BEREA, Ohio – Here are the 5-3 Cleveland Browns, preparing to play a really big game Thursday night in Cincinnati on a big, new stage with plenty at stake.
It’s not new to Donte Whitner.
Whitner is new to the Browns but not to Cleveland, where he was raised and starred at Glenville High School before going on to Ohio State. He was drafted in the top 10 by the Buffalo Bills, and in the summer of 2011 he almost signed with the Cincinnati Bengals before choosing the San Francisco 49ers.
He played in three straight NFC Championship Games with the 49ers before signing with the Browns last spring. It’s no coincidence he’s playing his best with the Browns as the defense is improving from a slow start. The Browns have won four of five and have a chance Thursday night to really make believers outside of the locker room as they play the 5-2-1 Bengals.
"We are confident because we are making plays as a unit, as a whole, as a football team," Whitner said. "We know people don’t give us a chance. We know people didn’t give us a chance before the season. People had us winning one, two, three games the whole year.
"We can’t change that. We don’t care about the outside opinions. We’re going there to win a football game. We’ve been playing well. Now, we’re just ready to put it all together and just see where the chips fall."
Whitner’s first season as a pro in his hometown is going well by any measure, and he admits he can "feel the buzz" for a team that’s already won as many games as it has in any of the past six seasons.
"It’s been a long time since the Browns were relevant in November," Whitner said. "There’s added excitement. We want to put a good product on the field and get a win."
Though he’s much more used to playing in big games and nationally-televised games than most of his teammates, Whitner said he doesn’t feel his leadership role is more important this week than it is in any other week. He said all the pregame hype is "just part of the noise" that comes with playing in meaningful games that will impact the standings.
The four AFC North teams are essentially separated by a half-game in the standings. The Browns haven’t won a road division game since 2008, a streak that’s reached 17 games.
"We’ll be ready to play," Whitner said. "These aren’t the old Cleveland Browns."