KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET, CBS, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
SURFACE: Field Turf
PREDICTION: Browns 24-14
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chiefs are coming off an emotional victory and the Browns have their first winning streak since 2011, but which team can maintain its intensity level? Former Browns QB Brady Quinn had an efficient game for Kansas City, but needs the backing of a strong ground game – especially behind a battered offensive line. Look for RB Jamaal Charles to attack the edges and for another former Brown, Peyton Hillis, to play a key role in short-yardage. Browns QB Brandon Weeden said he has received “better than outstanding” protection – a result of strong blocking and respect paid to RB Trent Richardson. Weeden has the arm and the emerging weapons in Josh Gordon and Greg Little, but must avoid the handful of forced throws he is prone to each game.
FAST FACTS: Quinn was the No. 22 overall pick by the Browns in the 2007 NFL Draft. … The Browns (11 of 29) and Chiefs (10 of 29) have the two lowest red-zone touchdown percentages in the NFL this season.
–ILB Brandon Siler will get his second start at the mike linebacker spot against Cleveland. Siler replaced Jovan Belcher in the No. 1 defense and impressed the coaches with how well he played despite getting no practice time at the position. He missed the 2011 season due to an Achilles injury and had 12 starts at his previous NFL stop in San Diego.
–RB Jamaal Charles has enjoyed his few opportunities to run against the Cleveland defense, going for 203 yards on 36 carries in games played in 2009 and 2010. It was in that ’09 game where he ran for 154 yards on 25 carries with a 47-yard touchdown run in the mix.
–QB Brady Quinn will get his first opportunity to play against the team that drafted him out of college when he starts in Cleveland. The Browns traded back into the lower part of the first-round in 2007 specifically to draft Quinn, who was a fan favorite given growing up in Columbus and playing at Notre Dame.
–WR Dwayne Bowe continues to be the Chiefs’ most targeted receiver, but his production has gone steadily down in the last four games. In the first quarter of the season, he had 25 catches, including all three of his touchdowns. In games No. 5 through 8, he had 20 catches and now in games No. 9 to 12, he had just 12 catches for 160 yards.
–TE Tony Moeaki has been the hottest receiver in the Chiefs offense over the last month, collecting 13 catches for 235 yards and a touchdown. Five of those catches have been for 20 yards or more. That four-game performance came after he was shutout in the team’s game against the Chargers in San Diego. In the season’s first eight games, he caught only 14 passes.
–LB Derrick Johnson did not practice on Wednesday due to the hamstring pull he suffered in last Sunday’s game. Johnson was in the rehab area riding a stationary bike and indicated he thought there was a good chance he could practice on Thursday, or Friday at the latest.
–CB Brandon Flowers did not practice on Wednesday due to the hamstring pull he suffered in last Sunday’s game. Flowers was in the rehab area riding a stationary bike. He wasn’t sure just when he would return to practice.
–SS Eric Berry was limited in Wednesday’s practice session because of a left hand injury that he suffered in last Sunday’s game. Berry left the field for a few moments because of the injury, but eventually got back on the field with his hand wrapped. This week he’s wearing a soft cast.
–FS Kendrick Lewis was limited in Wednesday’s practice session because of the shoulder injury he suffered on November 25th against Denver. Lewis does not appear to have a full range of motion with the shoulder and his status for this weekend in Cleveland is very questionable.
–C Ryan Lilja did not practice on Wednesday because of a knee injury that he’s dealt with for the last three weeks. Lilja barely practiced last week, but started and went the distance against Carolina. He spent Wednesday in the rehab area on a stationary bike.
–S Abram Elam sustained a quadriceps injury in the first half of last Sunday’s game and did not return. He did not practice on Wednesday, spending the time in the rehab area on a stationary bike.
–CB Dimitri Patterson had full participation in practice Wednesday. He missed the last seven games with a rib injury.
–KR Josh Cribbs remains limited with a shoulder injury that makes it difficult for Cribbs to cover kicks.
–LT Mitchell Schwartz was named team captain for the game against the Chiefs on Sunday.
–S Ray Ventrone has a calf injury that is improving. He missed the last three games.
–S Usama Young missed the game with a concussion last week but practiced on a limited basis Wednesday.
–S Tashaun Gipson started for injured S Usama Young last week and led the Browns with eight tackles. He could be part of the rotation Sunday even if Young starts.
–CB Joe Haden will be matched against Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe on Sunday.
–For the first time all season all 53 players on the active roster are expected to be available.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Media representatives came in from all over the country on Sunday and Monday to cover the Chiefs, including television networks like CNN, ESPN, TMZ and more. The coverage had little to do with football or the Chiefs’ 2-10 record, of course, with the reporters instead covering the story of linebacker Jovan Belcher murdering his girlfriend, Kasandra Perkins, then killing himself a little while later, after driving to the Chiefs’ team facility Saturday.
By Wednesday, few of the national media types remained. However, the story lives on for the Chiefs. From the locker room to the front office it will return on a daily basis and bring with it grief, despair, anger and frustration. Just as they did in their locker room at Arrowhead Stadium, the Chiefs have left Belcher’s locker in their practice facility untouched; it was organized like he would walk in at any moment.
“I see that over there and I expect him to show up and start getting ready for a workout,” said linebacker Edgar Jones.
