Browns still cling to playoff hopes
The Cleveland Browns need a minor miracle to make the playoffs this season, but the players, coaches and executives who were members of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2008 know anything is possible.
Of the teams that remained in the hunt for a playoff spot entering the final weekend of that season, the Eagles had the lowest odds, but they qualified with help from around the NFL. Browns general manager Tom Heckert, who held the same role with the Eagles at the time, remembers monitoring the scoreboard before the start of Philadelphia's Sunday night home game against the Dallas Cowboys on Dec. 28, 2008.
The Oakland Raiders upset the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Houston Texans defeated the Chicago Bears and the Eagles punched their ticket to the postseason by thrashing the Cowboys, 44-6, and finishing with a record of 9-6-1, good enough for a wild card. The Eagles eventually advanced to the NFC Championship Game and fell to the Arizona Cardinals.
“When I was in Philly, we were going through the same thing,” said Browns defensive end Juqua Parker, who played for the Eagles from 2005-11. “We had to have all types of things to happen, but they all happened and we made it to the playoffs. The sky is the limit.”
For the Browns (5-8) to continue to flirt with an improbable wild-card berth of their own, they must prevail in all three of their remaining games and catch several other breaks.
They hope to extend their winning streak to four games when they face the Washington Redskins (7-6) at 1 p.m. Sunday in the final game of the season at Cleveland Browns Stadium. The Browns' last two games this year will be on the road — Dec. 23 against the Denver Broncos (10-3) and Dec. 30 against the Steelers (7-6).
“It's exciting enough just to be in the position we're in right now,” middle linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. “I think every guy in this locker room is walking with a fire up under their tail right now because of the sense of urgency. Just to be entertaining that word — playoffs — it means a lot for this organization and for the Cleveland community.”
If the Browns earn their sixth win in their past nine games and improve to 5-3 at home by triumphing over the Redskins, they'll pay close attention to the Steelers' road game against the Cowboys, which will start at 4:25 p.m. Sunday. For the Browns to stay mathematically alive heading into next weekend, they would need the Steelers to lose to the Cowboys (7-6). Then the Browns would need the Steelers to defeat the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) on Dec. 23 to avoid elimination before their regular-season finale at Pittsburgh.
The Browns, though, aren't getting caught up in the seemingly never-ending series of scenarios because none of them will matter if they don't win out.
“Anytime you have a chance to play more football and guarantee you can go to the playoffs, the magnitude that would be for the city, the magnitude it would be for these fans, the locker room, it gives you a little extra something to strive for and makes you focus in and really prepare well throughout the week,” rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “And that's really our only mindset. (We'll) go out and play well on Sunday. And then how it all falls, we can only control winning. There's got to be a lot of things that happen, but we can control winning, and that's it.”
One key to the game for the Browns will be whether Redskins rookie sensation Robert Griffin III plays after mildly spraining the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee last week against the Baltimore Ravens.
Griffin, the second overall pick in this year's draft, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday through Friday and is listed as questionable on the injury report. If Griffin cannot play, rookie fourth-round pick Kirk Cousins will start at quarterback.
“(Griffin) just happens to be significantly more gifted than most,” defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said. “But we've got to try to play as fast as we can possibly play. Otherwise, you don't have any chance at all.”