Sunday foes experience up (Giants) and down (Browns) years
The season is getting real exciting for one team while the end of the line is on the horizon for another.
The New York Giants at 7-3 are looking for their sixth straight victory and are steaming full speed ahead for the postseason.
The 0-11 Cleveland ship is springing leaks and all the Browns can hope for is a life preserver to stay afloat until they can sail off into the sunset and their own postseason of preparing for next year.
When the Giants travel to Cleveland for a 1 p.m. ET Sunday kickoff, it will be the 49th time the two teams have met in the regular season. The Browns hold a 26-20-2 edge.
Las week, New York might have underestimated the Chicago Bears. But quarterback Eli Manning rescued the Giants by throwing two touchdown passes in the third quarter to rally his team over Chicago — another of the NFL's bottom-dwellers.
Could the Giants have been looking ahead? Doubtful. And they won't take the Browns lightly after the close call with Chicago.
The Browns lost 24-9 to the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Quarterback Josh McCown took over for rookie Cody Kessler, who was knocked out of a game for the third time this season. McCown will start Sunday. On Wednesday, the Browns designated quarterback Robert Griffin III to return from injured reserve.
Griffin practiced Wednesday but has not been cleared to play. He was the starter in Game 1 but broke a bone in his left shoulder.
And for the first time, frustration in the Browns' locker room boiled over with perhaps the team's best two players speaking up.
Terrelle Pryor Sr., the former quarterback who has had a breakout season, called out the offensive line after Kessler and McCown were sacked eight times by the Steelers.
“Somebody's got to say it so I will,” Pryor said. “I'm tired of our quarterbacks getting hit. This is (baloney). They can't keep getting hit like that. … Whoever's given up their blocks, they need to stop it.”
Left tackle and future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas also criticized the front office for letting center Alex Mack (Atlanta Falcons) and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz (Kansas City Chiefs) leave through free agency.
“Well, we lost a couple really good players, I think the best at their position,” Thomas said. “But that was our strategy in the offseason. That's what we decided to do.
“You've got to lie in the bed that you've made, and I don't make the decisions on who comes and goes. So that's not something that I can concern myself with.”
Just another complication for Browns first-year coach Hue Jackson.
He said he wished his players wouldn't voice frustrations to reporters, but in a roundabout said Pryor and Thomas, who has not missed a snap in his nine-year career, had earned some cache to speak out.
“They want to win,” Jackson said. “It's all coming from a good place.
“These guys work extremely hard. They come in this building every day and they're in here working their tails off with the expectation to go out and win and play well.”
While Jackson and the Browns are trying to figure out how to survive, New York counterpart Ben McAdoo is pushing all the right buttons in his first season, but he knows there's work to be done.
“We haven't accomplished anything yet,” McAdoo said. “The highs are high and the lows are low and you're going have to put out three dumpster fires a day. Other than that, you need to focus on your preparation and get ready for the next opponent.”
McAdoo embraces away games and relishes time his squad can spend on the road.
“Anytime you get a chance to get on the road and bond and spend some time together, some quality time together that way, your team has a chance to grow and get closer,” he said.
And the Giants have done just that, especially the defense.
The Giants' defense has eight picks and 14 sacks in their last eight game. Landon Collins is headed to the Pro Bowl (80 tackles, three sacks and five interceptions) and defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon are playing at a high level.
Pierre-Paul did show up on Wednesday's injury report with swelling in a knee, which kept him on the sideline.
And for the first time in two years, the Giants compiled back-to-back 100-yard rushing games the past two weeks.
Manning will be licking his chops as he goes against a defense that is 31st in yards (409.5), 22nd against the pass (265.5), 31st against the run (143.9) and 31st in points allowed (29.5).
The Browns rank next to last in sacks with 16.
Manning got a dose of good news on Wednesday when guard Justin Pugh, who has missed the past two games with a knee injury, returned to practice. Even though his status for Sunday's game still is in limbo, there were reports Pugh was “very active in drills.”
Yet Manning is not taking the Browns' defense lightly, pointing to cornerback Joe Haden, who is one of the best at his position.
He's got great ball skills. When the ball's in the air, he does a great job finding it and catching it,” Manning said.
Haden will have his hands full, though, as he most likely will line up opposite of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was dealing with a jammed finger. After a slow start, Beckham has compiled 819 yards on 59 receptions and scored six touchdowns.
The Browns' other starting corner, Tramon Williams, was limited in practice with a knee injury that sidelined him last week
These teams have at least one thing in common –neither has scored 30 points this season.
Weather is not expected to be an issue with temperature along Lake Erie in the 50s. But if Mother Nature does rear her head, Manning will be prepared.
“I think you just have to go with the game plan,” he said Wednesday. “We're not going to be able to do everything. Just try and have answers for all their defenses. If we get to Sunday and it is bad conditions, you just deal with it from there.”
One of the things the Browns must deal with on their journey to possible infamy is keeping the fan base and staying the course. They have a boatload of draft picks and Jackson is committed.
“I truly believe I'm just the man for the job,” he said. “That has not shown, and I respect that and I understand how our fans and all feel, but I'm not running from this. I'm going to run through it, and I'm going to deal with it head on. We are going to fix this.”
But how bad is it in Cleveland? The cost of a ticket for the game is about the same as two Happy Meals. That's pretty sad considering the Browns once proud franchise.