CLEVELAND - Change, as Browns fans painfully know, usually happens slowly.
Since the moment quarterback Tim Couch threw his first pass in training camp of 1999, it's been nothing but heartache and disappointment. As a result, the lack of respect for the franchise has become another joke in a city where losing has been woven into its fabric.
That has started to change a bit this season for the Browns, who host the 7-6 Chicago Bears today at First Energy Stadium in the regular-season home finale. The record remains a sore spot (4-9), but there are signs that the culture of losing is about to end.
No one represents that possibility better than receiver Josh Gordon, who has been the NFL's brightest offensive star in recent weeks - not RG III, not Andrew Luck, not Russell Wilson.
Gordon enters today's game leading the NFL with 1,400 receiving yards on 71 receptions. In the last four games he has 774 yards on 36 catches, including back-to-back games of 237 yards against the Steelers and 261 against Jacksonville.
Gordon's outstanding play has earned the notice of national media representatives that view Cleveland as a city to fly over on the way to somewhere else. You could say that Gordon has become a household name, but you can't. Even as Bears receiver Brandon Marshall spoke highly of Gordon during a conference call this week, he stopped for a moment and asked, "I really like this young kid, Josh ... that's his name, right?"
Whether Marshall knows Gordon's first name or not is of little importance. It is important that players around the league know what he's accomplished in just 11 games this season, especially when it's time to vote for the Pro Bowl.
"What's most amazing is you take a kid that has had some blemishes on his record and some character issues coming in, and seeing him get it really early," Marshall said. "That's what I'm most impressed about; not the stuff on the field. I don't know what's going on inside of his head or at home, but what I can see is him maturing right before our eyes, so that's impressive."
Gordon won't be the only impressive receiver on the field today. The Bears have been riding the skills of the most productive receiving duo in the NFL this season - Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. Both have surpassed the 1,000-yard mark Jeffery at 1,193 and Marshall at 1,090. They have combined for 15 touchdowns.
It will literally be a battle of the big men - the 6-3, 225-pound Gordon against Jeffery (6-3, 216) and Marshall (6-4, 230).
You can also add the tight ends - Jordan Cameron of the Browns and Martellus Bennett of the Bears. Cameron is second in the NFL among tight ends in receptions (72) and yards (825). Bennett has 53 receptions for 588 yards.
"Those are great, talented receivers," Gordon said. "I've been watching them for a while. Me and Alshon are good friends actually. We all have different dynamics to the game. Alshon is a high-ball, go-get-it-type of player, and so is Brandon, and I think I stretch the field. We all have different aspects to our games."
The Bears have enjoyed success offensively with backup Josh McCown at quarterback. McCown has a 109.8 passer rating in seven games (five starts) in place of the injured Jay Cutler.
Bears coach Marc Trestman announced this week that Cutler is healthy and will start today. Cutler's presence adds another dimension to the challenge faced by Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
"Playing him the last couple of years, to me it's his feet," Horton said. "You know how strong his arm is, and he's a smart quarterback and all that, but when you watch his feet and the ability to throw off the wrong foot, to get the ball out quickly, I've been impressed."
If the weather doesn't intercede, it could be a high-scoring game.