1. Defining success for the Browns' final 4 games
The question was asked, one way or another, to many Browns coaches and players throughout the week.
With four games remaining in a frustrating season, what needs to happen over the next four games to feel satisfied with how the team finished? This, of course, came with the understanding that no matter what, the team ultimately fell short of its goals for the season as a whole.
Browns coach Mike Pettine said the obvious answer is the right answer.
"First of all, you want to win," Pettine said. "Losing stinks, bottom line. We have to find a way. We put in all this time, all this work together. We're in this building way too long not to enjoy the fruits of that."
Aside from the bottom line, there's so much more, and Pettine went on at length about the intangibles he wants to see from each and every member of the franchise over the final four weeks. And he's already seen enough to provide anecdotal evidence.
"Josh McCown grabbed me in the hallway and just said, 'Wow, I thought yesterday's practice was really good,'" Pettine said Thursday. "The guys are into it, the effort's there, the energy's there, very few repeated plays. For this time of year, you're just kind of out there, you can get ... the season's not going well, the weather's not great and you can just kind of drudge your way through it, and that hasn't been the case. It's the message that we're preaching: Control what you can control, prepare the way you're supposed to prepare and go out and give an A effort."
Veteran safety Donte Whitner, a Cleveland native, echoed that sentiment, but brought it back to the most important aspect of Pettine's answer. The Browns need a win, and there's nothing else that will bring the same satisfaction.
"We need to get this bad taste out of our mouth of losing and losing so many in a row," he said. "We just need one win. It will be a great win if we can go out and be detailed in our work on Sunday, finish the football game and first and foremost get some turnovers on defense. When we do that, we can beat anybody in the National Football League.
"We need to see guys out there fighting as if we're fighting for a playoff spot. There's a lot of people that expect us to lay down and not go out there and compete. That's not going to happen. We're going to remain who we are no matter what the record is and get some wins and feel good going into the offseason and going into next season. That's what we need."
2. Another reunion happening Sunday
Lost amid the attention devoted to the return of Phil Dawson, the first game between Whitner and his former team and even the return of running back Shaun Draughn is the reunion Browns punter Andy Lee will experience Sunday.
Lee spent the first 11 years of his NFL career punting for the 49ers. He never missed a game and made the Pro Bowl three times. The Browns acquired Lee in a trade during the offseason. Lee's departure paved the way for rookie Bradley Pinion to take over San Francisco's punting duties.
Lee described the upcoming experience in typical Lee fashion.
"I played there for 11 years and I've never had the experience of playing against a former team since that's the only other place I've been other than here," Lee said. "Looking forward to it, honestly. I think it's going to be a fun time. Just going to be able to go out and continue to do what I do, say some hello's and shake some hands before the game and see some people I haven't seen in a while. Other than that, I'm just trying to treat it like a normal game, even though there's a little bit of, I guess, neat-ness in my mind to this."
3. He said it
Gary Barnidge wasn't the only player thrilled by his new contract extension, which he signed Thursday. Just as popular with teammates as he is with his coaches and Browns fans, Barnidge has garnered plenty of respect from those who may have underestimated him.
"I think he probably leads the league this year in balls you think you can't catch, but he still gets a hand up there and he brings it down," wide receiver Travis Benjamin said. "I'm just so happy for Gary because me and him are in the same situation with not playing last year and coming in and having a breakout season. I'm happy for Gary."
4. Stat to know
Benjamin has 13 touchdowns over the course of his four-year NFL career, with three coming as a return man and the other 10 coming as a receiver. Six have come this season. The big-play threat has averaged a whopping 52.3 yards per score since he entered the league.