Plenty of doubts remain about the Cleveland Browns, from the quarterback through the running game to the team’s overall depth.
But the Browns played one of their most complete games in a long time in the win over the Baltimore Ravens. The offense played well and overcame a nonexistent running game to score 24 points. The defense swarmed and harassed Joe Flacco all game and did not let the Ravens run at all. Special teams was strong, with punter Spencer Lanning especially effective.
In the week leading up to the game the Browns talked with a swagger that seemed undeserving of their stature as a team. Then they went out and played as if that swagger was justified.
Rob Chudzinski was with the Miami Hurricanes in their heydey, and they combined swagger with an arrogance that promised they would never walk into a stadium believeing losing was a possibility. They reveled in their swagger, with dances and poses and hijinks.
Chudzinski said his vision of swagger isn’t posturing or posing, it’s playing with confidence.
“In my opinion it’s the confidence you’ve built through preparation,” Chudzinski said. “It’s something you want your guys to have. There’s a fine line of playing with that intensity, playing with that swagger and playing on the edge, which is a great place to be. But you have to be able to not cross that line and stay under control.”
The Browns have talked a good game for a long time, but never backed it up. As Chudzinski said after beating the Ravens at some point a team has to go out and do it.
In the win over Baltimore they went out and did it.
And in doing it they seemed to gain much that could help them the final seven games. They gained more respect for a quarterback who played through pain and played well en route to a victory. They gained belief in their defense, whose coach had said his unit would come together the past two and next two games and would be a different unit by Thanksgiving -- and is doing just that.
And they seemed to gain respect and appreciation for the aggressive approach of their head coach, whose attitude is not to play to manage the game, but to play to win. It is an approach that has seemed long lost in this city with this team.
To call the Browns a playoff contender at this point is probably a bit much. They are not even a .500 team yet.
But in the prism of expectations a 4-5 start for the Browns is reason for hope.
And for some reason, this season feels a little different than others. It could come from their coach, or their persistence, or both. They have shown the ability to keep after it despite trading their starting running back and using three quarterbacks.
Maybe Sunday’s win over Baltimore means a little more than just a win. But combined with the effort in Kansas City to nearly upset the undefeated Chiefs, it shows growth and arrival and that something is coming together.
Maybe for these Browns, the past six quarters are the start of something positive. At last.