TONY DEJAK / AP Enlarge
CLEVELAND - His body bruised and a nasty knot swelling on his forehead, Kellen Winslow slid into the seat at the front of the interview room and looked out at the overflow crowd.
"I feel like the President," he said, smiling.
Though not a politician, Winslow has delivered on a promise that once seemed utterly preposterous. A few months back, he vowed the Cleveland Browns, a recent model of dysfunction, would surprise this season.
"I told you we were going to turn some heads," he said.
Derek Anderson threw two touchdown passes, Jamal Lewis rushed for 134 yards and a TD, and Winslow had 10 catches as the Browns, whose season has been filled with drama, controversy, and overtimes, improved their playoff profile with a routine 27-17 win over the Houston Texans yesterday.
With their fifth straight victory at home and fifth win in six games overall, the Browns (7-4) stayed within striking distance of first-place Pittsburgh in the
AFC North and among the wild-card contenders.
In fact, if the season ended today, the Browns would qualify for the postseason.
"We kind of control our own destiny," said linebacker Andra Davis, one of the few Browns still around from Cleveland's 2002 playoff team. "I've been waiting a long time to say that."
Cleveland played perhaps its most well-rounded game of 2007, and for the first time in four weeks, the Browns didn't have to sweat out the final seconds. Their three previous games had all been decided by three points, two in OT.
Last week, they needed an unforgettable 51-yard field goal at the end of regulation by Phil Dawson to slip past Baltimore.
But when Lewis barreled in from the 1-yard line with 5:48 left, the Browns led 27-10 and were far enough ahead that a late touchdown by the Texans did nothing more than make the score look more respectable.
"That was nice," Anderson said. "It's much better than a one-point win."
The Texans (5-6) weren't able to do much against Cleveland's league-worst defense, which was missing two injured starters.
Houston quarterback Matt Schaub finished 22-of-36 for 256 yards and two TDs. But he was picked off twice and had several other passes batted down by the Browns' suspect secondary, which lost rookie starting cornerback Eric Wright to a knee injury last week.
The Texans also had a costly fumble in the third quarter.
"We put ourselves in a tough situation," Schaub said. "The turnovers really hurt us. That's been our Achilles' heel all season. We just didn't make the plays. I threw a couple of interceptions, and we didn't move the ball."
Dawson, who bounced one through off the left upright and crossbar last week against the Ravens, kicked field goals of 25 and 27 yards. With 759 points, he moved past Hall of Famer Jim Brown on Cleveland's career scoring list.
Not wanting to get too far ahead of themselves, the Browns, who wore throwback uniforms from the 1950s against the Texans, implemented a no-talking-about-the-playoffs policy in their locker room last week.
It might be time to lift the ban.
"We'll worry about the playoffs if that times comes," wide receiver Joe Jurevicius said. "If we can build on this and just lay one brick per week, we'll have a nice house at the end of the year."
Showing nice balance, Cleveland's offense ran smoothly behind Anderson, who went 24-of-35 for 253 yards. He threw a 19-yard TD pass to Braylon Edwards and a seven-yarder to Winslow in the first half.
And when Anderson couldn't do it in the air, he handed the ball to Lewis, who had his first 100-yard game since getting 216 in Week 2 against Baltimore.
"We want a balanced attack," Lewis said. "If one isn't working, the other one will. It was one of those days when Braylon was making catches, Kellen was making catches, and Joe was making catches."
The Browns dominated time of possession in the second half, holding the ball for 20:56 to Houston's 9:04. They did so behind an offensive line that opened holes long enough for Lewis to find. And when they weren't there, Lewis made his own path on the chilly afternoon.
"It's kind of my time of the year to run the football," said Lewis, who signed a one-year deal with Cleveland in March.
The Browns' much-maligned defense finally made some plays, too, blanking the Texans for the first 27 minutes of the second half before Schaub hit Owen Daniels for a six-yard TD with
With the Texans' secondary taking away deep options, Anderson was content to dink and dunk his way down the field in the first half. He threw underneath Houston's coverage on an 11-play, 64-yard scoring drive capped by the touchdown pass to Winslow to give the Browns a 14-10 lead with 16 seconds remaining before halftime.
Edwards made it possible with a nine-yard reception on fourth-and-2, grabbing a pass from Anderson and withstanding a monstrous hit from linebacker DeMeco Ryans, who ended up getting flattened by Cleveland's wide receiver.
NOTES: Edwards has 11 TD receptions this season, two shy of the club record set by Gary Collins in 1963. ... Texans RB Ron Dayne, filling in for the injured Ahman Green, had 78 yards on 16 carries. ... Houston offensive coordinator Mike Sherman declined to comment on reports that he's a front-runner for the Texas A&M coaching vacancy.47.46622 9.05087