Browns end soft part of schedule with Bucs

Published 11:29 am Sunday, November 2, 2014

CLEVELAND (AP) — Finally, the Browns don’t have to worry about the embarrassment of losing to a winless team.

Just to a nearly winless team.

After facing Jacksonville and Oakland the past two weeks, teams who entered their matchup with Cleveland still looking for their initial wins this season, the Browns will face one-win Tampa Bay on Sunday.

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The Buccaneers (1-6) don’t post a major threat on paper, but Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer knows better than to take any team lightly.

“I don’t underestimate anyone in anyway,” Hoyer said. “This is the National Football League, everybody is good. The coaches are good and sometimes it’s just a few bad breaks here and there. And yeah, your record might not be so good, but you have good players and a good scheme. You can’t underestimate anyone.”

Certainly not the Browns (4-3).

They learned that the hard way two weeks ago when they were outplayed across the board on the road by the Jaguars.

Cleveland nearly fell into a similar trap last week at home against the still 0-for-2014 Raiders before getting a big play from its defense and grinding out a 23-13 win.

The Bucs complete the “easy” portion of Cleveland’s schedule, a three-game section the Browns needed to take advantage of to stay close in the thick of the AFC North race.

First-year coach Mike Pettine has seen progress in his Browns, who have already matched their entire win total from last season. Cleveland has had stretches of dominance and maddening intervals of ineptitude.

Pettine’s been preaching to his players to worry more about themselves and not the guys lined up across from them.

“We try not to get wrapped up in the opponent,” he said. “We just assume we’re going to get their best and if you look at the rosters there are some real good football players in all three phases on the Bucs roster, just as there was with Oakland and as there was with Jacksonville.”

“We’re not at the point where we can just show up for a game and expect good results. We are still learning a new system and I really like to challenge our guys. Yeah, it’s about the opponent, but it’s also about you versus your grade sheet. We’re trying to get a plus on every play and things will work out when you do that. That’s pretty much our mentality.”

Win or lose, the Browns won’t have time to dwell on their game with Tampa Bay. They’re in Cincinnati four nights later.

Here are some other things to keep in mind when the Browns try to improve to 4-1 at home:

MAD RUSH: Pro Bowl center Alex Mack’s season-ending injury is hurting Cleveland’s running game. The Browns were held to 39 yards last week and 69 the previous week. With Mack out, defenses are stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run and to this point Cleveland’s revamped offensive line isn’t clicking.

“The longer they work, the more cohesion they have the more things get better,” running back Ben Tate said. “I feel like it can only get better.”

NO QB CHANGE: Despite ranking 32nd in total offense and 27th in scoring, the Bucs are sticking with Mike Glennon at quarterback. Glennon has started the past four games, going 1-3 while filling in for injured Josh McCown, a career backup brought during the offseason to be the starter.

McCown has been sidelined with an injured right thumb since getting hurt during a 42-point loss to Atlanta. The 12th-year pro was active last week for the first time since Sept. 18, but did not play against Minnesota. He’s still listed No. 1 on the depth chart.

HOME COOKING: The offseason renovations at FirstEnergy Stadium have helped the Browns establish a home-field advantage. New state-of-the-art scoreboards and a sound system have enhanced the game-day experience for Browns fans, whose constant roar has forced opponents into 10 procedural penalties and forced them to burn timeouts.

BIG TARGETS: Browns backup QB Johnny Manziel’s favorite target in college, Mike Evans, was the seventh overall pick in this year’s draft by Tampa Bay. He has at least four receptions in each of the six games and is second on the team with 25 catches for 336 yards and two TDs — just behind another 6-foot-5, 230-pound target, veteran Vincent Jackson (26-337, 2 TDs). Add 6-7 rookie TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins, who had his first TD catch last week, and the Bucs have an NBA-ready rotation of receivers.

JOHNNY NO FOOTBALL: Manziel has been patient while backing up Hoyer, making the most of his handful of snaps on the field. But Pettine knows the former Heisman Trophy winner is itching to play.

“To go from being the guy at A&M, that’s a tough thing as the reality of the season has clearly set in,” Pettine said. “But at the same time, we make sure that he’s preparing like a starter. It can happen in the span of one play. He has to be ready to go, he has to be prepared and there’s no reason to think that he’s not.”


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