CLEVLAND BROWNS (1 p.m. Sunday)
Record: Browns 6-4.
Sunday’s game: Lost to Houston Texans 23-7.
The skinny: After years of bad football since the “Real Browns” left for Baltimore, the “expansion” Browns are finally playing some winning football. There’s been a revival of the Dawg Pound. Players are embracing wearing dog collars, with dog boanes attached and have made the phrase “playing like a Brown” fashionable again.
Series history: The Browns lead 10-3. The Falcons won the last meeting 20-10 back in 2010 on their way to a 13-3 record. Falcons defensive end Kroy Biermann iced the game when he intercepted a Jake Delhomme pass and returned it 31 yards for a touchdown with 4:01 left in the game.
State of the union: The Browns have made a defense-infused climb out of the AFC North basement under first-year coach Mike Pettine. The Browns mashed hated rival Pittsburgh and blasted Cincinnati in the Battle of Ohio. Then they turned around Sunday and lost at home to the Texans. Led by local product, quarterback Brian Hoyer of St. Ignatius High and Michigan State, the Browns are seriously talking about the playoffs for the first time in years. Here’s how Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto summed up the situation: “Play like a Brown. When new coach Mike Pettine used that phrase for his team, it was easy to do the cheap shots. Since 1999, we know exactly what it means to play like a Brown. Here are the numbers: 5-11 or 4-12. But Pettine was persistent. His team, especially his defense, would “play like a Brown.” Some fans had doubts, for good reason. There had been too many coaches, too many coordinators and too many different schemes since the team returned in 1999 — and it all stayed the same. Losing records, rather pathetic defenses. After the first four games this season, the Browns were allowing 26 points a game. Then, it all changed. The Browns smashed the Steelers 31-10 at First Energy Stadium. Pittsburgh’s touchdown came late in the game when the Browns had a 31-3 lead. We should be the hardest-hitting unit on the field. So that’s what it meant to “play like a Brown.” In the five games before facing the Texans, the Browns had allowed only 13 points per game.
Three things: 1) Browns All-Pro wide receiver Josh Gordon is coming off his 10-game drug suspension and will rejoin the team on Monday; 2) The Browns’ defense is built around linebacker Karlos Dansby, cornerback Joe Haden and safety Donte Whitner. Also, cornerback Buster Skrine, of Etowah High and Tennessee-Chattanooga, is having a fine season. However, they lost linebackers Dansby and Jabaal Sheard to leg injuries Sunday; 3) The Browns drafted former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny “Football” Manziel, but he has a new nickname these days. It’s “Johnny Bench” as he’s firmly entrenched as the backup quarterback.
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