The gray hair on David Bowens’ head matches that in his goatee. Sheldon Brown has appeared in 130 straight regular-season games. Jake Delhomme and Phil Dawson started their NFL careers in the 1990s.
These 30-somethings aren’t alone in the Browns locker room. They have 18 players 30 and older on their roster, more than any team in the league.
That statistic came as a surprise to coach Eric Mangini, but may explain the overall lack of speed. While so much experience doesn’t exactly fit with the Browns’ rebuilding status, the maturity has already paid dividends.
No one inside the locker room is freaking out after the disastrous 0-2 start.
“We’ve all been through the highs and lows in our career,” left guard Eric Steinbach, 30, said. “If we have all these guys leading and showing how to do it the right way, it shouldn’t be a problem.”
The frustration level of the fans spiked after the opening loss to Tampa Bay and went up a notch with the home loss to Kansas City. The players share the disappointment but not the degree of angst.
“When you have a lot of guys who’ve been in this situation many times before, there’s going to be no panic,” linebacker Scott Fujita, 31, said. “Guys aren’t going to freak out by any stretch of the imagination.”
The Browns aren’t all graybeards and senior citizens – they have five rookies and seven second-year guys. The veterans are spread throughout the position groups, and the influence can be calming on a shell-shocked youngster.
“It’s important to have poise and maintain your composure and not panic,” Fujita said. “But at the same time, there’s got to be a sense of urgency. It’s kind of a fine line you’ve got to walk.
“The most frustrating thing in football is when you lose a game you feel like you should’ve won. That’s two games in a row that happened to us. That’s disappointing.”
The Browns have a chance today to ease the frustration and disappointment, but it won’t be easy. The Ravens (1-1) are a Super Bowl favorite, playing their home opener and looking to bounce back from an AFC North loss at Cincinnati. The Browns are double-digit underdogs.
Since the current playoff format began in 1990, 22 teams started 0-2 and made the playoffs. Only five teams have made it after going 0-3.
“Both teams need the win,” Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said.
The Browns have taken solace in the notion they blew the first two games. They keep pointing to the five turnovers – four of which took points away or gave them to the other team – and 14 penalties as the causes for the losses.
“We could just as easily be 2-0,” running back Peyton Hillis said. “That’s not how the ball rolled. We have to be a team, be men and rise above this.
“We put ourselves in that position, we made the mistakes and we have to overcome this ourselves.”
The climb continues to get steeper. Delhomme will likely miss his second straight game with an ankle injury, leaving Seneca Wallace to make his first start against the second-ranked Ravens defense. Wallace went 16-for-31 for 229 yards and a touchdown last week against the Chiefs, but threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
The Browns will also be without receiver Brian Robiskie (hamstring) and might not have running back Jerome Harrison (thigh).
Baltimore has gone 10 straight quarters without allowing a touchdown, including the playoffs last year, while the Browns have been shut out in both second halves this year. The Ravens are 12-4 at home under coach John Harbaugh and outscored the Browns 50-3 in last year’s two meetings.
“The environment, the defense, all the things that the Ravens present, you can look at it as daunting or you can look at it as exciting and as a challenge and as something that is an opportunity to do really positive things,” Mangini said. “You can’t go in and be a wilting flower, you’ve got to go in and appreciate the environment, appreciate the atmosphere, feed off that. Draw energy from your teammates, draw energy from your group and meet the challenge.”
The veteran leadership should be an asset. Hearing the deafening crowd or watching Ray Lewis do his herky-jerky pregame dance shouldn’t faze the old fellas.
“It’s the ability to have perspective on things,” Mangini said. “The wisdom to understand that each week is a unique opportunity, each week is a unique challenge. We all get into looking back, looking forward and really it’s like texting in your car. You better be looking straight ahead or you’ll crash.”
Receiver Joshua Cribbs isn’t one of the 30-somethings. He’s 27 and in his prime.
But in his sixth season he’s learned a few things.
“We’ve still got high hopes,” he said. “There have been years in the past where you’ll see guys giving up. The last couple years you haven’t seen that around here. Guys fight to the end.
“The camaraderie on this team is so great now, we can overcome things.”
Like an 0-2 start with a win on the road against the rival Ravens.
