Talking about the P word
“Playoffs?! Don’t talk about . . . playoffs?! You kidding me? Playoffs?! I just hope we can win another game. Another game.” – Indianapolis coach Jim Mora, after the Colts fell to 4-6 when drilled, 40-21, by the San Francisco 49ers on Nov. 25, 2001
That iconic quote from an incredulous Mora was brought to mind again by a thought related to the Browns. The word “playoffs” seeped into those thoughts after the Baltimore-Cincinnati game Sunday.
When Justin Tucker’s game-winning field goal cleared the uprights, enabling the Baltimore Ravens to knock off the Cincinnati Bengals in overtime, it triggered a thought process that seemed unimaginable as recently as the Browns’ loss in Kansas City.
Believe it or not, it is extremely and startlingly possible the Browns and playoffs can be mentioned in the same sentence after they play the Bengals this coming Sunday in Cincinnati.
No. I have not misplaced my sanity. Instead, I am using a hypothesis to buttress those thoughts. Follow me here.
With Cincinnati’s overtime loss to Baltimore Sunday, the Bengals fell to 6-4, a game and a half ahead of the Browns and Ravens. Now let’s suppose (here comes the hypothesis) the Browns go into Paul Brown Stadium and deal the Bengals their third straight loss, winning the season series for the first time since 2002.
After all, they are playing solid, representative football and the Bengals, who lost to the Browns in Cleveland in week four, have been stung in overtime the last two games and might be reeling a little bit psychologically.
Dizzying? You bet. Wishful thinking? Of course. But it’s based loosely in reality.
A victory over the Bengals would move the Browns to within a half game of Cincinnati for the AFC North lead and give them the tie-breaker (sweeping the season series) in the event of any tie for the division championship between the two teams.
It’s still too early to break down the tie-breakers in the event of a three-way tie for the division should Baltimore remain in the picture. The closer we get to that point, assuming the Browns are still in it, the closer we’ll scrutinize.
Still, the fact the Browns could elevate themselves into such a position should they win this Sunday is rather remarkable considering the problems the club has encountered thus far.
This is a team that has started three different quarterbacks, has what can honestly be called a joke of a run game, tempers its aggressive defense depending on whom the opposing quarterback is, lost its ace return specialist and is still searching for consistency on both sides of the ball.
But the fact it can legitimately be brought up at this point of the season is head-scratchingly (I made that up, but it fits) amazing. No one in his right mind would have predicted such a scenario midway through November.
And it’s not as though this is a fluke. Slowly, but surely, coach Rob Chudzinski appears to be hitting the right buttons as the season unfolds. If the Browns can stay healthy, there’s no telling what the future holds.
This team is playing with a confidence, at least from a body-language standpoint, that hasn’t been seen since the 2007 season, when the Browns came oh so close to playing in January.
The remainder of the Browns’ schedule is littered with danger (road games against New England and the New York Jets and a home game against the Chicago Bears), and very winnable games (twice against Pittsburgh and a home date with Jacksonville).
The remaining schedule for the Bengals, whose bye week follows the Browns game, takes them to San Diego and Pittsburgh with home dates against Indianapolis, Minnesota and Baltimore.
Now if the Browns fail to win this Sunday and fall to 4-6, all bets are off and Chudzinski might want to at least consider replicating Mora’s rant of a dozen years ago.