What goes around comes around.
The Browns can only hope that's true.
Sunday's game against the Buffalo Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium will mark the Browns' return to the place of their last regular-season win. About 11 months ago, last Nov. 17, the Browns edged the Bills 29-27 on Monday Night Football.
Cleveland hasn't won since then, dropping 10 games in a row -- six straight after that to end last season, then their first four this year.
When they went to Buffalo last year, the Browns had already been eliminated from postseason consideration in losing their previous two games in heartbreaking fashion, blowing big leads in falling 37-27 to the Baltimore Ravens and 34-30 to the Denver Broncos. Nonetheless, the win, which raised their mark to 4-6, did soothe some of their wounds.
The Bills, who started the year 4-0, lost their fourth straight game and fell to 5-5, and as such pretty much saw their playoff hopes end as well.
The game-winner was provided by Phil Dawson's career-long 56-yard field goal with just 1:39 left. It was his second field goal of the quarter and the fifth of the game and allowed the Browns to escape unscathed even though they blew a 13-0 second-quarter lead.
Browns head coach Eric Mangini said Friday that he's not ruling Dawson out of Sunday's game. The kicker has missed the last two contests with a bad calf in his kicking leg. His absence might have cost the Browns a win last Sunday. Thinking his replacement, Billy Cundiff, could not make it, they eschewed a 57-yard field-goal attempt at the end of the fourth quarter and instead punted Cincinnati deep into its own territory and took their chances in overtime. The strategy didn't work as they lost 23-20.
Mangini said after the game that if Dawson had been available, "things might have been different."
Almost as big of a play as Dawson's 56-yarder in last season's win was Jerome Harrison's 72-yard touchdown run – his first as a pro -- just 13 seconds into the fourth quarter. The Browns offense did not score another TD the rest of that year, and did not score a meaningful TD – one that didn't come in garbage time – until the second quarter of last Sunday's game.
Harrison is coming off his best day as a pro, getting his first 100-yard rushing game with a game-high 121 in 29 carries, while also catching five passes for 31 yards. The lone downer was that he had the ball stolen from him on one carry and returned 75 yards for a TD.
Against the Bills last year, Harrison had just three carries. The bulk of the work went to Jamal Lewis, who rushed 18 times for 65 yards.
Lewis has been inactive the last two weeks as he battles a hamstring injury. It seems like he'll be ready to play in Buffalo, so it will be interesting to see how Mangini divides the carries between him and Harrison.
Brady Quinn quarterbacked against the Bills last year and was not impressive, hitting on just 14-of-36 passes for 185 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. It was the second straight game that Quinn had started in place of Derek Anderson, but Anderson will get the nod on Sunday for the second consecutive week.
Trent Edwards, who will start at quarterback for the Bills on Sunday, also played last year and, like Quinn, struggled, going 16-of-26 for 148 yards, a TD and three – count ‘em, three – interceptions. One of the picks was by inside linebacker Andra Davis, who left the Browns in free agency in the offseason.
That scoring pass went to running back Marshawn Lynch, who also had 119 yards rushing. Lynch, who played for the first time last Sunday against Miami after sitting out due to an NFL-imposed suspension, could get a lot of work on Sunday as the Bills try to get their sputtering offense jump-started.
Robert Royal had one catch for 22 yards for the Bills in last year's game. He now starts at tight end for the Browns.
There was a kickoff returned 98 yards for a TD in last year's game, and the Browns' Joshua Cribbs had a score that day. So he was the man returning the kick, then, right?
No. His tally came on a two-yard run, the first – and still only – rushing TD of his career.
The Bills' Leodis McKelvin, who is sitting out this season on the Injured Reserve List, had the return for a score.
The Bills, like the Browns, are sinking fast this year. They've lost two in a row and are 1-3, and another loss on Sunday would not bode well for the job security of embattled Buffalo head coach Dick Jauron.
But Jauron needs to know that, at least in some respects, wins are overrated. They might only mask a problem – and only temporarily at that. If the axe is going to come, then it's going to come sooner or later.
Last year's win over the Bills did not prevent the eventual firing of Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel at the end of a season in which his team finished 4-12.
After being all over him in the first three weeks as the Browns looked like an expansion team, the wolves have stayed away from Mangini this week. They were staved off by the Browns finally turning in a credible performance for a full game against the Bengals.
The last two games between the Bills and Browns have been interesting. The Browns beat Buffalo by a baseball-like 8-0 score in Cleveland in a near-blizzard in 2007.
That was the second straight win – and the fourth in five games – for Cleveland two years ago. Considering where the Browns are now, that game – and the one with the Bills last year – seem like eons ago.
Despite that, maybe the sight of the Bills, who are now much more beatable than they were the last two years, will be just the thing to get the Browns going.