“That could change the outlook. That’s the plan – to get a victory,” he said. “We’re hungry for a victory.”
• WHO: Browns at Ravens
• WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore
• TIME: 1 p.m.
• RECORDS: Browns 0-2; Ravens 1-1
• LAST WEEK: Browns lost 16-14 to Kansas City; Ravens lost 15-10 at Cincinnati
• SERIES: Ravens lead 15-7
• SERIES AT BALTIMORE: Ravens lead 8-3
• LAST MEETING: Ravens won 16-0 in Cleveland on Nov. 16
• COACHES: Eric Mangini is 5-13 with Browns, 28-39 overall; John Harbaugh is 24-15 with Ravens and overall
• TV/RADIO: Channel 19, with broadcasters Don Criqui and Steve Beuerlein; WMMS 100.7-FM
• NFL RANKINGS (OUT OF 32 TEAMS): Browns – offense 17th (22nd rushing, 13th passing), defense 13th (25th rushing, T-8th passing); Ravens – offense 25th (26th rushing, 21st passing), defense 2nd (13th rushing, 2nd passing)
• BROWNS UPDATE: WR Joshua Cribbs had a career-high 74 receiving yards against the Chiefs, including a career-long 65-yarder for a touchdown. … TE Benjamin Watson had a career-long 44-yarder last week, showing good speed. … The Browns have given up just one sack, which is tied for best in the league. … Mangini is 0-3 vs. the Ravens. … The Browns haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in four straight games. They haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season. … LB Marcus Benard has 2.5 sacks, tied for eighth in the NFL. He has at least a half-sack in five of eight career games and could become the first Brown since 1995 to have at least a half-sack in five straight games. Anthony Pleasant and Reggie Camp are the Browns with such a streak since sacks became an official stat in 1982. … Rookie S T.J. Ward has led the team in tackles both games and has 19. He’s tied for the team lead with three special teams tackles. … OL Tony Pashos played one series at right tackle last week. He played for the Ravens from 2003-06. … K Phil Dawson is 24-for-26 lifetime on field goals against the Ravens. He’s 0-2 this year.
• RAVENS UPDATE: Baltimore is 9-5 in home openers with four straight wins. … The Ravens have allowed four touchdowns in the last six regular-season games, one of which was a punt return. … LB Ray Lewis’ seven sacks against the Browns are his most against an opponent. … LB Terrell Suggs has seven forced fumbles and 11 sacks in 14 games against Cleveland. … Harbaugh is from Perrysburg and went to Miami of Ohio. He has three road playoff wins in two seasons. … The Ravens have a minus-6 turnover ratio through two games. … Senior personnel assistant George Kokinis was general manager in Cleveland for the first part of 2009. … WR Donte Stallworth, a former Brown, is out with a foot injury. … K Billy Cundiff played five games for the Browns in 2009. … The Ravens have allowed three 100-yard rushing performances in the last 53 games.
• BROWNS INJURY REPORT: Out: OL Shawn Lauvao (ankle); Doubtful: QB Jake Delhomme (ankle), LB D’Qwell Jackson (pectoral), WR Brian Robiskie (hamstring), DL Shaun Rogers (ankle, hip); Questionable: LB Marcus Benard (ankle), WR Joshua Cribbs (ankle), RB Jerome Harrison (thigh), WR Carlton Mitchell (head), FB Lawrence Vickers (illness); Probable: LB Eric Barton (hip), TE Evan Moore (head), DB Derrick Roberson (hip), LB Matt Roth (foot), DL Brian Schaefering (wrist), DL Robaire Smith (ankle), OL John St. Clair (foot), OL Joe Thomas (elbow), OL Floyd Womack (knee).
• RAVENS INJURY REPORT: Out: OL Jared Gaither (back), LB Tavares Gooden (shoulder), WR Donte Stallworth (foot); Probable: LB Dannell Ellerbe (knee), TE Todd Heap (shoulder), LB Jarret Johnson (back), WR Derrick Mason (knee), LB Jameel McClain (knee), FB Le’Ron McClain (shoulder), DT Haloti Ngata (back), RB Ray Rice (ankle), LB Terrell Suggs (ankle).
• THE PICK: Browns keep it close, but another costly turnover means another close loss. Ravens 20-13.
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