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Stop the presses: Browns shoot for over .500 record
The Cleveland Browns are enjoying their best season in more than 10 years, and with one game left they still have much to accomplish.
The Browns close out the season on Sunday in Baltimore. The game is infinitely more important to the Ravens. If they win, they are AFC North champions. If the Browns beat them, the Ravens would need the Bengals to beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh to back into the AFC North title.
Though a playoff spot isn't on the line for Cleveland, the Browns are not going to mail this one in. They are 7-7-1. Winning would give them their first winning record since they were 10-6 in 2007. It would give them their first series sweep of the Ravens since beating them twice, not coincidentally, in 2007.
"They've played well all year long," Browns interim head coach Gregg Williams said. "They're playing great team ball in complementary fashion. We have our work cut out for us.
"It's going to be a fist fight. It's going to be a tough hard-nosed battle. It reminds me of a lot of the old-school games that have been in this league a long time."
Browns rookie running back Nick Chubb needs 28 yards to reach 1,000. Rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield needs two touchdown passes to tie the rookie record of 26 set by Peyton Manning (Colts) in 1998 and tied by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in 2012.
Mayfield would like the record only if the Browns beat the Bengals in the process.
Last week, Mayfield issued a challenge to his teammates, saying anyone who wasn't all in for the final two games should clear out of town and not show up. The Browns responded by beating the Bengals, 26-18, last Sunday.
There is no sign anyone in the Browns locker room is just going through the motions in practice, meeting rooms or games, but Mayfield felt compelled to issue a similar challenge to his teammates this week. So, Mayfield was asked, does he suspect some players are some players mailing it in?
"No, but I'm not going to say things just to correct them," Mayfield said. "You have to say it to set the standard. You have to say it to make sure we have the exact same team every week.
"A team that we talk about needs to progress every week, get better every week. There are reasons why I say those things."
The Browns are heading into their final game relatively healthy, which is more than they can usually say in late December. The one exception, however, is a big one; cornerback Denzel Ward sustained his second concussion in three weeks when he was knocked woozy in the game with the Bengals. Five days before the injury he was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl team.
Ward did not practice Wednesday. The concern for him goes beyond the final game. There is reason to worry about how long his career will last if he has more concussions. Interim head coach Gregg Williams says Ward has to change his tackling style.
"It's an important part of taking a look at how everything goes," Williams said. "You have to understand who you're playing against. You can't be up that high anymore on those kinds of people. He can't be up there."
Williams said the same thing when Ward was injured in preseason. He said it is imperative Ward goes low to make a tackle. Ward was injured making a shoulder-high hit on Bengals tight end C.J. Uzomah.
SERIES HISTORY: 40th regular season meeting. Ravens lead series, 29-10. The Browns beat the Ravens, 12-9, in overtime on Oct. 7. It was the Browns' first victory over an AFC North opponent since they beat the Ravens 33-30 in Baltimore on Oct. 11, 2015.