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The Browns try to maintain their surprising early season success on Sunday when they visit the woeful Rams.
Cleveland (3-3) was off last week after beating Miami 41-31 on Oct. 14. Despite taking Brady Quinn in the first round of the NFL draft, the Browns have rallied behind quarterback second-year quarterback Derek Anderson, who has fueled fans optimism.
It’s been the opposite in St. Louis, where injuries have ravaged preseason playoff hopes. The Rams (0-7) are one of just two winless teams along with the Dolphins and St. Louis’ start is the worst in franchise history, topping the 1962 team that started 0-6 and finished 1-12-1.
The Rams, once known for their prolific offense, are averaging only 11.3 points per game, on pace for the third-lowest total in team history. St. Louis, though, will benefit from the return of All-Pro running back Steven Jackson, who missed the last four games with a partially torn groin.
“It feels good one day and the next day you may have a little tweak to it,” Jackson said. “As long as things are going good I want to stay out there.”
The Browns, though, keep piling up the points. Cleveland is averaging 27.8 per game and is on pace for its best total since 1968, when they averaged 28.1. Anderson has 14 touchdown passes, second to Tom Brady in the AFC, and Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow have combined for 1,058 receiving yards.
Edwards had a career-high three touchdown catches against the Dolphins and is maturing into the player everybody thought he would be when he was drafted third overall from Michigan in 2005.
“It’s a lot of fun to come to work,” Edwards said. “That’s not lying, before it wasn’t fun. Guys didn’t really want to be here. It was like, ‘Let’s just get practice over with and go home.’ … Things are fun right now. It’s just a whole different atmosphere.”
Following tough games against Seattle, Pittsburgh and Baltimore - which Cleveland beat in Week 2 - the Browns don?t play a team with a winning record in the last six weeks of the season and have lofty goals in mind.
“We definitely feel we can make the playoffs,” Edwards said. “That’s ultimately our goal.”
The Browns are aiming for consecutive wins for the first time since winning the last game of 2003 and the first in 2004, and they’re also looking to snap a five-game road skid.
“We’re doing things the right way right now and we’re not taking steps backward,” said running back Jamal Lewis, who missed the past two games with a foot injury he described as nothing serious. “If we can keep moving forward and keep doing what we’re doing and improve on what we’ve been doing wrong I think we can go that (playoff) route. It’s within reach.”
St. Louis would just settle for a win. A 33-6 loss to Seattle last week plunged the team deeper into despair. Quarterback Marc Bulger came back after missing two games with sore ribs, but the Rams still failed to score a touchdown.
“I am grateful that God has blessed me to be a Ram, but right now I am very embarrassed to be one,” St. Louis tight end Randy McMichael said after the game. “It makes no sense what we did offensively. It is pathetic.”
St. Louis leads the NFL with 23 turnovers, five more than it had all last year, when the team went 8-8 in coach Scott Linehan’s first season. The Rams had five turnovers against the Seahawks and weren’t in the game after allowing the second-half kickoff to be returned for a touchdown.
The return of Jackson along with Bulger’s recovery could help boost St. Louis’ offense. Jackson led the NFL with 2,334 rushing and receiving yards last season, and even though rookie Brian Leonard filled in admirably, the Rams’ playbook revolves around Jackson.
“Any play he touches the ball we can take it all the way, and I think that’s something we’ve been missing,” Bulger said.
St. Louis will have another offensive line combination. The Rams released guard Claude Terrell this week after he was arrested on Tuesday in Houston and charged with assaulting his wife. Terrell had played in six games, starting three.
This is the first meeting between the teams since the Rams won 26-20 in Cleveland in 2003. The teams haven’t met in St. Louis since 1999, when the Rams won 34-3 en route to a Super Bowl championship.