CLEVELAND — The national focus will be on the postgame handshake between Browns coach Eric Mangini and Patriots coach Bill Belichick.
But those waiting until
4 o’clock to tune in will miss enough story lines to fill a week of prime time.
l Belichick’s return to Cleveland.
The fans still hate him after his obnoxious tenure that preceded the move.
l Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy making his third straight start, first at home.
l Cleveland’s defense trying to contain quarterback Tom Brady, the three-time Super Bowl champion.
The Browns stumped New Orleans Pro Bowler Drew Brees with late movement and a variety of complicated coverages in a 30-17 upset before the bye. They’re looking to do it again.
l Reunions everywhere you look.
The Browns three coordinators — Rob Ryan, Brian Daboll and Brady Seely — coached under Belichick in New England. The coaching and personnel connections between organizations are too numerous to list.
** Cleveland hoping to start a run.
The Browns went 4-4 after the bye last season and feel they’re much improved. No one’s talking playoffs, but there’s significant sentiment inside the locker room that the Browns (2-5) can make a run toward .500. Mangini needs every win he can get to impress president Mike Holmgren and keep his job.
But we must start at the finish. Nothing trumps the history Mangini and Belichick share, and the ugly dissolution of their friendship. They matched up when Mangini was with the Jets, and had a series of scrutinized postgame meetings best described as uncomfortable.
“They seem to be very entertaining,” Mangini joked of the handshakes.
They haven’t talked since the Jets turned the Patriots into the NFL for illegally videotaping defensive signals in 2007. Belichick was also bitter about the way Mangini left the Patriots in 2006. He hasn’t forgiven Mangini and didn’t sound like he would anytime soon when he wouldn’t answer questions about their relationship or refer to Mangini by name this week.
Mangini was working in the Browns public relations department before Belichick spotted him. He eventually became an assistant and followed Belichick to New York and New England. Their style, attention to detail and core beliefs are the same, and Mangini readily admits the tremendous influence Belichick had on his career. He’s open to reviving their friendship, and welcomes today’s challenge.
“It’s always fun to work against Bill,” Mangini said. “You appreciate and respect the way that they’re going to work, the way that they’re going to prepare. Having been there and understanding the people and really knowing them firsthand, you definitely respect the challenge.
“Our deal is give them plenty of stuff that he’s going to have to figure out. Everybody gets a chance with the chalk.”
“I just want to win,” linebacker Eric Barton said. “I really don’t care if they’re friends or not.”
The Patriots (6-1) have the best record in the NFL. They’ve won five straight since a 28-14 loss to the Jets in Week 2.
The success is nothing new. Belichick and Brady are 103-31 (.769) as a tandem, the highest winning percentage since the 1970 merger. Brady is 4-0 against the Browns.
Mangini joked with him Wednesday when Brady stopped into the media room during Mangini’s conference call. Brady asked Mangini his plan to stop him.
“God, he is just such a god in every area, I don’t think it’s humanly possible,” Mangini answered. “I mean, you talk about football player, movie star ...”
Brady is as good as it gets in the NFL. McCoy is as raw as it gets.
He hadn’t taken an NFL snap until being forced into the job by injuries last month. He’s 1-1 and has earned the confidence of his coaches and teammates. Brady follows Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Brees on McCoy’s real-life NFL fantasy tour.
Brady is a favorite of McCoy during film study.
“A lot of the things that we do are from New England, a lot of the plays,” McCoy said. “So it’s Tom Brady over and over. There’s a reason they’ve won three Super Bowls. The guy is incredible.
“One of the things I’ve studied is his pocket presence, his awareness when he’s in the pocket, when he’s got to move. Just to be on the field, to play with him, to see him, it’s going to be awesome.”
McCoy could enjoy some statistical success, as New England is allowing opponents to complete 69.8 percent of their passes with a 93.4 rating. But his chief responsibility will be limiting the big mistake. He did just that against the Saints after throwing two interceptions in his debut.
The Patriots don’t have an obvious talent advantage over their opponents – with the exception of Brady – but they execute better, especially at critical junctures. They have the NFL’s No. 1 scoring offense (29.3 points per game) but are 19th in yardage.
The defense ranks 28th in yardage, 21st in points. The Patriots have allowed one more touchdown than the Browns, 17-16.
“They’re basically not going to screw it up, and let you screw it up,” linebacker Scott Fujita said. “They find a way to adapt to any situation. They’re just so efficient.”
That’s how Mangini wants the Browns to play. They’ve made strides in that direction and have nine weeks left in 2010 to get even better.
Mangini is 3-1 the week after a bye, including a 17-14 win over Belichick in 2006. Mangini’s teams are 20-15 after the bye in his career.
“There’s a lot of momentum going into this game, beating the defending Super Bowl champions,” Joshua Cribbs said of the win over the Saints. “When all three units combine to give good effort, we can be victorious.
“Without turning the football over, without making self-inflicted wounds and negatives, we can win football games and we proved that.”
A second straight upset victory would convince people outside the locker room.
Maybe even Belichick.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or firstname.lastname@example.org.