Fellow linebacker Brandon Siler looked at the locker and shook his head. “It’s going to be a tough time,” Siler said. “For us linebackers who were around him all the time, it’s going to be tougher.”
That’s why the linebackers as a group sat down with one of the counselors that the Chiefs have brought into the building to help the players and coaches deal with their grief. They have also been relying on the strength of their head coach Romeo Crennel.
While the team has acknowledged Perkins, who was involved in team organizations was also considered a member of the family and was a murder victim, Crennel, who witnessed Belcher’s suicide, said he could condemn his former player’s action, but not him.
“Jovan is a member of the family and what he did, we didn’t like,” Crennel said. “We’re not crazy about it, but he’s still a member of our family. When you go out in society and things like this happen in society, you don’t see people throwing the family members out the door. They are still loved by their family members, but the act, you don’t like the act.
“You move on, you deal with it. You don’t have a choice, you have to move on.”
As they attempt to move on, the Chiefs are especially concerned about running back Jamaal Charles. Charles’ wife, Whitney, and Perkins were first cousins, and it was Whitney who introduced Kasandra to Belcher.
Charles left the locker room quickly after the game on Sunday and he was not around during the open locker room period on Monday or Wednesday. But he did issue a statement Monday that read in part: “As my actual family and my Kansas City Chiefs family have been altered forever, we ask that you keep us and most importantly their child in prayer.”
Crennel has had several conversations with Charles.
“He’s taking it kind of hard,” Crennel said. “I think the game (Carolina) was good for him, so he could take his mind off of it a little bit. It’s a tough situation, but I think Jamaal will get through it and we will help him get through it.”
Veteran defensive lineman Shaun Smith had a conversation with Charles.
“He’s really broken up and Whitney is too, so he has to deal not only with his feelings, but hers,” said Smith. “It’s like all of us in here; we didn’t lose just one person, we lost two friends. We just have to honor their memory and keep going forward.”
That’s what the Chiefs are trying to do — go forward. The team traveled together to a nearby church Wednesday after practice to attend a memorial service for the victims. For some it may be the closure they seek, but for others there will be more tough times ahead.
“You lean on your teammates,” Crennel said. “You help them and you help each other. You do that and then we all have families. They’re probably the most important people in our lives, so you lean on family. You get counseled from them. You tell them problems and seek solutions.
“I think that combination is probably the best way to go.”
The rest of this season for the Browns is all about whether they will win enough games for Pat Shurmur to keep his job and return in 2013 for a third year as head coach.
The Browns, 4-8, are halfway to matching their longest winning streak since returning to the NFL in 1999. They won four straight games to finish 2009 with a flourish and will be gunning for their third straight on Sunday when they host the 2-10 Chiefs.
Shurmur is not campaigning for his own job but he definitely sounded like a man who believes the future is brighter than the past was for the Browns. Seventeen players on the 53-man roster are rookies and 10 more have had less than two full seasons in the league. That’s half the roster.
The overhaul began when Tom Heckert arrived as general manager in 2010, one year before Shurmur was hired. Only 10 players on the team in 2009 remain.
“When you see young players doing things in this league, because you expect them to, and you know that they’re not anywhere near how good they can be, then, yeah, that’s good,” Shurmur said. “I look forward to seeing these guys have good careers, very productive careers, hopefully all of them here in Cleveland.
“We’re making improvements that are pointing toward winning, I felt us improving throughout the beginning of this season and we couldn’t get over the hump. Now we’re finding a way to get over the hump.”
The Browns are mathematically alive in the wildcard hunt in the AFC. After the Colts (8-4), the only non-division leaders with winning records are the Steelers and Bengals, both at 7-5 in the AFC North. The Chargers are second in the West at 4-8 and the Bills, Jets and Dolphins are all 5-7 in the East.
The Browns scored 218 points while going 4-12 in Shurmur’s first year. They have scored 229 with a quarter of the season left and they have 26 takeaways. They had 18 last season.
New owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner plan to wait until the season ends to announce changes if any will be made. They say the team’s record won’t be the only factor determining the fate of Shurmur and Heckert.
“My concerns are always for our team and our coaches moving forward,” Shurmur said. “I really believe in this group we have and I really believe this is the foundation of something that could be really good. Even though I say that and believe in it, until we start winning football games, that’s what shows it. That’s really my concern.
“Some of the other stuff about me personally — what more can they say about me (on sports talk radio)? Right? I mean, really, think about it. I don’t listen to it, but I’m told frequently about it. I think that’s where the thick skin part comes in.”
Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin was a sixth-round draft pick in 2008, which means he played for Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini before Shurmur. Only kicker Phil Dawson, special teams ace Joshua Cribbs, linebacker D’Qwell Jackson and left tackle Joe Thomas have been around longer than Rubin. Rubin said he is seeing a more confident Shurmur this season.
“He is getting more comfortable and he knows the players more,” Rubin said Monday. “He’s getting acclimated and has a feel for our opponents.
“Coming in and playing the Steelers, the Ravens and the Bengals is pretty difficult every year. This conference and division is hard to get acclimated to.”
The Browns are 2-3 in the AFC North. It is the first time they have won more than once in the division since 2007 when they were 3-3. They conclude the season with a division game in Pittsburgh on Dec. 30.