Confidence -- no word is more relative to success in the NFL.
After the Cleveland Browns' momentous 24-3 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals, confidence and true belief in tangible success has skyrocketed inside the walls of Berea.
"I just think it just further cements what we're building," coach Mike Pettine said via a conference call on Friday from his office in Berea.
Seriously, though. Why not the Browns? Cleveland sits at 6-3 and tied for first place in the AFC North. For one of the few times since 1999, there is a true trust in the two most important leadership positions: head coach and quarterback.
Pettine's approach is calculated, precise and yet still relatable for his mostly 20-something players. He let Joe Thomas kick field goals in training camp and can entertain the team in meetings with Photoshops and one-liners. But he's also not afraid to be the disciplinarian, like when he benched rookie Terrance West against the Steelers on Oct. 12. You'll play and practice like a Brown or you won't play in Cleveland. He's also put his trust into other leaders like Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, who have become extensions of the staff on the field and in the locker room.
Hoyer's grasp on Cleveland is just as firm. There's not a shred of doubt from fellow Browns teammates like there has been for years with Brandon Weeden's, Brady Quinn's or Colt McCoy's. Hoyer has proven everything you could want from a quarterback – his smarts, his big-throw ability, his wins.
"The numbers don't lie," Pettine said. "He's having a heck of a year for us, and the important number is the six wins."
And it's his Cleveland attitude that the Browns have adopted with eyes wide open.
"I don't think many people gave us a chance, but the people in that [locker] room believed, and I think the greatest thing about our team is we play as a team," Hoyer said on Thursday night after the game. "In the NFL, that's where you have a lot of guys who are out for their selves, and this team plays for each other. As long as we do that, we can do special things."
Video: raves about the team win
On a short week where the Browns were tested to their mental and physical core, Cleveland passed the test with flying colors.
Against Cincinnati, there wasn't a weak link on the field. The offensive line swung together like a pendulum, regaining control of the line of scrimmage. The Browns' three-headed monster at running back kept all three players fresh. The defensive line, boosted by the arrival of Phil Taylor from knee surgery, played their best overall game of the season.
There is a sense of pride from the Browns regarding the 6-3 record. But is there a sense of fulfillment, a sense of accomplishment? Not even close.
"By no means, are we satisfied with where we're at," said rookie guard Joel Bitonio, who also harped on how instrumental Hoyer and Joe Thomas have been as leaders. "If you look at our schedule we have some really tough games coming up. It's going to be a challenge, but I think because this team's 6-3 and tied for first place right now I think we're in a good position moving forward."
Then again, the Browns can look back at recent history and see a shadow of themselves in the mirror.
Whitner, who made three straight NFC Championship games with the San Francisco 49ers, says the similarities are hard to ignore from this current version of the Browns. Cleveland's plus-9 turnover margin number has been the main factor in burying three straight opponents, and five out of six. The 49ers pounded the football, controlled the clock and out-willed teams in the fourth quarter – a period of time slowly becoming Cleveland's wheelhouse.
"We wanted to play a physical style of football [in San Francisco], a relentless style of football, and it's similar here," Whiter said on Friday. "We understand that the teams that make it to the playoffs and win and advance are the teams that get hot in November and get hot at the right time. We just want to get hot at the right time, and last night was a good start to that."
Confidence. That's the biggest thing coming from the nationally televised win in Cincinnati.