Time: 1:00 pm, Sunday, January 3, 2010
Location: Cleveland Browns Stadium
Network, Announcers: CBS - Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker
Line: Cleveland by one.
Team W/L Records: Cleveland is 4-11; Jacksonville is 7-8
Coaches: Eric Mangini is 27-36 overall, 3-11 with the Browns; Jack Del Rio is 57-54 in his seventh season with the Jaguars.
Last Week for the Browns: Notched their third straight victory, 23-9 over the bumbling Oakland Raiders. Cleveland was out-gained 389-282 but took advantage of three turnovers and thirteen penalties by the Raiders.
Last Week for the Jaguars: Barely registered a pulse in their third consecutive loss, a 35-7 rout at the hands of the Patriots. Jacksonville's defense was riddled for 464 total yards as the Jaguars fell behind 28-0 at halftime.
All-Time Series: Jacksonville leads, 8-3.
Last Meeting- October 26, 2008: Thanks in large part to a monster performance by Shaun Rogers the Browns pulled an upset of the Jaguars, 23-17 in Jacksonville. Rogers was a terror all day, piling up nine tackles and a sack and stuffing a field-goal attempt. Even with these heroics, the Browns had to hang on at the end, surviving a last-second end zone pass from David Garrard that Matt Jones had in his hands.
Out or Questionable for Jacksonville: DT Atiyyah Ellison (knee), WR Torry Holt (hand), TE Marcedes Lewis (cheek) and CB Rashean Mathis (groin) are out.
Out or Questionable for Cleveland: LB David Veikune (knee) is out; DE Kenyon Coleman (ankle), WR Brian Robiskie (ankle) and T John St. Clair (ankle) are doubtful; LB Titus Brown (hamstring), S Raymond Ventrone (finger), RB Lawrence Vickers (groin) and DE Corey Williams (ankle) are questionable.
What to watch for Jacksonville: For the Jaguars, it's a question of motivation. They're 7-8, losers of their last three and four of their last five since a surprising 6-4 start. They're still alive in the playoff hunt, technically- but they need everything short of an act of God to get there. After a strong performance in a close loss to Indianapolis the Jags all but mailed in last week's game in New England. One has to wonder how focused they'll be tomorrow in Cleveland, with the playoffs a pipe dream and the game-time temperatures hovering south of the twenty-degree mark. I don't usually deal in predictions, but it wouldn't surprise me to see the Browns win this game pretty handily.
What to watch for Cleveland: I'll omit my usual feeble attempt at analysis and offer up a mea culpa:
Weeks ago, prior to the first game against Cincinnati, I called for the head of Eric Mangini. The team had quit on him, I said, and when the players won't perform for the coach, the coach has to go. I also said he'd botched the draft (partly true; Robiskie and Veikune are duds but Alex Mack looks like a player) and he's botched the quarterback situation (definitely true) but the gist of my criticism was that the players wouldn't play for him. (I also called him a "radioactive idiot" which wasn't very nice.)
Well, I was dead wrong. This team is playing- with focus, intensity and enthusiasm. The effort over the last several weeks has been superb. Whether the players are doing it for their own jobs, for Rob Ryan, for Mangini- it doesn't matter. All that matters is that they are. And if I'm going to blame Mangini for this team's failures, I have to credit him for its successes. It's only fair.
The Browns are one win away from their longest winning streak of the expansion era. They're without question a smarter, more disciplined team than they were at this time last season. They've improved under Eric Mangini's watch. That's the bottom line. And as far as I'm concerned, that improvement is justification for the man to keep his job. Obviously that decision will be up to Mike Holmgren, and he'll make it as he sees fit. But Eric Mangini has put his case on record. I'd like to see him back. He's earned that opportunity.
Good Past Win over the Jaguars- The Browns have never beaten the Jaguars at home. They're 0-6 against Jacksonville at Cleveland, including a loss to the Jags at Municipal Stadium back in 1995.
Bad Past Loss to the Jaguars- December 16, 2001: One word- Bottlegate. Cleveland's defense sacked Mark Brunell eight times and forced three turnovers, including a 97-yard pick-six by Anthony Henry, but the Browns still trailed 15-10 in the final minute. When a fourth-down catch by Quincy Morgan was reviewed and overturned after another play had been run, the put upon fans in CBS finally snapped. They barraged the officials and the Jaguars with plastic bottles, some empty, some not, forcing players and referees alike to flee for the safety of the dressing rooms.
Next Week for Both Teams: The Browns are done for the season. Jacksonville will play postseason football next week if they beat Cleveland and get a ton of help.
Trivia: The last winning streak of more than three games for the Browns occurred way back in 1994, when Cleveland ripped off five in a row from Weeks Three through Eight. Just to give you an idea of how long ago that was, the Rams and Raiders were still in Los Angeles and Jacksonville and Carolina were still a year away from entering the league as expansion teams.