Sunday, November 9, 2014

Please pass the oxygen

Breathe, Cleveland. Breathe the air. It is rarefied.

Don’t look now – OK, go ahead and look – but your Cleveland Browns are in first place in the AFC North. That’s right. All by themselves after week 10.

Check out the standings on line. Right at the top of the AFC North – and no, it is not a misprint or typo – are the Browns.

This is not a joke. It is not a tease. April 1 is almost five months away. It is real, thanks in large part to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers traveled to New Jersey Sunday and lost, 20-13, to the one-victory-this-season New York Jets, tumbling all the way to third place in the most competitive division in the National Football League.

The Browns can empathize with the Steelers, although that might be difficult to do in light of the result. The Steelers now know what it’s like to lose to an inferior opponent. So do the Browns, having done so a few weeks ago to the winless Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Actually, it was Pittsburgh’s second loss inflicted by one of the NFL’s bottom feeders, having been embarrassed, at home no less, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who registered their only victory of the season several weeks ago.

For the first time since Nov. 6, 1994, the Browns lead their division after 10 weeks of the season. Back then, they were the original Browns and it was called the AFC Central with Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and the Houston Oilers joining them.

On that date in 1994, the Browns knocked of the New England Patriots, 13-6, at home in the old Stadium to take the AFC Central lead in week 10 with a 7-2 record, one game better than the Steelers.

They held or shared that lead with Pittsburgh for the next three weeks before losing it to the Steelers in week 14, falling to the New York Giants while Pittsburgh defeated Cincinnati.

The Steelers went on to win the division with a 12-4 record, one game better than the Browns, who defeated New England again in a wild card game before losing to the Steelers a third time that season, 29-9, in a division playoff game.

It is almost a surreal feeling to wrap your head around the fact the Browns own first place today. The team that has been laughed at and ridiculed unceremoniously for the major part of the last 15 seasons is no longer the butt of jokes.

Yes, there are still seven games remaining on the schedule, four of them on the road, where they have had all kinds of problems since the resurrection. And for the first time in a long time, they sport bull’s-eyes on their backs.

But for the first time since the 2007 season, when they finished with a 10-6 record but failed to make the playoffs, their fans will be treated to games of relevance, of importance. We’ll finally have the chance to see how this team handles the pressure.

Enjoy it, Cleveland. You have gone through enough tough times to bask in the glow of first place. No matter what happens from here on out, the lofty perch atop the AFC North right now is worth the feeling.

So breathe the air. Take it all in. Savor it. This very well might signal the beginning of the turnaround for which Browns fans have longed after all those years of frustration.


  1. This turnaround is truly remarkable especially considering the fact that this franchise had about as bad an off-season as I've ever seen since I've been following the NFL since the mid-70s. The early returns on both Farmer & Pettine are favorable and as long as the owner doesn't butt his head in, maybe a foundation of longer term success is being built.

    It's all very encouraging. I'd love to see playoffs this season and go as far as they can, but competition is fierce in the AFC this season. And I still think the Browns are probably the least talented team in the division, but the gap has really closed. As great a win as Thursday's was, the Bengals are still the more talented team. And I think they didn't have nearly the motivation and drive that the Browns had in that game. For them it was a dreaded Thursday night game, for the Browns it was a chance to make a big statement. I can't help but think that this played into the final results. Of course, Dalton helped mightily along the way as well.

    In the NFL these days, fortunes and seasons go through all kinds of twists and turns. The Steelers look unstoppable for two weeks, then don't score a TD against the Jets until the game was practically over. The Browns are riding high now, but this season won't end without some struggles as well. Here's hoping for more successes than struggles in the remaining season.

    Paul from Seattle

  2. Can't disagree with anything you wrote, Paul, except maybe the offseason stuff.

    Looking at the contributors thus far, I like what I've seen of Bitonio, Kirksey, Whitner, Dansby, Hawkins, Gabriel, Crowell, West, K'Waun Williams and Austin. All offseason acquisitions.

    Jury still out on Gilbert, although it appears he's making progress. Manziel is in a completely different class in terms of assessing the offseason..

    I don't think they will make the playoffs.The games at Atlanta, Buffalo, Carolina and Baltimore pose particular problems.

    Atlanta is explosive on offense. So is Carolina. Buffalo is getting better and Baltimore, well, the Ravens always play the Browns tough.

    We'll see soon enough just how ready for the spotlight this team is. Houston this Sunday is a better team that its record. It will be interesting to see how they defend against Ryan Mallett. Hopefully blitz the daylights out of him. Make him uncomfortable.

    If they are 7-3 and confident heading into the homestretch, anything is possible.