3 Big Takeaways: Browns embrace 'us against the world' mentality

The Browns haven’t listened to outside predictions all season, and they’re certainly not going to change that against the Chiefs

1. Browns embrace 'us against the world' mentality

The Browns haven't paid much attention to outside predictions and projections all season.

When people doubted whether the Browns were playoff contenders at their Week 9 bye week, they didn't listen. Then, they won their next four games, including a massive win over the 8-3 Tennessee Titans. 

When they snapped the longest playoff drought in NFL history two weeks ago, people doubted whether they could beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had long been one of their biggest bullies in the AFC North. Then, they throttled them early and won their first playoff game since 1994.

"We've been the underdogs since the beginning of the season," defensive end Myles Garrett said after the game. "Nobody thought that we would have a winning record. Nobody thought that we were going to get to the playoffs."

The outside doubts are flowing in again.

Not many outsiders of the Browns are picking them to beat the Kansas City Chiefs, reigning Super Bowl champions and the No. 1-seed in the AFC, on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs finished the regular season with a 14-2 record and have multiple Pro Bowlers on both sides of the ball.

But the Browns still aren't listening to what anyone has to say about their matchup.

"We don't really look at the predictions or whatever people have to say," defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi said. "It's just really us against the world. We know that when you work hard, you put everything in the right perspective and you give it your all, you always give yourself a chance to put yourself in position to win."

That stance should come as a surprise to no one. The Browns have known all season they would have their doubters — that's what an 18-year playoff drought can do — but they've proven all season the 2020 Browns are a different breed.

Last week, they didn't have their head coach. They didn't have their top cornerback. They didn't have their left guard. 

So they responded by going up 28-0 and building the biggest first quarter lead in playoff history. Then, they maintained it.

"We have had games like that last night where we jumped out to big leagues and held on, and we have had games like the Cincinnati game (in Week 7) where it did not go our way and we continued to fight, continued to battle and claw back," center JC Tretter said. "I think those are how you define a good team in this league. The more and more examples you can put on film of that, the more confident you are of that is who you are."

That is why the Browns don't care what people think. They have no need to — they've proven them wrong all season.

Now, they need to prove them wrong against the top-seeded team of the AFC.

2. Browns embrace success with the city

The Browns could see and feel the love from fans as soon as they stepped off the plane from Pittsburgh in the wee hours of Monday morning.

Several fans were waiting for them in the cold at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and stood along the chain fences. The Browns waved and honked their horns in celebration as they drove out of the lot to complete the kind of scene Cleveland has been waiting for generations.

"That just goes to show the love that the fans in Cleveland have and the dedication to the team they have – the best fans in the world," Ogunjobi said. "Just to be out there after a big win and still want to come and support given the current circumstances that we are all living in, but just to want to be out there – they had their masks on – but to be out there and supporting was very important. We appreciate them."

Moments like those have been tough to experience among the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. The celebration in Cleveland would certainly look much bigger if large gatherings were safe and if FirstEnergy Stadium could've been full this season — guard Joel Bitonio authored in his story on ClevelandBrowns.com last week that the team might've needed to take a delay of game penalty in the final minutes before clinching the playoffs in Week 17, had the stadium been full.

The time for mass celebrations will come later, but the Browns can still feel your love, Cleveland.

"I have done a lot of driving around town the last few days just because I have to get out of here," head coach Kevin Stefanski said. "Just to see all of the Browns flags and seeing everybody wearing the Browns hats, I definitely feel it. I think our players understand how big it is for this community, and we have to keep it going."

The Browns forced 5 turnovers, tied for their most in a game this season and their most in a playoff game since 1968.

3. Winning the turnover battle

The Browns have been unbeatable all season when they've snatched the ball away from their opponent, and they proved that yet again in their biggest game of the season.

Cleveland tied a season-high with five turnovers Sunday to win the turnover battle, 5-0. The mark is their best since Week 3 against the Washington Football Team, and it advanced the Browns' record to 11-0 when they win or tie the turnover battle.

"The team that was going to win this game was going to win the turnover margin," special teams coordinator and acting head coach Mike Priefer said after the game. "Like our defense has done all year long, they have created turnovers in crucial moments."

Takeaways have been arguably the most important factor of the Browns' success in 2020, and the stat has been significant on both sides of the ball, too. 

The defense excelled at forcing them — the Browns won every game this year when it created at more than one turnover.

And the offense excelled at preventing them — quarterback Baker Mayfield threw a career-low eight interceptions this season, and the Browns finished the regular season tied for fourth-best in the NFL with only 16 giveaways.

"The things that you emphasize during the week wind up coming true," Mayfield said. "If you emphasize it, you're going to do it. We have talked about ball security, taking care of the ball and us taking the ball away on defense. The things you emphasize wind up coming true because if you put your importance on it and you focus on that, it happens."

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