CLEVELAND - With a deadline looming, a few thousand unsold tickets were bought and the Cleveland Browns narrowly avoided their first TV blackout in 14 years.
There may be nothing to save them against the Baltimore Ravens tomorrow night. Forget the blackout. This could be a knockout.
Sliding toward another double-digit loss season, the Browns (1-7) will begin the second half of 2009 on display for a nationwide audience that has yet to see what, if any, progress coach Eric Mangini has made during a turbulent first year in Cleveland.
The Browns, whose finest moment - maybe their only one - last season came in a stunning Monday night upset of the New York Giants, will be facing a Ravens team looking to stop an unexpected dip after a 3-0 start. Baltimore is coming off a 17-7 loss to Cincinnati that dropped the Ravens two games out of first place in the AFC North.
They're not a happy flock of birds these days.
"They always look angry," Browns quarterback Brady Quinn quipped.
Quinn, who began the season as Cleveland's starter before being yanked in Week 3, has returned to the starting lineup after Mangini benched highly ineffective quarterback Derek Anderson after five hideous weeks. Mangini, whose job security in Cleveland could hinge on his team's performance over the final eight weeks, is now putting his future in the hands of a player he has lost faith in once already.
Mangini is counting on Quinn to kick-start an offense that has only been kicked around to this point.
The Browns have scored just five touchdowns - two on runs by Anderson - in eight games, and in 14 games dating to last November. By contrast, the New Orleans Saints have scored seven TDs on defense this season.
Now all Quinn has to do is get Cleveland's anemic offense going against the Ravens, the team that cost him his job the first time. Quinn was pulled at halftime of the Browns' 34-3 loss at Baltimore on Sept. 27 after throwing one interception and failing to convert a first down.
Mangini was impressed with the way Quinn handled his demotion and believes his QB will respond to getting a second chance.
"He's been consistent throughout this whole period," he said. "That's what you want. That's what you expect. It doesn't always go the way that you want it. It doesn't always go the way that you anticipate it going, but you deal with the decisions and you work to improve."
Quinn's comeback comes amid other pressing issues in Browns Town this week.
Mangini is under fire. Owner Randy Lerner is searching for a football authority following general manager George Kokinis' mysterious dismissal. Running back Jamal Lewis blasted Mangini for practicing his players too hard, and disgruntled fans have threatened to stay away from their seats for the opening kickoff.
It's not a pretty picture, and the whole league will be watching to see what might happen in Cleveland next.
Kick returner extraordinaire Joshua Cribbs is hoping fans don't go through with their protest plans. The sight of thousands of empty seats would be another black eye on an already badly bruised franchise.
"This is a football town," Cribbs said. "I doubt if it comes down to the fans doing that. We hear the fans. They want to win. We want to win."
Cribbs, one of the few positives for the Browns, believes the team can still make something of this season.
"If we can win all of them and be 9-7, teams have made the playoffs at 9-7," he said faithfully. "I think a lot can be salvaged, finishing strong, just one game at a time and play good football to show we didn't give up on the season, to show the fans and the coaches."
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