Surprisingly Good

The Cleveland Browns thought they had given another game away last week. Instead, they got new life and unexpected new hope in the AFC North.

The Browns (6-4) look to build on a wild win when they come home to face the surging Houston Texans (5-5) on Sunday.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Cleveland –3.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 51 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 66% of bets for this game have been placed on Cleveland –3.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Cleveland blew a pair of fourth-quarter leads in a loss to Pittsburgh two weeks ago, and appeared on its way to doing the same in Baltimore last week, allowing the Ravens to score 16 points in the final period to take a 30-27 lead with 26 seconds left. However, a Josh Cribbs 39-yard kick return and two Derek Anderson passes put Cleveland's Phil Dawson in position for a potential tying 51-yard field goal.

The kick was long enough, but bounced off the left upright and then what appeared to be the crossbar before falling into the end zone as time expired.

The Ravens celebrated and the Browns hung their heads. After a lengthy discussion, though, the officials determined that Dawson's kick had gone off the curved center support behind the crossbar. The kick was ruled good, and Cleveland got the ball in overtime and marched 43 yards to set up Dawson, whose 33-yarder gave the Browns a stunning win.

"This team, for whatever reason, thrives on adversity. The tougher the situation, the better we do,'' Dawson said. "We all had a feeling when we got the call and went into overtime, what a shame it would have been to not capitalize on it.''

A week after the Pittsburgh defeat seemed to put to rest their hopes of a division title, the Browns won and the Steelers lost in overtime to the New York Jets, pulling Cleveland to within one game of first place in the AFC North.

Cleveland forced four turnovers, had a season-high six sacks and earned its first season sweep of the Ravens since 2001. The Browns, however, weren't happy about allowing the 16 fourth-quarter points to let Baltimore all but rally for the win.

Defensive problems are nothing new to Cleveland. They're allowing 29.4 points per game, most in the NFL, and are also last in total yards allowed at 406.3. The next-worst defense allows 374.7 yards a game.

"We couldn't stop (Baltimore) in the second half," Browns coach Romeo Crennel said. "You're fortunate to win when things like that happen."

The other side of the ball hasn't been a problem for Cleveland since its season-opening 34-7 loss to Pittsburgh. Anderson took over as the starting quarterback after that, and the Browns have since averaged 31.2 points and 360.6 yards.

Some of the credit for Anderson's emergence has to go to his favorite deep threat, Braylon Edwards, who has 51 catches for 837 yards and 10 touchdowns. Tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. (52 catches, 767 yards, four touchdowns) gives Anderson another consistent option over the middle.

The Browns offense will likely have to put up a lot of points again to keep pace with Houston, which is averaging 350.4 yards - in the top 10 in the league. Plus, the Texans' two biggest offensive weapons, quarterback Matt Schaub and receiver Andrew Johnson, are back in the lineup.

Johnson sprained his knee late in the Texans' Week 2 win at Carolina, forcing the star receiver to miss the next seven games following Houston's 2-0 start. Schaub suffered a concussion in a Week 8 loss at San Diego, then missed the team's game at Oakland the following week. Both had the Week 10 bye to get healthy, and clearly were so in their return to the lineup Sunday in a 23-10 win over New Orleans.

Schaub completed 21 of 33 passes for 293 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers, while Johnson caught six balls for 120 yards and grabbed one of Schaub's TD throws.

The Texans are 3-0 when Schaub and Johnson are both in the starting lineup. Johnson has had at least 120 yards receiving and one touchdown in all three games he's played. A season after leading the league with 103 receptions, his 127.3 yards-per- game average tops the NFL.

"(Andre) brings a presence to the football team, to the organization. "He's a worker, and when he's on the field, you better work hard or he's going to run you off," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said after last week's win. "And Matt had a ton of confidence going into this game knowing that he was out there."

Though Houston got its two offensive stars back, the buzz surrounding the game against the Saints was about a player not wearing a Texans uniform. Houston had the No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft but passed on USC star tailback Reggie Bush, taking defensive end Mario Williams instead in a decision that was widely criticized at the time.

Williams, though, made the Texans look pretty smart against New Orleans, which selected Bush with the second pick. Williams sacked Drew Brees once, forced a fumble and finished with six tackles, while helping hold Bush to 34 rushing yards on 15 carries.

"To me, we're playing the Saints, we're not playing one person,'' Williams said. ``We had to stop the run and keep us in the game, but it wasn't like we were sitting there playing (only) Reggie.''

The Texans have not made the playoffs in five years of existence, but with three games left against their AFC South rivals plus a game against 5-5 Denver, Houston will have an opportunity to play its way in.

Houston and Cleveland have met four times, with each team winning twice. The Texans have taken the last two matchups, including a 14-6 victory at Reliant Stadium last season.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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