Browns already in must-win situation

Jake Delhomme and the Browns are in a must-win situation after blowing a 14-3 lead against the Buccaneers in Week 1. Kim Klement/US Presswire

BEREA, Ohio -- If the Cleveland Browns can lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they can lose to just about anybody. And considering their next eight opponents include only one team that didn't have a winning record in 2009, the Browns (0-1) desperately need a win Sunday when they play host to the Kansas City Chiefs (1-0).

The Browns are a slight favorite, but Cleveland may not be favored to win another game until late November. The killer stretch starts Sept. 26 with the first of back-to-back division games against the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals, and ends Nov. 14 against the New York Jets, who advanced to the AFC title game last season. The Chiefs, 4-12 last season, upset defending AFC West champion San Diego in Week 1.

And here's an ugly stat for Browns fans: Cleveland is 1-10 in home openers since returning to the NFL in 1999.

"If you can get that first win at home -- I know we haven’t done that since I've been here -- but I think it really helps build that momentum in the right direction," said Cleveland Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, who's in his fourth season in the league.

The Browns, who won four straight to end the 2009 season, lost all momentum after last week's loss to the Buccaneers. Cleveland, up 14-3 at one point, was scoreless in the second half. The loss plunged the Browns to last in ESPN.com's latest NFL Power Rankings.

It's no secret that Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini entered the year on the hot seat. New president Mike Holmgren took over the Browns in December and kept Mangini on board to see if the team could improve in the second year under his program. After going 5-11 last season, Mangini must win at least two or three more games to show quality progress.

Holmgren said this offseason that it's up to him and general manager Tom Heckert to "set the table" and allow Mangini to successfully coach the team. Holmgren has lived up to his word so far by generally staying out of coaching matters. But Holmgren is an intense competitor who is eager to build a winner in Cleveland. His patience will wear thin, especially if the Browns are winless after the first month or two of the season.

"I don't think I'm any more patient in trying to provide a winning atmosphere. I think there has to be an urgency in developing that," Holmgren said this offseason. "How I present that to the people around me, that'll be a little bit of a trick. But understand this, I want to do this and I don't want to wait forever."

The Browns weren't expected to be a playoff team this season. A loss to Kansas City would almost assure that the playoffs wouldn't be possible. According to ESPN's Stats & Information, since the NFL expanded its postseason to 12 teams in 1990, only 22 of 169 clubs (13 percent) made the playoffs after starting 0-2.

"That's not a thought in my head," said Browns fullback Lawrence Vickers when asked about the importance of not falling to 0-2.

Not helping matters is Cleveland's shaky quarterback situation. Browns starter Jake Delhomme suffered a right ankle injury against the Bucs but continued to play. His two interceptions helped the Buccaneers come from behind. Mangini said a decision on a starter will not be made until the end of the week. But Delhomme is in a walking boot and missed practice Wednesday and Thursday. Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace has received all the first-team reps.

"I have tremendous faith in Seneca and I have really enjoyed getting to know him, watching him play, seeing the things that he can do," Mangini said. "It's not the type of situation where you have to dramatically change the offense. When he goes in, he's got a really good understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish."