Fresh Browns are motivated by relevance


BEREA, Ohio — There were no new bumps or bruises that needed icing, no quarterback issues to manage, no critical decisions to be second-guessed.

No, this was not your typical Monday for the Browns, who returned from their bye week refreshed and refocused.

They're still very restless, though.

While the calendar flipped to November while they were away, the season's third month begins with Cleveland in position to play meaningful games the rest of the way.

For the first time since 2007, the Browns are in contention. And of all the unexpected things to happen so far this season, that might be the most startling development yet.

"It's time," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said.

The Browns (4-5) returned to work healthier and a little closer to the top of the erratic AFC North.

With Cincinnati losing in overtime at Baltimore on Sunday, the Browns gained ground on the first-place Bengals (6-4), setting up an important game this week at Paul Brown Stadium against their cousins in southern Ohio.

It's Cleveland's most important game in six years and the first major test and moment for these improved Browns, who beat the Bengals earlier this season.

This is a chance for the Browns to earn respect and gain relevance, sweep the Bengals for the first time in 11 years, and move a little deeper into the playoff picture.

"It's been a while, man," Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor said. "Everybody talking about Cleveland this, the mistake on the lake, all this other stuff, man. It's time for a change. We're tired of losing around here. We've got the talent in here to go all the way to the top, we've just got to get it done."

Browns quarterback Jason Campbell came back from the week off with his bruised ribs feeling much better after massive Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata belly-flopped on him.

Coach Rob Chudzinski said Campbell's ribs have improved and he was "full speed" in practice. Campbell made all the throws during the portion of practice open to reporters as the Browns worked out on a blustery, bitterly cold afternoon.

Campbell's unexpectedly strong performances in Cleveland's past two games — a close loss at Kansas City and win over Baltimore — has stabilized the Browns and renewed hopes that this season could wind up being special after a turbulent first nine weeks.

Campbell has brought calm and confidence to the Browns, who believe they're prepared to handle the pressure that comes with any big game.

"I think guys are tired of that culture and that mindset of not being relevant in November," tight end Jordan Cameron said. "It's time, and we've just got to keep this rolling."

Just the fact that they're playing a significant game in November is a major step forward for the Browns, who have lost at least 10 games in nine of the last 10 seasons.

In his first year, Chudzinski has Cleveland headed in the right direction and his players came back from their brief vacation motivated. That hasn't been the case around in a long time.