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Four Downs: Alex Mack playing his best football as season nears end


1. Alex Mack playing his best football as season nears end

In his seventh NFL season, Alex Mack only got better.

The Browns center's long road back from a severe leg injury culminated Tuesday when he joined left tackle Joe Thomas as a 2016 Pro Bowl selection. It was a testament to Mack's work ethic, which didn't relent even as the season progressed.

Browns coach Mike Pettine said Mack has played his "best football" over the last several weeks. Mack tended to agree.

"I think it has been a long road," Mack said Wednesday. "A lot of work has gone into it. I put in a lot of work and I feel like I have done some good things on the field."

Mack was playing arguably his best football through the first five games of 2014, and the Browns running game was clicking on all cylinders. In the five games Mack played last season, Cleveland averaged 146.4 rushing yards. In the 11 with him on the sidelines, the Browns ran for 146 or more just twice.

The recovery process was long and not exactly simple. Even though Mack wanted to go full speed during workouts in the spring, the Browns coaching staff opted to protect him from himself. Ultimately, that strategy insured Mack would make it to the season healthy but limited his repetitions and put him a little behind where he's typically at during that portion of the offseason.

"There is just no substitute for time with that," Pettine said. "A lot of times with those injuries, whether it is a knee or something where it was that devastating of an injury, I think the body part where whatever it is gets to the point where structurally it is fine but it so much more the mental and the ability to trust it. I think we all saw that with Travis (Benjamin), just to stick the foot in the ground and make a cut, where it is more of a mental block than it is a physical.

"He has gotten to the point where ... it appears to us that he is much more confident in it than he was earlier in the year."

Asked if he's playing at the same level he did before his injury last season, Mack said he was. That's not his ultimate goal, though. It's to be better, and a third trip to the Pro Bowl won't stop that quest.

"I am still working hard every day," Mack said. "I think it is hard to say you are always satisfied with what you are doing. Every day I am out there on the field, I am trying to get better at what I do."

2. Two hands on the ball

Johnny Manziel put the ball on the ground Sunday against the Seahawks but was fortunate to live for another snap after a teammate recovered it.

Ball security has been a major emphasis for the second-year quarterback heading into a game against a turnover-happy Kansas City defense. And there's more to it than just how he holds onto the ball.

"Stepping up in the pocket instead of always escaping on the outside. Just having a clock in my head, for the most part," Manziel said. "I think some of the good guys can tell when that rush is closing in and when you are sitting there taking a couple hitches because in this league if you take two or three hitches, you're getting some really good protection. It's a collective of those things."

3. He said it

It's been nine up, nine down for Thomas, who joined some rare company Tuesday by landing in the Pro Bowl in each of his first nine seasons. The other seven players to do so are all members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thomas was well aware of that fact Wednesday.

"I certainly don't want to set a record of being the only one that is not," he said.

4. Stat to know

When Kansas City opened the season 1-5, its defense forced an average of one turnover per game and the team, as a whole, carried a minus-2 turnover margin. During their eight-game winning streak, the Chiefs defense has forced fewer than two turnovers just once and the offense has turned the ball over just four times total.

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