BEREA, Ohio (AP) -It may be fitting that the Browns are huge underdogs for coach Romeo Crennel's return to New England on Sunday.
Crennel says his most satisfying memory with the Patriots came in that role.
``We were a big-time underdog and were playing one of the best teams on turf,'' Crennel said Wednesday of the Patriots' 20-17 win over St. Louis in the 2002 Super Bowl. ``No one thought we had a chance. But our guys hung together as a team.''
Crennel is in his third year with the Browns after four years as defensive coordinator of the Patriots under coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots won three Super Bowls in those four years.
If the Browns (2-2) can upset the 4-0 Patriots, Crennel might have a new favorite memory of New England. The Patriots, 16 1/2-point favorites, have outscored their opponents by 100 points and are the first team since 1920 to open the season with four wins of at least 20 points.
``It's a challenge, that's what it is,'' Crennel said. ``Just like that first Super Bowl was a challenge. Everybody said the Rams had us outmanned. That's why you play the game.''
Crennel and Belichick began working together with the New York Giants in 1981. They were assistants together under Bill Parcells with the Giants, Patriots and Jets.
``He's taken a lot of young players and built it into a strong, competitive team,'' Belichick said of Crennel on a conference call. ``They get better each week. That comes from the head coach.''
Belichick described Crennel as a motivator who always communicated well with players.
``I love Romeo,'' Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said on a conference call. ``He's a great coach. He always had the respect of the players. If Romeo was speaking, everybody was listening.''
Crennel's success under Belichick made him a viable head coaching candidate after 30 years in the business. But Crennel considers Belichick more of a colleague than a mentor.
``We worked together for a long time,'' said Crennel, who is 60, five years older than Belichick. ``I've learned a lot from him and enjoyed working with him.''
Crennel said the ability to make sideline adjustments was the main thing he learned from Belichick. What did Belichick learn from him?
``PR might be one thing that he learned,'' Crennel joked. Since Belichick's head coaching debut with the Browns in 1991, he's had a strained relationship with the media.
Crennel said Belichick, a former defensive coordinator, gave him great freedom when Crennel was running the Patriots' defense.
``He let me do all of it,'' he said. ``I installed the game plan, decided who to play, I made the calls.''
Crennel went 10-22 in his first two years in Cleveland and entered this season under heavy scrutiny. The Browns' surprising start has taken the focus off Crennel's job security, and the players are starting to believe they've turned the corner.
``He takes care of us and we just want to go out and win for him,'' running back Jamal Lewis said. ``I think he knows what he's doing and it just took a little time.''
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