Todd Porter: Browns control their playoff destiny

Todd Porter

On a cold, rainy night and his team teetering between disaster and brilliance, Randy Lerner could hardly contain himself.

The owner of the Cleveland Browns, the man who’s seen so much go so wrong on his watch, didn’t know whether to leave his owner’s suite or stay put. His common-man pants, after all, were bringing the Browns enough luck parked right where he was.

Then -- in the New York minute Lerner is all too familiar with – it changed.

Jamal Lewis, a powder keg, squirted through the line of scrimmage and arm tackles like he was suds on a shower wall and Lerner could breathe again.


Lerner’s hands pounded the table in front of him.

“I didn’t see it, but I heard it,” General Manager Phil Savage said, finally allowing a smile to cross his face. “He was a little excited, I guess.”

In the short elevator ride from the suite to the field, Lerner watched a win get tighter and tighter.

“I don’t know if leaving (the suite) was such a good idea,” he said with a wide smile. This one, on this season where so much has gone so right, was in the bag.

The Browns are inching toward a playoff berth. Sunday at The Meadowlands they almost buried their chances along with the rest of the dead bodies. It wasn’t like Cleveland beat the Jets, 24-18, and hung on for dear life as much as they couldn’t swat the annoying fly at a picnic.

“It didn’t need to be this close,” a Browns executive said on his way into the locker room.

Can you imagine for a second here what this season is starting to play out like? Cleveland Karma exists every bit as much as Virginia’s Santa Claus.

Minutes before the Browns and Jets kicked off, Savage and other team suits sat near a TV and watched another game in the NFL that mattered to the Browns. The last time Cleveland watched another game in December it was about draft position.

Now they’re watching for playoff position.

San Diego, down to Tennessee most of Sunday, was making a comeback. The Chargers needed a fourth-down completion that was being reviewed by officials to go their way. So did the Browns. Cleveland needed the Titans to lose.

Savage looked at the replay with interest. He shook his head. He didn’t like the odds.

Officials disagreed. It was a catch. The Chargers went on to tie the game, then deliver a Christmas present to Cleveland two weeks early. The Titans all but eliminated themselves from a wild card berth.

By virtue of that game and their own win, the Browns control their playoff destiny. That’s the difference a week makes.

Winning ugly is better than losing pretty. Sunday night in Jersey wasn’t a beauty contest, what with the Jets being, well the Jets and all. Eric Mangini has gone from smelling like a rose to smelling like the Hudson.

Field goals and onside kicks? That’s a Manhattan card game. The Browns? They’re looking like a sure thing. Are they good enough to win a playoff game? What’s the point of getting there if you’re not ready, right?

“We’re not even talking about the playoffs,” veteran linebacker Willie

McGinest said. “Our playoffs is against Buffalo next week.”

He’s right. The Bills need a win to put Cleveland back where it was before New York.

Cleveland’s defense is inconsistent, at best. For more than three quarters, the Browns defense played like a playoff defense. Then they let New York march down the field on a nine-play, 69-yard drive and score to make it a 17-12 game with 2:59 left. And they let them do it again and again to make this game seem closer than it was.

New York was playing with Kellen Clemens throwing the ball, not Roger.

“We made plays when plays needed to be made,” wide receiver Braylon Edwards said. “Our offense stepped up and did things necessary to win a game. ... Jamal (Lewis) broke loose like a mad man and scored a touchdown.”

Playoff teams scratch out a sloppy win in sloppy weather, and they’re damn proud of it. That’s what the Browns’ locker room looked like Sunday.

But Romeo Crennel treats the playoff talk like some kind of old wives jinx.

Players won’t bite.

“You guys are crafty with the way you word things,” Edwards said when he was asked if the team views itself as being playoff worthy.

“We feel good about our team,” he said. “We feel we do a lot of things well. We feel as though we can compete with anybody.”

Edwards, though, admitted to watching the scoreboard. Tennessee’s loss was final midway through the first quarter. Edwards noticed.

“That was huge for us,” he said. “That puts us back to where we were before last week.”

Which is a team growing comfortable with their new skin, and karma.

Reach Repository sports writer Todd Porter at (330) 580-8340 or e-mail