Willis McGahee has only been around for a few weeks, but the veteran running back has already figured out Cleveland’s fragile sports psyche.
It’s pretty simple. When the Browns win, life is better.
“Everybody’s happy,” he said. “The town’s happy. We’re happy.”
Tied atop the AFC North with Baltimore and Cincinnati, the Browns (3-2) have become one of this season’s unforeseen success stories. They’re riding a three-game winning streak heading into today’s home game against the Detroit Lions (3-2), another team off to a surprisingly strong start.
Following their Oct. 3 win over Buffalo, the Browns learned that quarterback Brian Hoyer will miss the rest of the season after tearing a ligament in his right knee.
It was a devastating blow for Hoyer, the Cleveland kid who guided his beloved Browns to wins over Minnesota and Cincinnati.
While Hoyer’s storybook season ended, Brandon Weeden’s took another dramatic turn.
After being chosen the starter out of training camp, Weeden played two games, got hurt, recovered and was demoted. He came off the bench for an injured Hoyer, got booed and rallied the Browns to a 37-24 win. The season hasn’t gone the way Weeden planned, but he’s grateful for a new beginning.
“You’ve just got to find a way to take the positives and build on them,” he said.
For the Lions, a victory would match their entire win total from last season.
Last week, without superstar wide receiver Calvin Johnson, Detroit couldn’t get anything going on offense and was beaten 22-9 by Green Bay.
Johnson’s status is questionable, leaving quarterback Matthew Stafford without his most valuable asset. If Johnson’s out, the Lions will need production from someone else.
“The best thing we can do is not let one loss turn into two,” running back Reggie Bush said. “Everyone has to step up, we all have to do a little bit more this week.”
There’s some familiarity between the Lions and Browns, who played during the exhibition season. But that was merely a warmup. This is to keep their surprising seasons moving in the right direction.
“We got this swagger going and we want to keep it going,” McGahee said.
Johnson’s injury, coupled with the loss of Nate Burleson, who broke his arm in a car accident, has decimated Detroit’s receiving corps. If Johnson can’t go, Cleveland’s front seven could spend the afternoon taking turns sacking Stafford, dropped five times last week by the Packers.
Browns cornerback Joe Haden said he wouldn’t mind if “Megatron” was mega-missing: If he plays, it’s always good to go against the best,” Haden said. “But if he doesn’t, it’s a big help and big knock for their offense.”
The Browns haven’t been beating themselves. They didn’t commit a turnover in their past two games, and Weeden has thrown 99 consecutive passes without an interception. Weeden’s last pick came in the second quarter of the opener against Miami, when he had three. Weeden went 110 passes without an interception as a rookie last season. Although he’s been error-free, Browns coaches want him to quicken his release.
Detroit’s imposing defensive front with tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley anchoring the middle is among the NFL’s best. Suh may have a reputation for being a “dirty” player, but he’s one of the game’s premier run stuffers who can come off the edge and wreak havoc in any backfield.
“This is a really, really good defensive front,” said Browns offensive coordinator Norv Turner. “They cause a lot of problems.”
Cleveland’s defense has taken a major leap under first-year offensive coordinator Ray Horton. After being ranked 23rd last season in total defense, the Browns enter the weekend fourth overall. The Browns also rank in the top 10 in points allowed and sacks. Cleveland’s defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher or 300-yard passer.
RUN, RABBIT, RUN
Browns return specialist Travis Benjamin is known as “Rabbit” to his teammates, who gave him the nickname after learning he used to catch rabbits fleeing the sugar cane fields as a kid in Florida. Opponents are finding out Benjamin is as elusive as the furry animals. He returned a punt 79 yards for a touchdown against the Bills and is averaging 15.1 yards per return, second in the league.