NBA free agency:

Back from bye, Browns get ready for Bengals

AP - Sports

BEREA, Ohio (AP) -- There were no new bumps or bruises that needed icing, no quarterback issues to manage, no critical decisions to be second-guessed.

No, this was not your typical Monday for the Browns, who returned from their bye week refreshed and refocused.

They're still very restless, though.

While the calendar flipped to November while they were away, the season's third month begins with Cleveland in position to play meaningful games the rest of the way.

For the first time since 2007, the Browns are in contention. And of all the unexpected things to happen so far this season, that might be the most startling development yet.

''It's time,'' linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said.

The Browns (4-5) returned to work healthier and a little closer to the top of the erratic AFC North.

With Cincinnati losing in overtime at Baltimore on Sunday, the Browns gained ground on the first-place Bengals (6-4), setting up an important game this week at Paul Brown Stadium against their cousins in southern Ohio.

It's Cleveland's most important game in six years and the first major test and moment for these improved Browns, who beat the Bengals earlier this season.

This is a chance for the Browns to earn respect and gain relevance, sweep the Bengals for the first time in 11 years and move a little deeper into the playoff picture.

''It's been awhile, man,'' Browns nose tackle Phil Taylor said. ''Everybody talking about Cleveland this, the mistake on the lake, all this other stuff, man. It's time for a change. We're tired of losing around here. We've got the talent in here to go all the way to the top, we've just got to get it done.''

Browns quarterback Jason Campbell came back from the week off with his bruised ribs feeling much better after massive Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata belly-flopped on him.

Coach Rob Chudzinski said Campbell's ribs have improved and he was ''full speed'' in practice. Campbell made all the throws during the portion of practice open to reporters as the Browns worked out on a blustery, bitterly cold afternoon.

Campbell's unexpectedly strong performances in Cleveland's past two games - a close loss at Kansas City and win over Baltimore - has stabilized the Browns and renewed hopes that this season could wind up being special after a turbulent first nine weeks.

Campbell has brought calm and confidence to the Browns, who believe they're prepared to handle the pressure that comes with any big game.

''I think guys are tired of that culture and that mindset of not being relevant in November,'' tight end Jordan Cameron said. ''It's time, and we've just got to keep this rolling.''

Just the fact that they're playing a significant game in November is a major step forward for the Browns, who have lost at least 10 games in nine of the past 10 seasons.

In his first year, Chudzinski has Cleveland headed in the right direction and his players came back from their brief vacation motivated to finish strong.

That hasn't been the case around here in a long time.

''When you're not in this position, let's say last year of being out of the playoff race, you still love the game, you still love to compete and you feel like you can win every ballgame,'' Jackson said.

''Now you still have that same mindset. Now you're actually in the hunt. You're actually in the middle of the pack. It just makes coming to work that much easier.''

As one of the team's leaders, Jackson's objective in the days ahead is to keep his teammates focused on the present. It's too early to start figuring out playoff scenarios.

Way too early.

Jackson wants to the Browns to keep following Chudzinski's lead. He has spent the season preaching to his players to ''Win the one,'' asking them to focus on nothing other than the next practice repetition, the next play, the next game and not think too far ahead.

Jackson doesn't want his teammates to start talking postseason just yet. There'll be time for that, but not now. Not with the Bengals ahead.

''I want them to think that way,'' Jackson said. ''I want them to work that way. Walk it. Prepare like it. Play like it. But let it come. Let the chips fall where they may because we're too young to keep talking about it because we've still got to go out and play the game. Once we get to that point, then I'll be the first in line to talk about it.

''When that time comes, I'll be chanting and hollering and doing all that, man. Trust me.''

NOTES: Browns LB Quentin Groves was placed on injured reserve and will miss the rest of the season with a left ankle injury that kept him out of four games. Chudzinski said Groves needs surgery. The club promoted LB Brandon Magee to the active roster from the practice squad. ... Return specialist/WR Travis Benjamin will have surgery this week on his torn right anterior cruciate ligament. Benjamin got hurt returning a punt on Oct. 27 against the Chiefs. ... Chudzinski said he didn't receive any ''concerning calls'' during the bye week, when players are on their own and coaches get worried. Jackson was confident the Browns would act professionally. ''We've had too many examples of what not to do, too many scares around the locker room to know you've better take care of your business. Guys did. Everyone showed up on time.''

---

AP NFL website: http://www.pro32.ap.org

Sign up for Yahoo Fantasy Football
View Comments