Suddenly, the Brownies’ recipe is for success

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By Duane Rankin
Globe Correspondent / November 8, 2010

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CLEVELAND — It sure seems as if they’ve pulled a rabbit out of the hat — twice.

The Cleveland Browns have gone from being 1-5 to pulling off consecutive upset wins against the defending Super Bowl champions and the team with the NFL’s best record.

“The thing that’s been going on around here and has been going on for some time is consistency,’’ Browns coach Eric Mangini said yesterday after the 34-14 win over the Patriots. “That’s it. You’ve got to keep putting snow on that mountain and eventually it triggers, but it’s everybody making good decisions each day and there is no magic formula. No shortcuts. It’s hard work and it’s consistent hard work.’’

Mangini called it a process, but the Browns winning at New Orleans Oct. 24 and yesterday against New England showed the process is picking up steam fast.

“First, you learn how to work,’’ said Mangini, who is 4-1 after bye weeks, winning the last four. “Then you learn how to compete. Then you learn how to win. Then you learn how to win consistently.’’

Four of Cleveland’s five defeats have been by 10 points or fewer, and the Browns have lost to teams with a combined record of 27-14.

So in their minds, they were improving. Now they’re winning.

“We’re finally proving to people this is a winner,’’ said running back Peyton Hillis. “Not a winner two years from now, three years from now. It’s a winner now.’’

In beating the Patriots, the Browns further established the reckless style wide receiver Joshua Cribbs said they’re going to ride till the end.

“We’re leaving it all on the table,’’ he said.

Cleveland took a 17-7 lead late in the first half when Cribbs and Chansi Stuckey collaborated on a now you see the ball, now you don’t play. On first down from the Patriots’ 11, Cribbs calmly walked up behind center, took the snap, and slipped the ball to Stuckey as he ran by.

“They wouldn’t be expecting it,’’ Cribbs said.

Stuckey, who was lined up behind the right guard, took the ball, ran to the pylon, and extended the ball over the goal line for a touchdown.

“The threat that [Cribbs] is, guys are going to run with him,’’ Stuckey said. “Once everybody kind of clears out, I give a go call to the linemen and they go.’’

The Browns practiced the play all week.

“Ben [Watson] did a great job of blocking and I just squeezed into the corner of the end zone,’’ said Stuckey.

Having a healthier Hillis, a rookie quarterback (Colt McCoy) whose confidence is growing, a solid defense, and an offense that is making fewer mistakes has the Browns on a little roll.

“We’re learning how to win,’’ Mangini said.

Hillis rushed for a career-high 184 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries.

He had just 69 rushing yards against the Saints, but he was still fighting a quadriceps injury. It’s safe to say he’s feeling much better now.

“It was hard to get up and go and run, but with the two weeks off, it did wonders,’’ Hillis said.

As for McCoy, the former University of Texas star is 2-1 as the starter. He has been granted more freedom to audible, as he did in the first quarter. The Browns, ahead 10-0, faced fourth and 1 at their 36. McCoy came to the line and shifted a tight formation into a spread look.

The Patriots responded by spreading their defense to cover the receivers. So McCoy ran a sneak to pick up 3 yards and a first down.

“You see if the front moves,’’ McCoy said. “You see who shifts out. Had an opening, so I took it.’’

McCoy’s teammates are also making big plays, like the one by Cribbs, who took out safety Brandon Merriweather on a block that enabled the rookie quarterback to scramble for a 16-yard touchdown for a 24-7 lead in the third quarter.

“I didn’t try to hurt him in any way,’’ Cribbs said. “I just took him out. He was trying to hit my quarterback. He was trying to take Colt out. So I took him out before he could do that.’’

Just because the Browns have won two in a row over quality opponents, don’t expect them to get overconfident.

“We’re the Browns. We’re the underdog no matter who we face,’’ said Cribbs. “So we have nothing to lose. We’re out there throwing our bodies around. Everybody doesn’t care about the credit. All for one, one for all type play.’’

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