BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Their days as a pitiful punching bag appear to be over for the Browns. They’re swinging back, picking up wins and even attracting celebrities.
On Wednesday, superstar rapper Snoop Dogg pulled up in his tour bus and made a surprise visit to practice.
But while the Browns may have gone from being the NFL’s saddest team to one of this season’s biggest surprises, coach Hue Jackson warned his players that their fame can be fleeting.
Beware of Snoop Dogg and others.
“A lot of guys see him on the sideline, and his message was, ‘Man, you guys are doing some good things, some really good things.’ I thought that was great,” said Jackson, who has known the rapper since his days at USC. “At the same time, there are going to be a lot of people that want to come be on this wagon when the wagon gets rolling, and we are going to circle the wagon.
“I know that because I did not see any of these people the last two years. I am still the same guy. I still knew all of these people prior to this year. We are not going to get caught up in any of that. Our players won’t, and that is my message to them. We are going to work, and we are going to continue to get better and see where we are.”
Right now, the Browns believe they’re contenders.
And their 12-9 overtime win against a solid Baltimore team on Sunday has the rest of the league looking differently at the Browns (2-2-1), who became just the second team to lose all 16 games last season. They’ve been competitive against a tough schedule, played in three OT games, and if not for a couple of bad bounces and breaks, could be unbeaten.
“They were a scary team last year,” said Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who will face the Browns on Sunday. “I know that they did not win a game, but you saw them on the come — you could see it coming. You knew that it was just a matter of time. They have done a good job. The personnel department and coaches, they have done a good job.”
And, of course, the Browns have Baker Mayfield.
The rookie quarterback has pumped life into Cleveland’s franchise and fan base. The only person not surprised by the Browns’ quick turnaround is the player most responsible for it happening
“I have known that the Browns were not bad since the second I stepped foot into this franchise,” said the No. 1 overall pick, whose confidence is spreading through Cleveland’s locker room like a flu bug.
“We had a special team from the get-go. We believe in this team that we have. Management has put together a great group of guys.”
Mayfield was talking a big game long before the Browns picked him. Back at the NFL Combine in February, Mayfield said he was the man to change Cleveland’s fortunes. If any player was going to turn around a team that went 1-31 over two years, it was him.
His opinion has changed.
“I said it back at the Combine when everybody said I was a short quarterback that could not do much, I said if anybody is going to do it, I believed in myself to do that,” he said. “That is something that I carry with me, and I hope our guys believed in themselves as well.”
If there was any lingering doubt about Mayfield, he may have changed some minds with his performance in his second career start — and first at home — against the Ravens. He passed for 342 yards against one of the league’s stingiest defenses, and in the closing minutes of OT, began a drive at his 5 and moved the Browns into position for rookie Greg Joseph’s game-winning field goal.
Big plays. Big player.
“Man, I mean just a winner,” said Browns safety Damarious Randall. “That’s something that he’s always been at Oklahoma and just somebody that can overcome a lot of things. Because he was a walk-on twice and he ended up being the Heisman Trophy winner, so just to have a guy like that you just know that he’s always going to try to put the team in position to win game. You’ve just got to love it.”
Randall knows what a good team looks like. He spent three seasons in Green Bay before coming to Cleveland in a trade.
When he arrived the Browns had reached a low point. They’re rising quickly.
“We feel like we’re a contender,” Randall said. “We feel like we’re one of the best teams up in the league.”