Make no doubt about it: the Browns are aware of the challenge that awaits them this weekend when the New England Patriots come to town.
"We have great respect for this team, for their coaches. They're as good as there (is)," Browns coach Hue Jackson said. [
But don't conflate that for a lack of confidence in being able to leave FirstEnergy Stadium with a win Sunday afternoon.
"We've got a game to play and who knows what can happen in a three-hour period," Jackson said. "You've just got to go play the game and we'll find out."
Of course, Jackson said it'll take the a comprehensive effort from the shorthanded Browns -- who are still searching for their first victory of 2016 after another defeat in Washington this past weekend -- to accomplish such a feat.
"They know how to defend teams and take away teams' strengths and go expose your weaknesses everywhere," Jackson said.
"What we have to do is play our best football game of the year and I think our guys have been getting better but we've got to continue to grow and this is a really good test for our team. I think we'll be ready to play."
The Brady bunch comes to Cleveland
Fresh off a four-game suspension, quarterback Tom Brady makes his 2016 debut Sunday against the Browns.
Asked about facing the future Hall-of-Famer, Jackson on Monday smiled and shook his head.
"Not fun at all," he said, laughing.
Amid a slew of questions about Brady on Wednesday, the Browns have made it clear they have nothing but respect for the 39-year-old.
"In my book, he is the greatest ever. He's my favorite quarterback of all time," cornerback Joe Haden said. "I really like (Packers QB) Aaron Rodgers, but Tom Brady, he's my favorite quarterback just the way that he is able to just basically act like a coach on the field and when you say that, just being able to run the total offense ... I just think that he is the best to do it."
"I think it's pretty safe to say he's the best quarterback — or the best couple of quarterbacks — of all time," veteran left tackle Joe Thomas.
"Guys like Tom that have played it for so long, I used to love watching those as a kid, just different quarterbacks," quarterback Cody Kessler said. "Obviously Tom is, like I said, one of the best ever to play the position and for me as a kid I loved watching guys that were really successful at it so I could learn from it."
Haden, who figures to play a key role in slowing down New England's pass game, said he doesn't expect Brady to show any signs of rust on Sunday. He also offered his teammates a simple word of advice.
"Just do your job. Do your job, study the tape, just make sure that you are in your alignment, in your assignment and your technique," Haden said.
"He is what he is, he is going to be able to make his plays, but at the same time we have to make sure that we are in our gaps. We have to make sure that we are doing our things and making sure we are winning our one-on-one matchups so end of the day, if the guys are not open, he can't throw the ball. You have to make sure we are on top of our stuff."
Reshuffling the deck
For the third straight week, the Browns find themselves reshuffling their offensive line because of injuries. After losing starting center Cameron Erving in Week 2 to a bruised lung, Cleveland will likely once again ask veteran guard John Greco to slide over without the services of Erving and Austin Reiter, who suffered a torn ACL last weekend against Washington in his first career start.
"(It) looks that way, but we'll see as we go," Jackson said.
Greco played center against the Dolphins and moved back to right guard last week with Reiter in the middle.
"I think we've probably made as many moves we can right now," Jackson said, "we're just going to keep working some guys there, always got to have a backup plan and sometimes your backup plan is better than your other plan. We'll see as we move through the week."
'Comfortable' Duke Johnson's big season
While running back Isaiah Crowell has carried the bulk of the load when it comes to Cleveland's top-ranked ground game, Duke Johnson Jr. continues to emerge as dual threat out of the backfield.
Johnson, who's in his second season out of Miami, ranks second in league with 6.2 yards a carry and has caught 18 passes for 124 yards.
"I'm more comfortable than I was my first year. First year I was just going out and just getting a feel for it, just playing and not really thinking about much," said Johnson, who totaled 913 yards in 2015. "Just nerves and just being in the NFL as a rookie and just playing to where now I am on my second year and it's more of my mental game has expanded a lot."
Of Johnson and Crowell, Jackson said "those guys are running like I think big-time runners run."
Belichick: Jim Brown 'deserving' of statue
Patriots coach Bill Belichick, who served as Cleveland's head coach from 1991-95, told reporters on a conference call he's happy the Browns built a statue of legendary Jim Brown outside FirstEnergy Stadium earlier this season.
"In my opinion, no greater player in professional football than Jim Brown, but on top of that Jim's a very special person. He's a great friend and he's a great leader. I respect and have great admiration for the things that Jim has accomplished throughout his life – his career on the football field and lacrosse field, but more importantly off the field" Belichick said.
"The Amer-I-Can program that he's developed and I've had the opportunity to witness that and be a part of it first hand and be involved with Jim on some of those, some of the things he was doing with that, with his organization there. So yeah, I wish that statute had been there when I was there. It certainly would have been deserving then, however long ago that was, 25 years ago or whatever it was, but a great man, a great football player, a great person. There's nobody I have higher respect for than Jim Brown."