The Browns are feeling good about what they've done to get to this crucial point of the season.
Just don't mistake that for complacency or a sense of satisfaction.
Cleveland won its third straight game Sunday in Jacksonville to move to 8-3. Five games remain, and all will carry massive importance if the Browns want to keep playing when the regular season comes to a close.
"It's really cool to see 8-3 in the City of Cleveland," G Wyatt Teller said. "We are playing well. We'll see if we can keep on playing well and play up to our competition and win some games down the road."
Teller allowed himself a second or two to bask in what the Browns have accomplished to this point before looking ahead to a schedule that features games against three AFC playoff contenders and a surging division leader from the NFC. That's how the Browns have been wired all season, and it starts with coach Kevin Stefanski, who asked his locker room full of players after Sunday's win if what they'd done was "enough."
A loud "No!" rang through the visiting locker room.
"That is the ideal here to be ascending in the second half of this season," Stefanski said. "Again, I mentioned December football. That is when you really do want to start playing your best football. We have to put a game together and a series of games together where our offense, our defense and our special teams all play at a high level."
That may just be required next Sunday against the Titans, who moved to 8-3 with a convincing victory Sunday over the Colts. This is familiar territory for Tennessee, which advanced to the AFC Championship in 2019 and is built to thrive in the later part of the schedule with its bruising, Derrick Henry-led running game.
Sunday's game starts a stretch that includes two home games against AFC North foes Baltimore and Pittsburgh, both of which dealt the Browns lopsided losses earlier in the season, and back-to-back games at MetLife Stadium against the NFC East-leading Giants and the winless Jets.
Stefanski called the Titans a "big challenge" for the Browns. They're the biggest reason why Cleveland isn't looking beyond the next game and into what could be a memorable December.
"We are very close to putting it all together in one game," WR KhaDarel Hodge said. "We have yet to play our best game … We have yet to do that and we are still playing pretty good. Until we do that, which I think we are going in the right direction right now, then we have the best is yet to come."
Check out the best photos from the Browns win over the Jaguars yesterday by the Browns photo team
Working From Home
The Browns and the rest of the NFL are not permitted to work from their facilities until Wednesday. With increased exposure opportunities around Thanksgiving, the NFL is hoping to prevent any unnecessary spread of COVID-19 heading into Week 13.
Working remotely is nothing new for the Browns, of course. They've been in the league's intensive protocols for weeks and have found a way to be productive in a virtual setting since Stefanski began his first offseason program with the team in April.
Stefanski said this would be the first time all season he and his coaches construct the game plan while working remotely.
"Whatever the rules are, we will play by them," Stefanski said. "The message I gave our players today is every team in the league is in the same boat as us these next two days, and how can we get better in these next two days? How can we do this better than anybody else? How can we make it a competitive advantage by getting our work in any which way we can is a big part of it."
Stefanski singled out the excellent play Sunday of veteran G Joel Bitonio, who also served as the team's game captain. Bitonio delivered a pivotal block on Nick Chubb’s game-sealing 13-yard screen pass reception in the final minutes.
"Correctly called tails in the air, which was great, so he was one-for-one there," Stefanski said. 'He does everything that is asked, and he plays hard and his teammates know how much this matters to him."
Asked if he sees his players get a boost when he names them a captain, Stefanski joked, ""If this was the case, I would make all of the active guys a captain."
"I try to think long and hard about the game and the message of what is going to be necessary in that game and why maybe this player plays into that message, I guess is the best way to describe it," Stefanski said. "Then make sure that we have offense, defense and special teams represented throughout the season. It is just always guys who are a big part of the team and understand how important the team is."
Trusting the Rookie
Stefanski said he was confident rookie TE Harrison Bryant would fix the technique issues that have caused him to fumble twice in the past four games. The fourth-round rookie also had a potential touchdown catch knocked out of his hands early in Sunday's fourth quarter.
"He is a young player, and we need him to continue to get better and understand that," Stefanski said. "I do not foresee that being an issue going forward because he is going to work real hard at it. He has made plays for us this season. He has made plays for us in practice. We have a ton of faith in him, and he is going to continue to make plays for us is the way I look at it.
"He is a kid that works very, very hard so I anticipate that he will bounce back."