Browns, Jags try to get back in race

Published 11:15 pm Saturday, October 25, 2008

The Cleveland Browns and Jacksonville Jaguars began the season talking about getting to the playoffs and maybe making a run at the Super Bowl.

Now, they’d settle for getting back in their division races.

The Browns (2-4) lost their first three games and trail Pittsburgh by three games in the AFC Central. The Jaguars (3-3) have won three of four since an 0-2 start, but find themselves three games behind unbeaten Tennessee in the AFC South.

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Even though both teams realize there’s plenty of football left, they know the loser of Sunday’s game in Jacksonville could end up in an even bigger hole.

‘‘We got off to a rough start, so we’re trying to focus and see if we can somehow win a game to stay close in this race,’’ Cleveland coach Romeo Crennel said.

The Browns looked like they had turned a corner by pounding the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants 35-14 two weeks ago, but they followed with a 14-11 loss at Washington in which the offense sputtered for the fifth time in six games.

Derek Anderson has thrown for more than 170 yards just once, against the Giants. Jamal Lewis hasn’t had a 100-yard rushing game. And the defense has given up more than 350 yards three times, including the last two games, and has mostly been gouged on the ground.

‘‘The common thread is when we don’t execute, generally we lose,’’ Crennel said.

The Browns can’t afford to keep losing, either.

‘‘We all know that,’’ center Hank Fraley said. ‘‘There are a couple teams that have kind of separated themselves from the pack. There’s a lot of teams that are 4-3, 3-3 and 2-4, so it a big hill for us to stay there and try to get to 3-4, to stay with the pack and don’t keep getting pushed back behind the leader.

‘‘It’s definitely a big game for us in Jacksonville. It’s an AFC game. We know when it comes down to the end there is a lot of tiebreakers at stake.’’

Jacksonville also had a big win two weeks ago, although it has since been diminished. The Jaguars manhandled Denver on the road, rolling up 416 yards of offense and forcing three turnovers in a 24-17 victory. But New England looked even better against the Broncos last week, creating some speculation that Jacksonville’s most complete win of the season might not be all that impressive.

Still, it got the Jags to .500 and allowed them to enjoy the bye week. Now, with center Brad Meester (biceps), guard Chris Naeole (knee), safety Reggie Nelson (knee) and cornerback Drayton Florence (groin) returning from injuries, and with some closure in the Richard Collier shooting case — Collier has been released from the hospital and a suspect arrested — coach Jack Del Rio believes his team is capable of making a run after ‘‘surviving an early-season storm capable of ruining a team.’’