BEREA, Ohio — Eric Mangini spent Sunday night at home hanging out with Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy and their fuzzy friends.
Instead of watching the Chicago Bears and New York Giants or breaking down game tape of another Cleveland loss, Mangini had a pleasant visit with his mom, and then the Browns coach and his kids got to cozy up in front of the TV for a movie starring The Muppets.
“So much more fun,” Mangini said. “It just feels a lot nicer.”
The Browns finally gave him something to smile about.
After three straight punch-in-the-gut losses to open the season, Cleveland hung for a 23-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, a victory that wasn't assured until the final minutes when the Browns handed the ball to workhorse Peyton Hillis and were able to run out the clock.
For the first time this season, Mangini didn't spend his Monday news conference lamenting what might have been. There were no regrets about interceptions or fumbles or other stupid, self-inflicted mistakes. There were no major injuries to address.
The Browns (1-3) played their most complete game of 2010, and came away with a much-needed win.
Mangini felt is was also much-warranted.
Their record wasn't showing the progress Mangini felt the Browns had made. Now, by knocking off the defending AFC North champions, they've got proof that they're getting better.
“It was important to me because they deserve to win,” Mangini said of his players, many of whom were part of a 1-11 start last season. “I really believe that. Over the first three weeks, there was no sense of woe is me. It was just an all right, let's get back in here, let's get this fixed, let's keep moving forward.”
Mangini never sensed his team would quit, but with a daunting schedule ahead — the Browns play Atlanta, Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New England, and the New York Jets in the next five weeks — he knew it was important to get a first win before things snowballed.
Winning is a process, and the Browns were ready for the next step.
“You learn how to practice, you learn how to study, you learn how to compete and then you learn how to win,” said Mangini, who gave his team the day off. “That next step sometimes takes a little bit longer. Once you get it and you go in with that expectation, a lot of really good things can and will happen.”
The Browns led by 13 points in the third quarter, but Cincinnati cut it to three early in the fourth. It was beginning to look a lot like Cleveland's three previous games, but when Mangini scanned the sideline he didn't sense any fear of failure.
There was no panic.
Not this time.
“I got the sense that guys were getting angry,” he said. “'We are not letting this happen again. It is not happening again.' There was an absolute sense across the sidelines of 'No, no, it's done. No.' You can look in people's eyes and know what the mind-set is.
“I looked across at a bunch of guys that were determined. That's not to say they weren't prior to that, but that's how these guys were built. You want to win. Let the other guy go have a lousy Sunday.”
Mangini said he expects quarterback Jake Delhomme, who has missed three games with a sprained right ankle, to practice Wednesday.
Mangini said Delhomme will start on Sunday against the Falcons if he's healthy, but that he has been pleased with backup Seneca Wallace, who guided the Browns to their first win.
Wallace went 18 of 30 for 184 yards and a touchdown, and he was also able to keep several plays alive by scrambling to buy time.
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