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Published: Friday, 10/26/2007

Believe it or not, Browns in hunt

ASSOCIATED PRESS

BEREA, Ohio - Browns general manager Phil Savage methodically worked down his personal checklist, using most of an hour to perform a thorough dissection of his team's unexpected - some would say shocking - 3-3 start.

Savage discusses Romeo Crennel's calming influence, quarterback Derek Anderson's surprising emergence, wide receiver Braylon Edwards' newfound maturity and rookie QB Brady Quinn's patient wait.

Cleveland's defense will get better, Savage predicted.

For once, Savage, who in less than three years has gutted Cleveland's roster, wasn't dwelling on freak injuries, staph infections or the assorted gloom and doom that has hung above the Browns for years.

He talked football. Now there's a turnaround.

"We're not where we want to be," Savage conceded yesterday. "But we're better than where we were."

No doubt.

The Browns, who went 4-12 last season and have lost at least 10 games in each of the last four seasons, are on an upswing. And with a favorable schedule over the next 10 weeks, they have a legitimate shot of making the AFC playoffs, a concept that may have drawn uncontrollable laughter in certain company not long ago.

"I think a lot of people thought we'd be 0-6 or 1-5 or 2-4 at this point," Savage said. "Our players feel like they can walk on the field and win. That's a long way from where we used to be."

It's impossible to assess the Browns' recent progress without looking back a little.

Crennel's job appeared to be in serious jeopardy when his club opened the season with a 34-7 loss at home to Pittsburgh. It wasn't a game Cleveland was necessarily expected to win, but the Browns weren't even competitive.

They gave up five sacks on their first 15 plays, committed four penalties on the season's first punt - the snap was dropped - while looking disorganized and uninspired. Crennel's days appeared numbered.

But almost from the moment Savage boldly traded starting quarterback Charlie Frye two days after the Pittsburgh pummeling, the Browns have experienced a climb in the standings and in their confidence.

"I think we're showing some life," Savage said.

Much of the credit should go to Crennel, said Savage, the 42-year-old GM who came over from the Baltimore Ravens in 2005 not fully realizing the massive scope of the rebuilding project he faced.

In his fourth season, Crennel, who came over with five Super Bowl rings, has calmed Cleveland's stormy seas.

"He's the same man now that he was two years ago," Savage said. "He'll be the same man two years from now. I think if we'll just believe in what we're doing and maintain some continuity, then our players will have a chance to grow, develop and we'll have a chance to put some wins together.

"I think just the consistency of Romeo's demeanor, his attitude. Some people may term that as boring, but I think in a very volatile business it's actually a strength."

Even Savage couldn't have anticipated Anderson blossoming into one of the AFC's top-rated QBs. But behind a revamped offensive line giving him time, the 24-year-old has thrown 15 TD passes and nearly 1,500 yards for a Cleveland offense threatening to break every club record in the books.

Perhaps bigger, Anderson has allowed the Browns to keep Quinn safely on the sideline to watch and learn.

"I see it as a blessing," Savage said. "Some teams don't have one quarterback and we have two."

It could be a problem down the road, not unlike the one San Diego faced with Philip Rivers and Drew Brees. Quinn could see some playing time in the next 10 weeks, but Savage doesn't see it as vital for the former Notre Dame star's development.

"I don't know if it is or isn't. [As a rookie] Carson Palmer, I don't think played a snap. Daunte Culpepper didn't play a snap. Those are examples where it worked out for those players. I think Brady is anxious to play and would like to get out there. Maybe there will be some opportunities that present themselves in the second half of the year for him to get out there.

"But with as well as we have played offensively and as well as Derek has played, I'm not sure we really want to mess with that apple cart right now. It seems to be working and there's no real reason to change anything right now."

LIONS/ TIME CHANGE: The New York Giants at Detroit game on Sunday, Nov. 18, will begin at 1 p.m. rather than the previously scheduled 4:15 p.m.

Two other games that day also were changed.

The Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins kickoff was moved from 1 p.m. to 4:15 p.m., and the Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Jets game will start at 4:15 p.m. rather than the previously scheduled 1 p.m.

COWBOYS/STOERNER: Former Dallas quarterback Clint Stoerner will have his driving privileges restricted for four months in an agreement related to a drunken-driving charge. His attorney says he still plans to plead not guilty to the underlying charge.

"It's just a corollary issue dealing with his driver's license. Normally, with people in his position, the state will take the driver's license for 180 days and not let them drive at all, even before they're convicted," attorney John Mikesch said. "We've managed to negotiate a deal with the state of Arkansas where he can continue to drive for work-related purposes for a four-month period."

Stoerner, a former star at Arkansas, may have a restricted driving permit so he can go to work, Judge Kim Smith's office said.

Under the agreement signed Wednesday, Stoerner admitted to driving while intoxicated but his record won't show he refused a breath test.



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