CINCINNATI – The Browns now have enough talent, confidence and belief in each other that they can say they’re going to kick an opponent’s ass and actually back it up.
They are tired of being disrespected, as strong safety Jabrill Peppers declared after Sunday’s stunning 35-20 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium snapped a 25-game road losing streak.
They are through with their role as the laughingstock of the league, a title they’ve held for the last 20 years, written off as an automatic win on their opponents’ schedules. They are 4-6-1 with five games remaining, just won back-to-back games for the first time since 2014 and have an outside shot at the playoffs.
They are tired of being trash-talked and being questioned when they talk back.
“Before the game, they said, ‘How you all talking? You play for the Browns,’ ” Peppers said. “What does that even mean? We’re an NFL team. We don’t have the worst record in the league. We’re a tough team to beat, go watch the film. The only teams that really got the best of us were the Steelers, KC and the Chargers.”
For those who haven’t been watching, the Browns have taken on the swagger of their quarterback, rookie Baker Mayfield. They have responded to the “focus, discipline and responsibility” mantra being emphasized by interim coach Gregg Williams. They are coming together, fighting for each other, and were not afraid to admit they were miffed that coach Hue Jackson jumped to their “cross-town rival” Bengals, as left guard Joel Bitonio put it, after being fired for posting a 3-36-1 record with the Browns.
“He’s trying to find work in the NFL which is understandable, but … it’s someone that you’ve been going to battle with for 40 games and now he’s part of the enemy,” Bitonio said.
There were times in the past when the Browns’ toughness was questioned, and rightly so. Since 1999, they haven’t had a quarterback with Mayfield’s moxie. Even when they grabbed a lead, they didn’t have enough inner strength to finish. If they had a knack, it was for making a penalty, turnover or other mental gaffe at the most inopportune time.
That seems like another rap on the Browns now being thrown aside.
Free safety Damarious Randall provided the ultimate test on Friday, stirring up a quiet week with all the bulletin board material the Bengals needed.
“If they don’t have A.J. (Green), they’re getting their ass beat,” Randall said, referring to the Bengals’ seven-time Pro Bowl receiver.
Green was inactive with a toe injury, which put Randall on the spot. But instead of wilting under the self-created pressure, the Browns jumped out to a 28-0 second-quarter lead, scoring their most first-half points since Dec. 1, 1991, against the Indianapolis Colts.
Randall played a part, picking off a pass with 9:09 left in the second quarter to set up a touchdown, then walking up to Jackson on the Bengals sideline and handing him the intercepted ball.
Most Browns were aware of what Randall said on Friday and were willing to back him up.
“That’s our teammate, we’re going to play for him,” running back Nick Chubb said. “He made the statement, so we had to go out there and show that he was right.”
Randall insisted he didn’t feel he had to come up big, putting the focus on the team.
“Nah, man, I know what’s in this locker room,” Randall said. “Everybody in the world knows what our record is supposed to be. People are kind of realizing now when they’re playing us late in the season and the team is jelling together and everybody has each other’s backs, everybody is fighting through stuff like that.
“The way we’re starting to click together, the way we’re starting to know each other. … This team is very scary right now. I feel very good about each and every game.”
When asked if he wanted to take it to Jackson for giving the Bengals their state secrets, Randall said, “We ain’t got no secrets. We’re talented, that’s the secret.”
Until that talent is recognized, and perhaps when it is, the Browns will keep sharpening the chip on their shoulders. They will occasionally talk too much, but instead of yapping at their own, they will yap at those who question it because they believe the days of the downtrodden Browns are done.
The next opponent to ask, “How you all talking? You play for the Browns” may get the same 28-point pie in the face that Jackson and the Bengals were splattered with Sunday.
ABOUT THE WRITER Marla Ridenour is a columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal.
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