They’ve been on the bottom for so long it seems as if the Browns are stuck there.
With an abysmal 15-48 record inside the AFC North since it was formed in 2002, Cleveland has been the rugged division’s longtime punching bag and cellar dwellers. They’ve been down and stayed down.
That could soon change.
One of the NFL’s youngest teams, the Browns believe they are closing the gap on Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh — all playoff teams in 2011.
“Everybody in the division is beatable,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “I just feel our team is starting to become one of the good teams. We’re on the verge of being at the top.”
It’s going to be a long, slow climb, but the Browns (2-6) are showing signs that they’re finally headed in the right direction. They’ve won two straight home games, and following a victory over San Diego, the Browns are feeling pretty good about themselves heading into Sunday’s rematch with Baltimore.
The Ravens (5-2) have beaten the Browns nine straight times. Baltimore defeated Cleveland 23-16 on Sept. 27, but the Browns were in the game until the final seconds despite a costly interception, several dropped passes and losing kick return specialist/wide receiver Josh Cribbs, who was heavily involved in the game plan, to a concussion in the first quarter.
Like Haden, Cribbs sees the Browns, who are just 4-23 in the division since 2008 and have never been better than 3-3, catching up to the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers. However, Cribbs said the only way for Cleveland to accelerate the process and truly show its improved is to start beating up the bullies on a regular basis.
“I feel like you have to,” Cribbs said. “What other way can you? You can say we always play them well and fought hard, but the real test is taking advantage of our opportunities by winning, not by coming close.
“A win is a win.”
For several years, there was a huge disparity in talent between Cleveland and the rest of the division. That’s no longer the case as Browns general manager Tom Heckert has drafted well, infusing the roster the past three years with up-and-coming players like Haden, defensive tackle Phil Taylor and a trio of rising rookies: running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was plucked in the second round of the supplemental draft.
Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has won all nine games he’s played against the Browns, a lopsided statistic he says may be a bit deceiving.
“It’s kind of crazy that we haven’t lost, because there have been a lot of close ones,” Flacco said. “Even all the way back to my rookie year, they were beating us up there and we came back.”
WR Mohamed Massaquoi may return this week after missing five games with a hamstring injury. Browns coach Pat Shurmur feels Weeden and Massaquoi, who developed a nice chemistry, will pick up where they left off. “I’ve watched in practice and they really haven’t lost that feel,” Shurmur said. “There’s a pretty good connection there.” ... DT Ahtyba Rubin (calf), CB Dimitri Patterson (ankle) and DL Brian Sanford (knee) missed practice.