During some of my tougher seasons with the Browns, I'd sometimes notice the opponent on the other side of the field not quite resembling the one I'd watched on film. They just weren't at their best.
When you go into the week of practice and you're going against a team that's struggled, there can be a little tendency to let the little things slide. Or maybe you have a little bit more fun during the week, so there is a little more screwing around maybe on the practice field, especially this time of year, right? It's Christmas season, so maybe instead of sticking around and watching an hour of film and getting home at 7 p.m., I'd really like to be able to get home and hang out with my kids. You cut those corners during the week because you feel like you can get away with it.
All of a sudden on Sunday, it's too late.
You can't make up for lost preparation. And then you see maybe you're not as awake, alive, excited in pregame warm-ups. And pretty soon in the first quarter you get smacked in the face and all of a sudden maybe it's a close game, and then it's too late to wake up.
The old cliché about any given Sunday, it's so true, because the talent and the coaching is all very, very good in the NFL. And the difference between literally the worst team in the NFL and the best team is very small. It's not high school. You can sleepwalk through a game in high school if you're a good team against a bad team, and you can beat them by 50. It doesn't happen in the NFL. Everybody's a professional. Everybody takes it very seriously. And the talent gap is very small.
That's a long way of saying the Browns can't assume anything when they play the 1-13 Jets on Sunday. The Rams found out the hard way last week about "any given Sunday," and now the Jets have to be feeling good about themselves as they try to finish out their season far better than they started.
Back in 2016, when we finally won our first game Week 16 against the Chargers, I remember how it carried over to the next week of preparation for the Steelers. We didn't win that game but we made them sweat all the way into overtime.
All of a sudden you win one game and you go, "Oh, maybe we're better than we thought. Maybe people just weren't given us a chance." All of those excuses on why you can't win in your head turn to reasons why you can win. That's part of the reason why we played well the next week because it was like, 'Man, maybe we're not as bad as people say and we do have a chance, and these are the things we do well.' You finally have something that you can hang your hat on a little bit. It's not like we went out and had 300 yards passing and scored 40 points in that game, but those little glimmers of hope you feel are fake when you're losing now feel genuine. You're believing a little bit more in what the coach is telling you, you're believing a little bit more in your teammates.
But here's what I believe now: These Browns have been too good, too sound, too disciplined to overlook their opponent. There's too much on the line, and Kevin Stefanski has them locked in.
Stefanski has been so perfect for the group of young talented players the Browns have because he is a very even-keeled demeanor guy. To be able to get the most out of your players and to be able to handle the roller coaster and the drama that hits every NFL team, you need a coach that's even keeled, that walks in and stands in front of you and delivers the same message with the same emphasis and the same level of details, whether you're 10-0 or 0-10. It's so important to not have those roller coaster coaches because you're going to be a team that's prepared to take care of business when you walk into a game like they did last weekend against the Giants.
Most people thought the Browns were going to beat the Giants. They went out and put together a great workman-like effort like it was a Friday practice. It was beautiful watching. Everybody just went out and did their job like they were going to the factory, like they had their hardhat and their lunch pail, parked their truck at the factory, clocked in at 9, clocked out at 5 and went home to their family.
That mentality comes from the top-down. And if you have that coach that rides those emotional roller coasters that I've played for, you can go on these little strings and play great and everyone's excited and dancing around at practice, and then reality hits you in the face and you don't know how to recover from adversity.
I'm not worried about the Browns "scoreboard watching" while they're on the field against the Jets. Instead, I'm excited for the team to get the experience to watch Saturday night's Dolphins-Raiders game while they're at the team hotel and know it can directly affect their playoff chances Sunday.
That's the excitement of getting this far into a season with the record the Browns have. They deserve it. They put themselves in this position to be able to enjoy what's happening around them, be able to be in meaningful games, get to watch other teams and see how that impacts and affects what's going on in their season.
They'll enjoy that, and they should, before they clock in Sunday for another day at the office.
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Giants last week by the Browns photo team