Fans will have reason to party if Browns win at Phoenix
December was supposed to be where the season went to die.
Instead, the current stretch of four road trips in five games could leave Browns fans partying like it’s 1989. Today’s road game against the Cardinals is like last week’s home game against Houston -- the reward is bigger than the opponent.
Beating the Cardinals gets Cleveland to 8-4, crossing the line from playoff contender to playoff favorite. Dispatching Houston put the Browns one game up on Tennessee for the last wild-card spot.
Joe Jurevicius thinks last week’s fifth straight win on Lake Erie will help today in the desert.
“It’s a cliché -- you must protect this house -- but it’s true,” the tall receiver said. “Games you win at home not only get the fans involved, but they give you a little momentum when you go on the road.”
The Browns have played at Arizona just once in the expansion era, in 2000. The Cardinals were pitiful, and the reincarnated Browns were in honeymoon mode. Sun Devil Stadium was loud with Browns fans as Travis Prentice, in his only NFL awakening, led Cleveland to a first-half lead.
The Cardinals won; the league yawned.
Now, both teams are in playoff races. The Cardinals are 5-6, but that’s OK in the NFC.
In six games since losing at New England, the Browns’ only loss was at Pittsburgh.
“We’re not where we need to be yet,” Jurevicius said, “but we’re adding another level of bricks to the house.”
If young Derek Anderson outduels two-time MVP Kurt Warner, he could move toward being a cornerstone. The Browns probably won’t keep Anderson and Brady Quinn beyond 2008, and they’ll listen to trade offers all winter.
“Every time we win a game, the next game gets a little bigger (for Anderson),” General Manager Phil Savage said. “Those are the games they are probably going to focus on if they’re actually studying him around the league.”
After today, the Browns finish against the Jets, Bills, Bengals and 49ers.
“Certainly outside the building, these are going to be focus games (regarding Anderson),” Savage said. “Internally, we’re anxious to see how he does and how our team does in the final five games.”
Getting to four games over .500 would leave fans giddy. A touch of gloom would accompany a fall to 7-5.
The Cardinals have been hard on the AFC North under first-year Head Coach Ken Whisenhunt. They lost to Baltimore on a last-second field goal, beat Pittsburgh, where Whisenhunt was offensive coordinator last year, and won at Cincinnati two Sundays ago.
Arizona is just 2-4 since the 36-year-old Warner replaced injured Matt Leinart.
Browns guard Ryan Tucker speaks reverently of Warner, with whom he went to two Super Bowls while playing for the Rams.
“He’s an amazing player and amazing man,” Tucker said.
Whisenhunt doesn’t fawn. “You never want to envision that your backup is going to end up starting for you,” he said. “(Warner) does have a history. We’re starting to understand some of the things that he likes, and he’s starting to get a feel for our receivers.”
Arizona’s 37-31 overtime loss to the 49ers last Sunday had an OK Corral feel. Two of the Browns’ last three wins have been 33-30 in OT.
Anybody smell a shootout?
“I’m sure the fans would love that,” Braylon Edwards said. “We just want a W.”
Reach Repository sports writer Steve Doerschuk at (330) 580-8347 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Browns (7-4) at Cardinals (5-6)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m. EST
Venue: University of Phoenix Stadium, capacity 65,000, retractable-roof dome, grass.
Cardinals’ last three: Beat Detroit 31-21, won at Cincinnati 35-27, lost to San Francisco 37-31 (OT).
Browns’ last three: Lost at Pittsburgh 31-28, won at Baltimore 33-30 in OT, beat Houston 27-17.
Line: Cardinals by 1.
TV: CBS, Dan Dierdorf, Greg Gumbel.
Browns vs. Arizona: No. 16 run offense (107.8 yards a game) vs. No. 15 run defense (101.1). No. 11 pass offense (243.4) vs. No. 20 pass defense (216.6).
Cardinals vs. Cleveland: No. 27 run offense (87.6) vs. No. 28 run defense (131.4). No. 10 pass offense (246.2) vs. No. 30 pass defense (266.5).
Scoreboard: The Browns are outscoring opponents, on average, 28.6-28.3. The Cardinals are outscoring foes 23.5-23.1.
QB vs. QB: Cleveland’s Derek Anderson ranks second in the NFL in yards per completion, 13.01. Arizona’s Kurt Warner ranks third at 12.72. Anderson ranks No. 4 with 22 TD passes and No. 9 with 2,758 passing yards. Warner is 2-4 as the starter since replacing injured Matt Leinart. Warner ranks No. 7 in NFL passer rating at 90.8. Anderson is No. 11 at 89.5.
Trump Cards: Cardinals coach Kid Whisenhunt says his team is prepared to face Cleveland’s big, talented receivers: “They are big guys, but our Larry Fitzgerald is a big guy, and Anquan Boldin is a 220-pound wideout. So it’s not like we haven’t seen big receivers.”
The run-down: Arizona’s Edgerrin James ranks No. 8 with 808 rushing yards. Cleveland’s Jamal Lewis is No. 11 with 741 yards. But ... the Browns lead the Cardinals 1,186-964 in team rushing yards and 4.1-3.5 in per-carry average.
NFL-ranked Browns: Lewis ranks No. 3 with eight rushing TDs. Braylon Edwards ranks No. 3 with 11 receiving TDs and No. 6 with 894 receiving yards. Kellen Winslow Jr. ranks No. 1 among tight ends with 874 receiving yards. Joe Jurevicius ranks No. 3 with 22 third-down catches.
New York, New York: The Browns fly to play the Jets next Sunday before returning home to face Buffalo.