EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Derek Anderson quickly said he didn`t know, then shook his head slowly several times.
When the quarterback doesn`t have an explanation, it`s time to consult the offensive line.
"I`m sure I`ll have the answer," right tackle Kevin Shaffer said. Then the question was asked. "I guess I don`t have it. I don`t know."
"I don`t know, either," tight end Kellen Winslow said.
The stumper: Why have the Browns started so poorly in road games?
They fell behind 16-0 at Oakland, 20-0 at New England, 14-0 at St. Louis and 14-0 at Arizona. They rallied to beat the Rams, but lost the other three, including a momentum-stalling 27-21 defeat last week in Arizona.
"We have to come out and try to start fast," guard Eric Steinbach said. "I really don`t know what the magical answer is. It`s our goal every week."
The next challenge is today at 4:15 p.m. when the Browns, 7-5 overall and 2-4 on the road, visit the New York Jets (3-9), whose wins have come against Miami (twice) and Pittsburgh.
"The biggest thing is not to make the turnovers," said coach Romeo Crennel, whose team is 0-4 when committing two or more turnovers. "It`s tough to win on the road, particularly when you give yards away or give the ball away."
The Browns need to look no further than Arizona for proof. Anderson threw two interceptions and lost a fumble and Joshua Cribbs muffed a punt; the four turnovers leading directly to 21 points.
Today is the end of a difficult stretch of four road games in five weeks. The Browns are tied with Tennessee for the second AFC wild-card playoff spot, a game behind Jacksonville and a game ahead of Buffalo.
A loss to the Jets would hurt the Browns in the record and in the tiebreakers with the Titans, if necessary. The first applicable tiebreaker is conference record: The Browns are 5-4 and Tennessee 4-4 and both teams will wind up with 12 games. The Jets are in the AFC.
The next tiebreaker, if needed, is record versus common opponents. By the end of the season, the Browns and Titans will have played the Jets, Texans, Bengals and Raiders. Tennessee is 3-1 with a game left against the Jets, and the Browns are 2-1 with games left against the Jets and Bengals.
The next tiebreaker would be strength of victory, which is figured by calculating the winning percentage of opponents a team beat. The Titans` victims have combined for 35 wins; the Browns` for 28 wins.
The Browns finish with the Jets, Bills (6-6), Bengals (4-8) and 49ers (3-9). The Titans have the Chargers (7-5), Chiefs (4-8), Jets and Colts (10-2).
Plenty can happen to affect the records and the tiebreakers, so the Browns are trying to adhere to Crennel`s instructions to focus on the next game only.
"You never want to count your eggs before they`re hatched," Shaffer said. "We gotta win the next game. If we continue to win games, we`re not going to have anything to worry about."
The same could`ve been said before last week`s trip to the desert to face the short-handed Cardinals. But the Browns played their sloppiest game since the opening loss to Pittsburgh and gave away their one-game lead in the playoff chase.
"It`s real frustrating," linebacker Antwan Peek said. "We know how crucial each game is. Things are too critical.
"A lot of people don`t have these opportunities. We have to seize this moment."
The Browns will once again rely on the resilience they`ve shown all season. They haven`t lost consecutive games, which is quite a transformation for a team that had gone four years without back-to-back wins until breaking the string in October.
"We just all believe in each other," Shaffer said. "You`re not going to win every game and you can`t do anything about the past. All you can do is something about the future. And our future right now is this game, Sunday, versus New York."
The bounce-back principle was first evident in Week 2. The Browns held a players-only meeting following the 34-7 debacle versus Pittsburgh, rallied behind Anderson and outscored Cincinnati 51-45. They proved it wasn`t a fluke by recovering from difficult losses to Oakland, New England and Pittsburgh to win in Weeks 4, 6 and 11.
"Our confidence level stays high," center Hank Fraley said. "We trust in each other.
"We know we`re a better team than the week before. We screwed up last week, let`s make it right this week."
The Browns have shown the ability to rally within games and a season, but Fraley would like to take a detour on the road of least resistance.
"Good teams have got to be able to go on the road and win," he said. "This week hopefully we can right that ship, start fast and actually finish a game on the road. We haven`t played a complete game this year.
"Hopefully this week we can start it and you don`t ever have to ask these questions again."
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.