CLEVELAND — Some how, some way, the Cleveland Browns have more wins than losses. Right now, they are alone in first place in the AFC North.
“It feels great to be 3-2 and first place in the division,” Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. “There are still a lot of games to go and we’ve got a lot of things we can still prove. We’ve got to keep playing good team football like we did tonight.”
At this point, how the 2013 season will end for the Browns is anybody’s guess.
After starting 0-2 and trading Trent Richardson, it appeared the team was destined for the top of next May’s draft. Now, they are atop the division standings.
How did they get there?
“We’ve got a lot of talented players,” Thomas said. “We play well together as a team. When the offense is not playing well, the defense picks it up. When the offense or defense isn’t doing anything special, the special teams come through. It was a good team win all-around. That’s the kind of football we expect to play.”
How will they stay there?
As Thomas said, it is going to take a full team effort. Starting quarterback Brian Hoyer left Thursday’s game with a knee injury. He left the stadium on crutches and the leg was immobilized. We’ll know more about Hoyer’s future soon, but it doesn’t look good.
Hoyer was perceived to be the catalyst of the Browns’ two-game winning streak entering Thursday. He also was the biggest reason this team had hope for the remainder of this season. As a quarterback goes, so goes the team. Now, more than ever, the Browns need to rely on that all-around team play that Thomas referenced.
Is that enough to keep this winning streak alive?
It helps that the overall talent that Thomas reference has improved. The speed is noticeable on defense and, no doubt, on punt returns with Travis Benjamin. Josh Gordon is showing signs of becoming one of the best wide receivers in the league and a player who makes big plays at the most critical of times.
But at the most critical of positions, quarterback, the Browns are on shaky ground. With Hoyer’s injury, Brandon Weeden is back into the starting quarterback role and his play was anything but solid Thursday night. He made a couple of key throws, but his pocket presence and ability to go through his progressions left a lot to be desired.
That doesn’t take anything away from the victory. For as many losses as this team has experienced throughout the years, the wins are a welcomed change.
With each new regime, the talk of “changing the losing culture” takes center stage.
“In the last three games, when it came time to make plays to win a game down the stretch we’ve been able to do that,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said.
Against the Vikings, the Browns’ offense, trailing by three, needed a game-winning fourth-quarter drive. Against the Bengals, the Browns’ offense, ahead by four, needed a game-clinching touchdown in the fourth quarter. Against the Bills, nursing a six-point lead, the Browns defense needed a stop.
All three times the Browns made plays to get that desired result.
How many times in the past were you able say that?
The quarterback question mark aside, the Browns’ first five games have gone a long way to changing that established “losing culture” that has permeated in Cleveland since 1999.
The talent level is increasing. The late-game breaks are going the Browns way.
The team has won three in a row.
Now, the only question remains:
How many more games can this team win?