Browns stagger into spotlight

Published 11:53 am Monday, October 13, 2008

CLEVELAND (AP) — Braylon Edwards left his first Monday night game angry at the world.

He had gone to the Pontiac Silverdome in 1995 as an excitable seventh grader with dreams of playing in the NFL. He sat in the stands with his dad expecting to see a rout.

A huge fan of the San Francisco 49ers, he was sure Steve Young and Jerry Rice would hook up for several touchdown passes and the defending Super Bowl champions would demolish his hometown Detroit Lions.

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‘‘I was thinking, no way in heck they lose to the Lions,’’ Cleveland’s wide receiver said.

Heck happened.

‘‘What do you know?’’ Edwards said. ‘‘(Detroit’s) Herman Moore and Brett Perriman had outstanding games and Barry Sanders went crazy, rushed for about 180 yards. They beat the 49ers up and there I was, mad.’’

Edwards can only hope his Monday night debut as a player goes better. He and the disappointing Browns (1-3) will take the field as enormous underdogs against the unbeaten New York Giants, who will carry an 11-game road winning streak (12 counting the neutral site Super Bowl) into the matchup and who embarrassed Cleveland during the exhibition season.

‘‘This is a dream for me to play on ‘Monday Night Football,’ ‘‘ Edwards said. ‘‘Back to when you were a kid, everybody wants to have three or four touchdowns on it and be player of the game. We’re going to be so pumped up, the first two series we’ll just work on getting rid of the butterflies and try to get everyone going.’’

Going forward would be preferred. To this point, the Browns are crawling — backward.

Bitten savagely by the injury bug, they expected to be their healthiest this season going into the matchup. They were off last week and used the bye to heal various bumps and bruises. Against the Giants, wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, one of Cleveland’s top free agent signings, will likely make his season debut, as will right tackle Ryan Tucker, who underwent hip surgery in May.

But their return to Cleveland’s sputtering offense, which has scored just four touchdowns in four games, could be offset if Pro Bowl tight end Kellen Winslow can’t play. He was released Sunday after spending three nights in the hospital with an undisclosed illness, and was downgraded from questionable to doubtful.

‘‘I hope that he plays, because we need to win and we need our best players there to win,’’ backup Darnell Dinkins said.

It’s been 15 years since the Browns won on Monday night and five years since they appeared there. That’s a long drought in this football-obsessed city where MNF made its debut on Sept. 21, 1970, with a game between Cleveland and the New York Jets.

‘‘Five years?’’ Browns safety Mike Adams said. ‘‘Whew.’’

‘‘Wow,’’ said kick return specialist Joshua Cribbs, also unaware of Cleveland’s dry spell. ‘‘Five years? Wow.’’

Unless the Browns get themselves together quickly, it could be another five years before they get back on national TV. Their reward for a 10-6 season in 2007 was five prime-time appearances — three on Monday night, one on Sunday and one on Thursday — this season. It’s their most since three during the 1989 season.

‘‘We have a lot to prove to the outside world,’’ Edwards said, ‘‘and to ourselves.’’

On paper, it’s a colossal statistical mismatch best underscored by New York’s league-leading average of 31.7 points per game to Cleveland’s 11.5.

‘‘I know that they’re probably not too concerned about coming up here to Cleveland to play,’’ Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. ‘‘But we’re going to try to get ready and give them some concern. They’re a disciplined, solid, sound football team. We’re going to do the best we can to show that we do play some football here and we can get some things right.’’

The Giants may have to guard against overconfidence. In an Aug. 18 exhibition, they embarrassed the Browns, who played as ugly as the awful brown pants they sported.

After taking a 3-0 lead, Cleveland gave up 30 unanswered points in a first-half blizzard of turnovers, kickoff returns and penalties.

‘‘They embarrassed us,’’ Cribbs said. ‘‘That will add an extra chip on our shoulder. We want that win most of all. We’re looking for some payback.’’

The Giants have some extra motivation as well. Comments made by Browns defensive tackle Corey Williams circulated through New York’s locker room this week.

Asked about bruising Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, whom Crennel described as ‘‘an offensive lineman with speed,’’ Williams said the best way to stop the 6-foot-4, 264-pounder was to ‘‘hit him in the mouth from the jump. … I’m going to try and knock his head off.’’

Williams, who played for Green Bay last season and lost to New York in the NFC title game, also took a shot at the Giants’ offensive line by saying, ‘‘There ain’t nothing physical about them.’’

Jacobs shrugged off Williams’ remarks as easily as he discards would-be tacklers.

‘‘Stupid stuff,’’ he said. ‘‘You just have to ignore him and go out and play.’’

The Browns understand that their season could hang in the balance. With upcoming games at Washington and Jacksonville the next two weeks and three more prime-time TV dates, they need a win to restore confidence, cool the heat on Crennel and get their fans to believe.

For several Cleveland players, Monday night represents some affirmation they belong.

‘‘The lights are on,’’ linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. ‘‘If you want to proclaim yourself as a superstar or that big-time player, Monday is the time to do it.’’