With Halloween on the horizon, folks were actually giving the Browns a ghost of a chance to contend in the AFC.
But the defense was having a devil of a time convincing anyone that it was playoff caliber.
A stern test awaited. Yeah, St. Louis was the second consecutive winless opponent on the schedule – the Browns had defeated Miami two weeks earlier before enjoying their bye week. But the Rams still featured explosive veteran offensive talent, including quarterback Marc Bulger, running back Steven Jackson and wide receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.
This was to be no stroll through the park.
Through six games, the Browns were surrendering a league-worst 413 yards a game. They ranked 30th in run defense, 29th in pass defense, 30th in sacks and had yielded a whopping 183 points.
Though blame had to be shared, the weak performance of the line played the most significant role in those failures. And Browns defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was quite aware of it.
"To be good on defense, you have to win at the line," he told the Canton Repository. "When that doesn't happen, it affects the linebackers, how you call the game and basically everything you're doing.
"The big emphasis to me, from the bye week to now, is securing those guys up front, talking about winning at the line of scrimmage, securing your gap, playing with your hands."
The Browns were not merely poor along the line, but old as well. Nose tackle Ted Washington was 39 and certainly showing his age, and Orpheus Roye was coming off knee surgery. Because of that injury, Shaun Smith had been moved from his natural nose tackle position to defensive end.
Granthan, however, was merely asking for respectability, of which he only saw glimpses.
"In the Baltimore game, we ended up giving up one touchdown in the fourth quarter," he said. "In the New England game after that, with less than two minutes to go in the first half, we had held them to 13 points. Go to the Miami game. There's less than two minutes to go in the half, and the score is 24-3.
"In all of those games, there have been times that we've played well. We've got to develop more consistency. … We have to play well the whole time."
It wouldn't happen against the Rams. But it wouldn't matter because on this Sunday the blossoming offense continued to overwhelm the dregs of the NFL.
That first victory of the season? It appeared St. Louis just might get it.
Then came the second quarter.
The inspired Rams scored more points on their first two drives against the Browns than they had in the previous two games combined. They steamrolled through the Cleveland defense behind Jackson, the bulldozer back, who opened the scoring on a 2-yard run less than four minutes into the game. Six minutes later, Bulger hit Holt on a 1-yard scoring strike to stretch the lead to 14-0.
But this wasn't your big brother's Browns. The "Roll Over and Play Dead" team was gone. After a 35-yard field goal by Phil Dawson put them on the board late in the first quarter, the Browns really went to town behind their best aerial combination since Bernie Kosar was flinging passes around old Municipal Stadium.
That is, quarterback Derek Anderson and wide receiver Braylon Edwards. The two hooked up on a 12-yard touchdown pass midway through the second quarter to chop the deficit to 14-10. Then the other half of the Dynamic Duo chipped in as tight end Kellen Winslow hauled in a 21-yard bullet from Anderson to put the Browns ahead, 17-14.
St. Louis veteran placekicker Jeff Wilkins booted a 45-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the first half to tie it, but the Browns had gained the momentum and were about to run away with it.
The Rams were forced to play the rest of the way without Jackson, who left with back spasms in the second quarter. The Browns took advantage, giving up just three points after intermission. Meanwhile, Anderson found Edwards again for a 5-yard touchdown pass six minutes into the third quarter.
The Browns would remain ahead thereafter. Wilkins and Dawson traded field goals, but the Rams simply couldn't get their offense rolling with Jackson on the sideline. Backup back Brian Leonard was held to just 33 yards on 15 carries. He was halted by safety Sean Jones on a 4th-and-1 play in the final two minutes. The defense then rose to the occasion with 38 seconds remaining on a Leigh Bodden interception from the Cleveland 28-yard-line.
And when it was over, Anderson had racked up virtually the same numbers as he had in the victory over Miami two weeks earlier. He had again thrown three touchdown passes with no interceptions, this time for 248 yards. Edwards matched his career high with eight receptions for 117 yards.
The Browns were over .500 that late in the season for the first time since 2002. Easy schedule or not, it was something to celebrate.
The comeback from a 14-point deficit could have all gone up in smoke if Sean Jones hadn't grabbed Brian Leonard's leg and held on for dear life.
The Rams trailed 27-20, but were driving for the tying score late in the fourth quarter. They stalled at 4th-and-1 on the Cleveland 16. Leonard cradled the handoff from Bulger and began to run, but he felt someone tugging at him.
It was Jones, who dropped him for no gain and all but clinched the Browns' fourth victory in seven games.
"I had his leg and wouldn't let go," Jones explained to the Associated Press. "I thought everyone else was coming, but he dragged me for a while."
The Browns matched their win total from 2006 with another strong offensive performance, particularly after a stagnant first quarter. And, once again, it was the combination of Anderson and Edwards that proved critical. But Winslow also scored a touchdown and wide receiver Joe Jurevicius contributed five catches for 76 yards.
Edwards didn't seem to care about any numbers aside from that four in the victory column.
"If I tie my career high (in receptions), whoop-dee-doo, the big thing is we got the win," he said. "We've got our heads above water for the first time in a long time."
Edwards' second touchdown would not have been possible if not for a 29-yard reception on a 3rd-and-11 play by Jurevicius, who was earning quite a reputation as the go-to receiver with a drive on the line. Jurevicius also snagged a 10-yard pass in the fourth quarter on 3rd-and-7 that set up Dawson's second field goal.
"Sometimes you get labeled in the NFL as a third-down receiver, and that's fine," Jurevicius told the News-Herald. "I keep drives going and enable guys like Braylon and Kellen to get their work in. I've always felt on a football team guys have to realize their roles. I realize my role, and I relish it."
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski certainly appreciated Jurevicius' efforts and attitude.
"Joe has been that way all season for us," he said. "He's been a great leader. He gives us big-time stability on offense. He's a guy you trust because you know he's going to come up with those plays."
The Browns had been coming up with those plays offensively all season. And they came up with just enough on defense to slide above .500.
Rarified air indeed for this franchise.