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The Cleveland Browns Are in the Playoff Hunt After Ugly Win over Bucs

Will Burge@WillBurgeContributor INovember 2, 2014

Cleveland Browns defensive back Jim Leonhard (30) and inside linebacker Craig Robertson celebrate after Robertson blocked a Cleveland Browns punt in the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 2, 2014, in Cleveland. The Browns recovered and scored a touchdown later on a pass to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. (AP Photo/David Richard)
David Richard/Associated Press

The last time the Cleveland Browns were 5-3 after eight games, they missed the playoffs. That year was 2007, and despite winning 10 games, they stayed home for the postseason. After defeating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 22-17 on Sunday, the Browns can legitimately start talking about the playoffs again.

Realistically, the Browns' second half of the season is much tougher than the first. They still have to play the Cincinnati Bengals twice, the Baltimore Ravens once and travel to both Carolina and Atlanta. Five of their last eight games are on the road, and one of the home games is against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts.

Still, as of right now the Browns are in the thick of the playoff hunt and loving every second of it.

“It’s a great feeling man, just being able to be over .500 and you’re playing meaningful games in November,” safety Tashaun Gipson said after Sunday’s victory. “I can’t remember the last time the Browns were able to play meaningful football games in November.”

It does seem like an eternity ago. It is also tough to grasp just how good the start of this season has been for the Browns. Their ineptitude on offense and struggles the last three weeks against some of the worst teams in the NFL has clouded the vantage point that would normally look so beautiful sitting two games over .500.

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Having to scrape by for victories over the 1-7 Buccaneers and 0-7 Raiders at home is not exactly appeasing to the eye. Yet even through the rough stretch, the Browns find themselves with a chance to pull into a tie for first place in the AFC North Thursday night when they travel to Cincinnati.

No one could have imagined this type of start to the year. The Browns were without their Pro Bowl wide receiver for 10 games, had an unproven quarterback coming off a season-ending knee injury and a rookie head coach. There was no way they could be in the hunt for the postseason in November.

Yet here they are.

The Browns struggled to rush the football once again on Sunday, and that is something that needs to get fixed quickly if they want to stay in the position they are currently in. Twenty-eight rushes for 50 yards and a 1.8 yards per carry average like they had on Sunday are not going to cut it.

To defeat the lowly Bucs, the Browns needed a blocked field goal and a blocked punt. They needed a miraculous tip-drill interception orchestrated by Joe Haden and Donte Whitner. They needed a controversial offensive pass interference call on Tampa’s final drive to seal the victory.

Sure, they needed to pull a rabbit out of their hat on Sunday, but they are still 5-3. In fact, the entire season is starting to feel like a magic trick.

Tampa Bay entered the week as the 29th-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. Then they came to Cleveland, and tada: They rush for 113 yards on 26 carries. For the Browns' next trick, they made Tampa Bay’s rushing defense rise from the dead. They entered the week allowing 124 yards per game. The Browns managed to muster up just 50 on the ground.

The way the Browns played on Sunday will not be good enough to win in their final eight games. In fact, the way they have played over the last three weeks will not be good enough to win down the stretch. For now, however, it was good enough, and they escaped with a victory. 

Hoyer: To start to change that culture...I don't know if a few years ago a Browns team wins that game.

— Zac Jackson (@FSOhioZJackson) November 2, 2014 

That is a great point. Old Browns teams would not have won that game against the Bucs on Sunday. They wouldn’t have won the game against the Raiders the week before either. The Browns were the epitome of “bad teams find a way to lose games” for so long that it is tough not to expect the worst.

But this team has not delivered the result everyone expected stave for one game in Jacksonville. It is finally the Browns that are finding ways to win games late and not the other way around.

The Buccaneers ran five plays on the Browns’ half of the field trailing by just five points late in the fourth quarter. Right before those plays, Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon completed a 31-yard pass to receiver Mike Evans. It seemed as though the Browns were going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory once again.

But then it didn’t happen. In fact, the Browns, and penalties, moved Tampa backward one yard from that point forward. The Browns held on and got their fifth win of the year in just eight games. In 2013, the Browns won just four games total. In the last six years, the Browns have never had more than five victories total.

Since 2003, the Browns have won more than five games in a season just twice. They won six in 2005 and 10 in 2007. The Browns are currently 5-3.

It certainly wasn’t a work of art, but the Browns gutted out a victory on Sunday and now enter the second half of the season as a legitimate threat to make the postseason. They have to improve, but winning ugly counts just as much as winning pretty. Just ask Hoyer.

Hoyer: "we're 5-3 and the box score tomorrow doesn't say 'well, the offense didn't play so great and it was close'...we're 5-3"

— Keith Britton (@KeithBritton86) November 2, 2014 

The Browns will now turn their focus to the biggest game this franchise has seen since Week 16 of 2007. That year they laid a huge egg in Cincinnati and knocked themselves out of the playoffs. They have a chance to right that wrong on Sunday in front of the entire nation.

Even though they won, if they don’t play better than they did on Sunday, it could end up very similar to that 2007 meeting.

Quotes and observations were gathered firsthand unless otherwise noted.

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