There is no need to read it twice: The Cleveland Browns are in first place in the AFC North, all by themselves.
That’s the result of an impressive win Thursday over Cincinnati and of Rex Ryan doing his old friend and defensive coordinator Mike Pettine a huge favor Sunday. Ryan’s Jets shocked the Pittsburgh Steelers, which moved Pettine’s Browns into first.
If it feels odd, it’s because it has been two decades since this happened at this point of the season.
The last time the Browns were in first place in the division after 10 weeks of the season was 1994. That happened in the Bill Belichick days, before the team moved out of town and took three years off.
The last time they were in sole possession of first place at any point in the season was Sept. 25, 1995.
It didn’t take long for the realization to dawn on players, as free safety Tashaun Gipson posted this on Twitter shortly after the Steelers loss:
Week 10? He’ll take it. As will a fan base that is growing in confidence every week with its team.
If the season ended today -- and of course, it doesn’t -- the Browns would be hosting a first-round playoff game.
Pettine addressed the excitement by saying on Friday that he had already seen a “major overreaction” to the decisive win over the Bengals, but he also said he would not hide from the “playoff” word. He would merely urge his team to remember what it did to get to the point it could think about the playoffs.
“Hopefully our guys know better,” Pettine said about getting too caught up. “But I’ll help remind them that we’re still in the National Football League. It’s one game at a time. We have the whole offseason to sit back and reflect on what we did well and the wins and the better moments we’ve had.”
Pettine’s motto to his team when training camp began was this: Why not us?
He pointed out the teams that had gone from worst to first in the past decade, and asked "Why not us?"
The players bought in, and through 10 weeks and nine games, they have made it work.
With seven games to go, for the first time in a long time the Browns can truly say they control their destiny.