BEREA -- If there's such a thing as a sigh of relief, Browns coach Eric Mangini might be experiencing that today.
Not that a 5-7 record heading into the final four games of the season is a reason to sip on a cool drink with feet propped up on an easy chair, but Mangini has to feel better than he did last year at this time. To quote former Browns coach Sam Rutigliano, Mangini had one foot in the grave and the other foot on a banana peel a year ago.
That's when the Browns took a 1-11 record into the stretch run. All seemed lost for Mangini's future as coach, but a four-game winning streak to end the season secured another year on the job.
The Browns equaled the win total of last season with a 13-10 win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. That might not be enough to save Mangini's job for next season if more wins don't come in the final four weeks, but it helps a bunch.
Mangini has a different approach to the stretch run that he did last year.
"Last year was a tough year," Mangini said. "I was looking forward to New Year's, I can tell you that. That was one of those times that couldn't get here quick enough."
"You're pushing them in ways that maybe they haven't been pushed, and often times when you do that there's a lot of push back. There's a lot of wait and see. I give the guys last year a lot of credit. They hung in there. They fought. They kept working, and they were rewarded at the end of the year, which was great to see. This year, I think we've taken more real strides."
The Browns have won two straight games in ugly fashion with Jake Delhomme at quarterback. It appears that rookie quarterback Colt McCoy could miss another game with an ankle injury, which might mean a third straight starting assignment for Delhomme.
Mangini could face a difficult decision if McCoy is healthy before the end of the season. Does he stick with Delhomme, who was signed in the offseason to be the starter, or does he go with McCoy, who could be the quarterback of the future?
Delhomme played better than he did the week before against the Carolina Panthers, his first start since suffering an ankle injury against Tampa Bay in the season opener. Still, he didn't look like a confident quarterback, with the exception of two drives in the second half.
Mangini needs to build a belief among the players that the plan is working well. To a man, players said they believe that McCoy could be the quarterback of the future. Cornerback Sheldon Brown said that he sees something special in McCoy.
"I know I use this a lot, but I think we just have been going through the steps that it takes, organizationally and as a team, to build," Mangini said. "I don't question their work ethic at all. They compete every single game. We've been able to win some games, and now winning consistently is our next step.
"It's nice to come out on top in these close games, and that's something that we haven't been able to do or weren't able to do earlier in the season. That's really the next step for us. It's a good group of guys. Everybody is pulling in the same direction. There's a much higher comfort level with each other."
Mangini often talks about finishing games. He's not looking for any easy wins in the future.
"I don't know if that really happens in the league at all anymore," Mangini said. "Most games are decided by seven or less, and really it's usually three or less. Too many things happen. It would help everybody's blood pressure and heart rate, but you just might as well plan for it to be a little tighter than that."
A few more wins would do wonders for Mangini's blood pressure, not to mention his job security.