BEREA - Despite all of the doom and gloom surrounding the Browns` 27-21 loss in Arizona, there was one beacon of light shining on the team
If the season ended today, Cleveland would still make the playoffs as the AFC`s second and final wild-card qualifier.
The Browns (7-5) currently win their head-to-head tiebreaker over the Titans (7-5) by having a better record in intraconference games. Cleveland is 5-4, while Tennessee is 4-4.
"We`re still in decent position,`` coach Romeo Crennel said. "The thing we have to do is play better football because nothing is given in this business. You have to play good every Sunday. If we don`t, we`ll lose the games and we`ll feel sorry.
"But I think this team has some resiliency and showed it will fight to the end, just like it did Sunday.``
The Browns trail wild-card leader Jacksonville (8-4) by one game, but are one game in front of Buffalo (6-6) with four to play. Those teams, along with Tennessee, make up the only real playoff battle in the AFC.
New England (11-0 entering Monday night), Indianapolis (10-2), Pittsburgh (9-3) and San Diego (7-5) are near-locks to win their respective divisions. The only question is which two wild-card squads will join them.
Making matters even stickier, if the Browns and Titans both win out, they will have identical conference records of 8-4. Cleveland plays one NFC team (San Francisco), while Tennessee finishes its season against four AFC opponents.
Such a scenario would require the use of the NFL`s third tiebreaker - behind head-to-head games and intraconference records - of best record against common opponents. Even worse, that can`t be determined until after Week 17 is completed.
But none of that will matter to the Browns if they don`t play better than they did against the Cardinals, starting Sunday against the Jets.
"We can`t continue to play from behind if we want to reach our goals,`` running back Jamal Lewis said. "It`s just a mentality that has to change. Championship teams come back week after week with the same (focus and intensity). We haven`t gotten there yet, but we need to.``
Not surprisingly, many members of the Browns believe Kellen Winslow Jr. should have been awarded a touchdown on the final play of the six-point loss in Arizona. Winslow caught a 37-yard pass from Derek Anderson along the left sideline of the end zone, but only got one foot down before being knocked out of bounds by Cardinals defensive backs Antrel Rolle and Oliver Celestin.
Had the officials ruled that Winslow made the catch while fully inbounds, then was forced out before landing, it would have been a TD.
"It was definitely a push-out,`` linebacker Andra Davis said. "At home, we probably get that call.``
Cleveland got the benefit of a virtually identical call at home in 2006 when Brodney Pool hammered Jets tight end Chris Baker as he caught a 24-yard pass in the end zone. Baker was ruled to be out of bounds, not forced out, preserving a 20-13 Browns win.
Lewis was in visible pain after taking several hits to his ribs during the Cardinals game, but downplayed talk that he would miss any action.
Crennel said nose tackle Ethan Kelley (knee) might return this week. He did not update the status of defensive end Orpheus Roye (knee), cornerback Eric Wright (knee) or linebacker Kris Griffin (knee).
Braylon Edwards had a large ice pack taped to his right elbow during the open locker room period, while fellow wide receiver Joe Jurevicius had his right knee wrapped.
"Depending on some people`s interpretation, that`s a catch and a force-out. But from my perspective, let`s play better the rest of the game and not have it come down to that.`` - Crennel on the game-ending pass to Winslow that was ruled out of bounds.
"You can say what you want, but the four quarters we played before that, I don`t think were good enough to win.`` - guard Eric Steinbach on the same play.
Contact Brian Dulik at 329-7137 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Head-to-head (must sweep or lose to all tied teams to break tie)
2. Conference record
3. Common games (minimum of four)
4. Strength of victory
5. Strength of schedule
6. Combined conference ranking in points scored and allowed
7. Combined NFL ranking in points scored and allowed
8. Net points in conference games
9. Net points in all games
10. Net touchdowns in all games
11. Coin toss