The approach all season has been to go 1-0 for the week.
If the Browns go 1-0 two more times, they’ll be in the Super Bowl.
Let that sink in.
The Browns were a long shot when the season started, but the team has always expected more from itself than the rest of the world does. First-year general manager Andrew Berry, not one for hyperbole, said Friday they aren’t ahead of schedule and haven’t reached their goals despite being in the divisional round of the playoffs.
They have Super Bowl dreams.
A matchup Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs as a 10-point underdog doesn’t change the mindset.
“We believe in ourselves, and that is why we are here,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said. “We have a bunch of fighters who have scratched and clawed to get here so we are going to continue to do that week in and week out.”
The organization’s postseason slogan reinforces the point.
“We want more” is on orange and brown T-shirts and signs in the team facility and around town. It’s on message.
“We want to keep this thing going,” linebacker Sione Takitaki said. “It is kind of one of those things where you do not want to get comfortable and you are going to continue to work. We built all of this on hard work.”
Berry loves that the team isn’t satisfied after the success.
“We still have a little bit of meat on the bone, so to speak, where we can still play a cleaner or perfect game,” he said. “That has been the great thing with this group is they are always hungry. They have an eye for self-improvement and are immediately focused on the things that we can fix, regardless of if it is a win or loss.
“That is really the mentality that has really trickled down from our coaching staff. The guys have adopted it and they have eaten it up, and again, it has been a big part of allowing us to get to this point so far.”
The Browns showed they belonged in the conversation of the NFL’s best by going 11-5 in Kevin Stefanski’s first season as a head coach. They proved they’re not the same old Browns — no matter what anyone in Pittsburgh says — by going into Heinz Field, without Stefanski, No. 1 cornerback Denzel Ward and Pro Bowl left guard Joel Bitonio, and handling the rival Steelers in a 48-37 triumph in the wild card round.
The Browns scored six touchdowns, their most in the playoffs since 1954. They snapped a 17-game skid in Pittsburgh and won a playoff game on the road for the first time since 1969.
They couldn’t have done that without extreme belief, which only grew with the franchise’s first playoff win since Jan. 1, 1995. Mayfield continued his brilliant play, going 21-for-34 (61.8 percent) for 263 yards, three touchdowns and a 115.2 passer rating in his first playoff game.
“I do not think you would step on the field unless you believe in yourself,” defensive end Myles Garrett said. “You do not get here doubting yourself, your ability and your teammates, especially not in the playoffs. These guys believe in themselves because they have proven it time and time again that they deserve to be here and they have made the plays that they needed to make.”
The odds remain against the Browns to reach the first Super Bowl in franchise history. They need two more wins on the road as underdogs, which is why they are the longest shot of the four AFC teams (14-to-1).
The path isn’t unprecedented, but it hasn’t been traveled in awhile.
The Packers in 2010 and the Giants in 2007 were the last two wild card teams to win three straight road playoff games and make the Super Bowl. Both won when they got there.
“We can play with anybody,” said running back Kareem Hunt, whose career started with the Chiefs. “We (are playing) a great team, but it does not matter as long as everybody in this building believes that we can win and we really do not care what anybody else has to say. They can keep their opinions to themselves.”
The Chiefs look like the biggest hurdle. They went 14-2 to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC, won 10 straight before resting their starters in the finale and had a bye last week.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes won the MVP in 2018 when he threw 50 touchdown passes in his first season as the starter. He’s played like an MVP since, including leading a comeback to beat the 49ers and being named Super Bowl MVP a year ago.
Mahomes has thrown 114 touchdowns and 23 interceptions in the last three years and completed 66.3 percent for 4,740 yards, 38 touchdowns, six interceptions and a 108.2 passer rating this year. With receiver Tyreek Hill (1,276 receiving yards, 15 touchdowns) and tight end Travis Kelce (1,416, 11), the Chiefs had the No. 1 passing (303.4) offense and No. 6 scoring offense (29.6).
“They have weapons on the perimeter, weapons coming from the backfield and then they have a great trigger man,” Stefanski said. “I think everybody has seen it. It is a difficult offense to defend, both schematically and personnel.”
Mayfield and the Browns will have to keep up in what’s expected to be a shootout. Including the playoff win over the Steelers, they’ve averaged 26.8 points, scoring 40 points four times and 30 four more.
The Browns should be more balanced than the Chiefs, with Mayfield throwing to receiver Jarvis Landry and tight end Austin Hooper and handing off to Nick Chubb and Hunt.
“It comes back to us being extremely efficient,” Mayfield said.
And battling. And believing.
“Scrappy is a good word,” Stefanski said. “These guys have shown this season that they are willing to fight and compete, and that is what January football calls for.”