CLEVELAND — Derek Anderson is new to this. So are Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. The starting secondary, too.
The Browns stand on the brink of the playoffs, needing a win today over Buffalo and a Tennessee loss at Kansas City to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002. The only holdovers are guard Ryan Tucker, linebacker Andra Davis, kicker Phil Dawson, defensive end Orpheus Roye and backup tight end Steve Heiden.
“I haven’t been a part of it,” cornerback Leigh Bodden said. “It’s exciting.”
As the excitement builds, so does the pressure. The Browns (8-5) control their playoff destiny and are a 51/2-point favorite to beat Buffalo (7-6) — and most of their key contributors have never felt the weight of expectations at this level.
Anderson, the biggest reason for the turnaround this season, has come back to earth after an otherworldly start, but still ranks among the league leaders in touchdowns and yards. A young team in unfamiliar territory will surely look to the quarterback for comfort.
“He’s handled the pressure to this point, so that makes me believe that he can handle whatever pressure is coming,” coach Romeo Crennel said.
Crennel pointed to Anderson’s five-touchdown day when he was given the starting job in Week 2 as proof. He also said Anderson’s personality is an asset.
“He doesn’t have the shakes. He isn’t all tight,” Crennel said. “But he knows it’s important and he knows it’s serious.”
Anderson was asked a serious question about what he does on a Sunday morning to deal with the pressure.
“I get up and have some coffee,” he said.
When the question was asked again, Anderson got about as serious as he can get.
“The biggest thing is staying yourself,” he said. “When other guys see you getting flustered, then they get flustered. I try to keep it light with them. You’re breeding confidence through yourself to them.”
A supportive, raucous crowd should help. The Browns have won five straight along the lake and have the chance to win seven home games in a season (the 49ers visit in the finale) for the first time in franchise history.
“Playing at home this year has been phenomenal,” Edwards said. “The fans have given us a lot of energy. A lot of plays that we’ve made have been off their spark.”
The fans should be in full voice for the biggest home game since the Browns beat Atlanta in the 2002 finale.
“The city deserves this,” said receiver and Northeast Ohio native Joe Jurevicius, wearing an Indians hat and a Browns sweatshirt.
Jurevicius is one of a handful of free agents signed to bring veteran leadership and playoff experience to a franchise that had forgotten how to win. Running back Jamal Lewis also fits the bill, and could be counted on heavily in the wintry weather.
“I love playing at home,” he said. “I love the fans here. They are totally different. We owe a lot of our success to our fans.”
Davis was a rookie reserve in 2002 and assumed reaching the postseason was just a part of life in the NFL. Five years later he’s desperate to get back.
“It’s definitely a lot of fun to be in the situation we’re in,” he said.
The Bills are nearly as surprising a playoff contender as the Browns. They lost their first three games, turned to a rookie quarterback, have the 28th-ranked offense and 30th-ranked defense and have 13 players on injured reserve.
Four of Buffalo’s wins have come against the Jets (3-10) and Dolphins (0-13) and it hasn’t beaten a team that currently has a winning record. But the Bills are just a win over the Browns from being tied for the second AFC wild-card spot.
“You have two teams with similar records, they are neck and neck and both teams will be fighting for their lives,” Crennel said. “It should be one of those knock-down, drag-out kinds of games.”
And it may be played in constant snow and 20 mph winds. That could reduce the impact of the pass — a disadvantage for the Browns, who rank 11th in passing offense, compared with 28th for the Bills – and increase the importance of special teams.
“I’m pumped up,” returner Joshua Cribbs said. “It’s a challenge for me. It’s going to be a field-position game.”
The Browns haven’t controlled their playoff destiny this late in the season since returning in 1999. When they made it as a wild card under Butch Davis in 2002, they needed a lot of help on the final day. Tucker said that’s part of the reason this season is more fun.
“We had to have a miracle from God almost to get in, and it happened,” he said. “I’m enjoying this season. I’m proud to be a Brown. It’s exciting.”
It’ll be even more exciting if they’re able to handle the pressure.
Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7135 or firstname.lastname@example.org.