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Four Downs: Monday Night spotlight still a big deal for Browns players


1. Monday night spotlight still a big deal for Browns players

Want proof there's something different in the air when your team is playing on Monday Night Football?

Tight end Gary Barnidge, the ultimate team-first guy who'd trade every one of his 48 receptions for a few more wins, didn't flinch when he was asked how he did the last time he played on a Monday night.

"I played one -- one in Carolina," Barnidge said. "Had a catch … had a long catch against them."

It was more than just a catch. It was a 24-yard touchdown in Carolina's 30-22 win at Philadelphia on Nov. 27, 2012 -- almost three years to the day from Cleveland's Monday Night showdown with the Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium.

"It's a great experience. It's fun," Barnidge said. "It's going to be on national television. Everyone is going to be watching. It's going to be a great experience for everybody."

Football players and coaches are often quick to put more weight on one particular matchup over the 15 others. And Barnidge made that point clear in follow-up answers, stressing it's "still a National Football League game. It doesn't matter what day it is, you're still playing in the NFL so everybody's going to be excited about it no matter what."

Still, there's no denying the difference of a Monday Night game under the lights. It starts with the extra day and a half to prepare and think about the upcoming game. For the Browns, it'll be 15 long days since they last took the field thanks to a Week 11 bye.

For wide receiver Brian Hartline, who equated the stage to what he experienced on Thanksgiving games as a member of the Miami Dolphins, the childhood memories are hard to suppress.

"Growing up, you sit and you watch Monday Night Countdown and everything else," Hartline said. "Every year, it never gets old. It's really a blessing to play in this league and play on this stage."

Cleveland's record isn't anywhere near what it hoped it'd be heading into its first Monday Night game since 2009, and Baltimore's players likely carry the same sentiment. The Browns and Ravens have combined for five wins in their respectively trying seasons.

Regardless, it's the third in a string of four straight against AFC North rivals. A win Monday would give the Browns their first season sweep of Baltimore since 2007.

There's plenty to play for and the stage doesn't get any brighter.

"Understanding the history of this division and these two teams," quarterback Josh McCown said. "We talked about the first time around and what it means to this city, from our end of it, there is a lot of excitement for us players."

2. Special circumstances

The Browns entered Week 12 in the top half in the NFL in both punt coverage (12th, 7.2 yards per return) and kickoff coverage (9th, 21.9 yards per return).

Injuries have hurt Cleveland on offense and defense throughout the season, but special teams coordinator Chris Tabor cited a shortage of them on his units as one of the reasons why they've performed with such consistency. Core teamers Johnson Bademosi, Marlon Moore, Tank Carder and Christian Kirksey have missed minimal time dating back to training camp.

"We've been able to maintain our core intact," Tabor said. "I think obviously just like anything, the more reps you get the better you're going to get."

3. He said it

Asked what keeps him motivated during a losing season, Tabor delivered an impassioned response that might have been his longest answer in any press conference this season.

"I like coaching our guys. I like coaching football. At the end of the day, that is what I am in charge of doing and to help our guys be successful," Tabor said. Each and every week, regardless of win or loss, I just say we are trying to get to 1-0 and build from there. When you turn on the tape of Baltimore, not to have coach speak, but they are an awful good football team on special teams. That is all I am studying. When you watch them, you are saying this is one of the best teams in the NFL. How can you not get excited as a competitor and not want to play one of the best teams in the NFL? That is how I look at it. When you look at it that way, you get excited about it. Then, you try to translate that to your unit, and hopefully, put a good product out there that can give them a chance to be successful.

"That is how I look at it, and I am not going to change, regardless of what our record is and those things. To me, this is another great opportunity to play a really good special teams unit and to see where we match up and see how we can play. I like our group and I am excited to watch them play Monday night."

4. Stat to watch

In his last two quarters plus overtime against the Ravens, McCown is 22-of-29 for 292 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. In two career games against Baltimore, McCown has 673 yards, three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 104.4.

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