7-4 Browns feeling playoff-type vibes

BEREA, Ohio – Browns wide receiver Joe Jurevicius doesn’t dread his wife sending him on errands anymore.

Cleveland’s surprising season has made life easier as he runs fly patterns down the aisles at the local grocery store.

“Instead of people telling me the milk is over there when it’s not really over there because they’re [angry] at us, it’s kind of nice to get the right directions and have people smiling,” he said.

Clevelanders are more than beaming these days. They’re believing.

The Browns, one of the NFL’s proudest and most star-crossed teams for decades, are winning again.

At 7-4, they’re firmly entrenched in the AFC playoff race, and as the final month of the regular season approaches, it’s the Browns, not the Patriots, not the Packers or even the Cowboys, who are this year’s feel-good story.

They’ve become media darlings.

Since their 27-17 win over Houston on Sunday, the club has been overwhelmed with national interview requests as The New York Times, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and other print outlets converged on Cleveland along with the NFL Network, Mike ‘ Mike in the Morning and the Best Damn Sports Show.

ESPN even sent a camera crew to quarterback Derek Anderson’s hometown of Scappoose, Ore., to do a feature.

Everyone, it seems, wants a piece of these Brownies. The unusual attention has been overwhelming.

“It’s almost been a little surreal,” said kicker Phil Dawson, who has endured Cleveland’s many low points as the lone player left from the club’s 1999 expansion team. “For so many years, we weren’t even in the conversation of the NFL world. And now all of a sudden, we are. It’s fun.”

To a point.

While Browns coach Romeo Crennel is pleased that his players are getting their due, he’s also concerned about them becoming distracted by their newfound fame and possibly thinking they’re better than they are.

“They start believing what everybody tells them and then that takes your focus off the job you have to do,” he said. “If they’re not mature enough, they might not work as hard. Then you end up losing a game that you should have won, or could have won.

“We have to talk to the guys about the next game, concentrating and focusing. I’ve got some veterans that help me do that.”

Willie McGinest is one Crennel’s primary enforcers.

The Browns’ elderly statesman and veteran linebacker, who also played for Crennel in New England, has been keeping his teammates’ egos in check. They haven’t won anything yet, and McGinest reminds them of that everyday.

“What success?” McGinest said. “It’s definitely better than what we had last year. We’re on the right road but I don’t think we’re getting complacent or getting satisfied with our record just because we’ve won more games. The goal is a lot higher.

“At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what you do or how great a season you have if you don’t win and go to the next level.”

That next level would be the playoffs, but the “P-word” isn’t mentioned inside Cleveland’s locker room without prompting. Those orders come from Crennel, and there isn’t a player who dares not follow them.

“He’s always reminding us that we’re going to get more media exposure,” guard Eric Steinbach said. “Looking inside this locker room we know what we’ve got to do yet. We haven’t done anything yet. All we’ve done is won seven games, we haven’t done anything as far as the postseason.

“We’re not there yet to be sitting back and kind of getting patted on the back.”

For now, the Browns are enjoying their flavor-of-the-moment status. Success can be fleeting in a league where upsets are all too common and where one costly injury can destroy a team’s aspirations.

“It all came on so quick,” Dawson said, “and it can leave just as quick.”

Drab uniforms aside, the Browns are football fashionable and Cleveland fans, who have been subjected to more than their share of misery in recent years, are beginning to savor this unexpected season.

“People are starting to get a little excited,” Dawson said. “I think the fans might have been a little hesitant at first to jump in because we’ve let them down so many times in the past.