The current members of the Cleveland Browns understand the significance of Sunday’s game at Cincinnati.
They understand the desire to change the culture of pro football in Cleveland.
They understand the need to not only be competitive but victorious against teams in the AFC North.
They understand the fans are ready to embrace this team, this coach and this new regime.
They understand it is all for naught of they lose.
We are nine games in to the 2013 season. The Browns have been anything but consistent. There have been frustrating performances and there have been exhilarating performances.
Two weeks ago the Browns had one of those exhilarating performances snapping an 11-game losing streak to the Baltimore Ravens.
It has put the Browns in a big game Sunday at Cincinnati. By now, I’m sure you know the standings by heart. Bengals are in first in the AFC North at 6-4 ahead of the Browns and Ravens at 4-5. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-6. (That last thing is so much fun to type.)
The Browns are in the middle of a three-game stretch against AFC North opponents. Win this week at Cincinnati and next week at home against Pittsburgh and the Browns are tied for first with the Bengals, who they would have defeated twice this season.
Two weeks ago was a must win against the Ravens. This is the first truly big game for the Browns since Dec. 23, 2007, in which they traveled south to Cincinnati needing a win for a playoff berth. They lost 19-14. Derek Anderson threw four interceptions. It was gross.
It is also what we’ve come to expect with the Browns. They win when we expect them to lose, they lose when we expect them to win.
Should we expect them to win Sunday in Cincinnati?
If this is a new era of the Cleveland Browns then we shouldn’t be worried that we expect them to win.
It starts with the play of Jason Campbell. For two games now, Campbell has been the complete opposite of Brandon Weeden. His steady play has give then Browns a boost on offense and allowed the defense to do its thing. Campbell has completed 61.3 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and no interceptions. His veteran leadership and calm demeanor are proving beneficial to this team.
Meanwhile on defense, in the last six quarters the Browns defense has shut down the Chiefs and Ravens.
In September, the Browns limited the Bengals to a season-low six points. Almost two months later, this is not the same Bengals team. They have lost two consecutive overtime games. Quarterback Andy Dalton has been anything but spectacular. They suffered injuries to key members of its defense. Geno Atkins (DE), Leon Hall (CB) and Taylor Mays (S) are on injured reserve and Rey Maualuga (LB) is expected not to play Sunday.
But the Bengals are playing at home and they still have wide receiver A.J. Green. The last time the Bengals played in Cincinnati was Oct. 27. They defeated the New York Jets 49-9.
The Browns know what they need to do to beat the Bengals. The Browns know the opportunity they have in front of them. They know what it would mean to this team, this front office, this coach and their fans to leave Cincinnati on Sunday victorious.
They know they can’t lose.