players to play for him him, according to the Browns GM. Here are some more thoughts from Savage, as well as player and game notes as the team gets ready to determine their playoff fate in Cincinnati.

General manager Phil Savage credits Coach Romeo Crennel's steady influence through the good times and the bad for the turnaround the Browns have enjoyed this season.

The team Savage and Crennel took over was 4-12 in 2004. The Browns were 6-10 in Crennel's first season, then slipped back to 4-12 in 2006. Crennel was 1-11 in the AFC North, and even though Savage said Crennel was not on the hot seat in July, another 4-12 season would definitely have put him on it.

Winners of seven of their last nine games, the Browns are 9-5 and assured of their first winning season in five years. But plenty of work lies ahead. The Browns can clinch a playoff spot by winning Sunday in Cincinnati. A victory would give the Browns 10 wins, their most since 1994, and a 4-2 record in the division.

"I get to see a side of Romeo most people don't," Savage said. "He is very steady. He's reliable. He's been a great example to the team, knowing if you show up for work every day and do what you're supposed to do, you can be successful.

"Romeo is the same today as he was when we were 4-10. He's happier, but his approach and thought process to the next game is exactly the same. Going back to the beginning, one of the main attractions to Romeo is I felt like as soon as he walked into the room, the players would trust him. I think they play hard for him -- they play hard for themselves, but I do think they have a lot of respect for him."

Several times in recent weeks, Crennel has made a point of saying he is the same person he was the day he was hired. He said he never questioned whether players were buying into his philosophy -- a philosophy he said involves "playing hard, giving yourself a chance to win at the end, about being in it and doing the right things."

"I know the philosophy is a sound philosophy," Crennel said. "When you lose -- I don't care what the philosophy is -- they all question it. But when you're able to win some games -- even though there are still some guys who question the philosophy -- when you're winning, they keep it to themselves a lot more. Winning kind of soothes a lot of things."

This is the first December the Browns have played games with any meaning since 2002. They are 2-1 this month with December games against the Bengals and 49ers remaining.

The Browns were 1-3 in December 2005 (with a win on Jan. 1, 2006) and 1-4 last December.

On Sunday, the Browns (9-5) face a Cincinnati team that has long been out of the race, but the Bengals could play spoiler. If Cincinnati wins, the Browns could beat the 49ers on the final day of the regular season, finish 10-6 and still miss the playoffs. They would lose tiebreakers to Tennessee and Jacksonville. All three teams would finish 10-6 if the Jaguars lose their last two and the Titans win their last two, and all three would be 7-5 in the AFC. The Jaguars and Titans would have better records against common opponents.

The Browns could still win the AFC North. They are tied with the Steelers for the division lead, but the Steelers hold the tiebreaker edge because they beat the Browns head-to-head twice. The Browns would have to finish with a better overall record to take the division.

SERIES HISTORY:
69th meeting. The Battle of Ohio is deadlocked, 34-34. The Bengals won five straight to take the series lead before the Browns won a 51-45 shootout in the second week of the season.

NOTES, QUOTES

--QB Derek Anderson made his first start of the season against Cincinnati, five days after the Browns traded opening day starter Charlie Frye. He completed 20 of 33 passes for 328 yards and five touchdowns in a wild 51-45 victory.

--In that 96-point game in September, the Browns and Bengals combined for 1,085 yards of offense. The Browns had the edge, 554-531.

--Former Bengal and now Browns starting LG Eric Steinbach won the fan balloting at his position for the Pro Bowl. Steinbach is a first alternate.

--RB Jamal Lewis has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his last four games. The Browns won all three. He had his biggest game of the season against the Bengals when he rushed for 216 yards. One carry was a 66-yard touchdown run.

--The Browns had success in Paul Brown Stadium in the early part of the millennium. They were 3-1 from 2000-03, but the Bengals have won three straight in Cincinnati.

--The 58-48 loss suffered in Cincinnati on Nov. 28, 2004, lives on as a critical point in Browns history. Butch Davis resigned as head coach the next day, and that set in motion the search that resulted in hiring Romeo Crennel.

--Back in 1987, three offensive starters -- Gary Danielson, Ozzie Newsome and Brian Brennan -- crossed the picket lines and played for the Browns in a resounding 34-0 victory in Cincinnati. It made the Browns 2-1 in replacement games and propelled them to a 10-5 record. They went on to the AFC championship game and were beaten by the Broncos, 38-33.

BY THE NUMBERS
: 6 -- Years the Browns went without a Pro Bowl player until KR Joshua Cribbs and WR Braylon Edwards were selected this year. The Browns' last Pro Bowl player was Jamir Miller after the 2001 season.

QUOTE TO NOTE:
"He is amazing. He is clutch, to say the least. His field-goal percentage is out of this world. He is probably the most underrated kicker in the league." -- RB Jason Wright on Phil Dawson, who is 24-for-27 on field-goal tries this year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL


WR Chris Henry was serving his eight-game suspension when the Browns played Cincinnati in September and still the Bengals managed to score 45 points. He is playing again, and the Browns are on full alert.

Leigh Bodden will be manned up with Henry if Henry lines up in the slot. Henry has 19 catches and only two touchdowns since returning from his suspension. Carson Palmer relies chiefly on T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson, but the Browns have respect for Henry.

Palmer said in a conference call with reporters covering the Browns that the Bengals will come out "slinging it." If that is true, Henry could be a bigger part of the offense than he has been.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--LB Antwan Peek was held out of practice Wednesday with an ankle injury. He did not play against the Bills.

--LDE Orpheus Roye was held from practice to rest his sore right knee. He was held from practice last Wednesday and played against Buffalo.

--DL Shaun Smith has back spasms and did not practice.

--RDE Robaire Smith has a sore back and was held from practice.

--WR Braylon Edwards and KR Joshua Cribbs are the first Browns players selected for the Pro Bowl since Jamir Miller made it after the 2001 season.

GAME PLAN: The Browns still rank last in total defense, but over the past five games, opponents have converted just 13 of 62 third-down plays. The Browns won four of those games.

The Bengals have succeeded on 86 of 186 third-down plays, a 46.2 conversion rate.

Naturally the Browns want to score first, but now they are confident the defense is strong enough to maintain a lead. If they get ahead, they will use RB Jamal Lewis as a workhorse to bleed the clock and keep the Cincinnati offense off the field. Lewis carried the ball 33 times last week against the Bills, and the Browns led time of possession 31:47 to 28:13.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Browns RT Kevin Shaffer vs. Bengals RDE Robert Geathers -- Shaffer has made the conversion from left tackle to right tackle extremely well. He is part of an offensive live that has allowed Derek Anderson to be sacked only 12 times in 13 1/2 games. Geathers leads the Bengals with 3.5 sacks. He is quick but he can also overpower the tackle. Geathers had three tackles and one quarterback hurry in the game Sept. 16. It was only Shaffer's second start at right tackle.

Browns RB Jamal Lewis vs. Bengals MLB Landon Johnson -- Johnson is the third player to line up at middle linebacker for the Bengals. The Browns ran to the left early in the season, but recently they have been running their inside plays on both sides of C Hank Fraley. Lewis lowers his shoulder and can run over a tackler. He has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his last four games.

INJURY IMPACT:
The ankle injury to Peek could be the most serious. The last Browns player to have a high ankle sprain was ILB D'Qwell Jackson, and he missed three starts.


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