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November 11, 2013 - Mike McLain
CLEVELAND -- It's not often there's a sense of excitement in the Browns ' locker room this late in the season, but things are different this year.
When the players returned from a bye week, they were upbeat and anxious for Sunday's game against the Bengals in Cincinnati. The Browns are 4-5 but just a game and a half behind the 6-4 Bengals in the AFC North Division. A win would obviously be a big step in their chase for the first playoff appearance since the 2002 season.
"I think if you talk to the Cleveland community, they would say that ‘It’s time,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. “I definitely say it’s time. We’re in the middle of the pack. We haven’t played a big game around here in a long time. All we can do is focus and prepare for Cincinnati and be ready.”
A win over the Baltimore Ravens the week before the bye was critical in developing a winning mindset. A loss would have put the Browns at 3-6 and all but eliminated them from serious playoff contention.
Now the feeling is that they might be the best team in the division. The Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have fallen back, and the Bengals have lost two straight. They've also lost some key defensive players to season-ending injuries, most notably defensive lineman Geno Atkins.
It adds up to the most important game for the Browns since the 2007 season finale against the San Francisco 49ers. The Browns needed a win and a win by the Colts over the Titans to qualify for the playoffs. The Browns did their part with a 20-7 victory, but the Colts, who rested quarterback Peyton Manning for much of the game because the outcome meant nothing to their spot in the playoffs, lost, 16-10.
The Browns don't want to be asking for help at the end of this season. That's what makes Sunday's game so important.
“People talk about Cleveland as the ‘Mistake on the Lake,’ ” defensive lineman Phil Taylor said. “We’ve been losing for a while. We need to win around here. We have a chance to sweep Cincinnati and show everyone that we’re not the little brother anymore.”
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