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Browns hoping to climb from bottom of AFC North

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Browns hoping to climb from bottom of AFC North

BEREA, Ohio (AP) They've been on the bottom for so long it seems as if the Browns are stuck there.

With an abysmal 15-48 record inside the AFC North since it was formed in 2002, Cleveland has been the rugged division's longtime punching bag and cellar dwellers. They've been down and stayed down.

That could soon change.

One of the NFL's youngest teams, the Browns believe they are closing the gap on Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh - all playoff teams in 2011.

``Everybody in the division is beatable,'' cornerback Joe Haden said. ``I just feel our team is starting to become one of the good teams. We're on the verge of being at the top.''

It's going to be a long, slow climb, but the Browns (2-6) are showing signs that they're finally headed in the right direction. They've won two straight home games, and following a victory over San Diego, the Browns are feeling pretty good about themselves heading into Sunday's rematch with Baltimore.

The Ravens (5-2) have beaten the Browns nine straight times. Baltimore defeated Cleveland 23-16 on Sept. 27, but the Browns were in the game until the final seconds despite a costly interception, several dropped passes and losing kick return specialist/wide receiver Josh Cribbs, who was heavily involved in the game plan, to a concussion in the first quarter.

Like Haden, Cribbs sees the Browns, who are just 4-23 in the division since 2008 and have never been better than 3-3, catching up to the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers. However, Cribbs said the only way for Cleveland to accelerate the process and truly show its improved is to start beating up the bullies on a regular basis.

``I feel like you have to,'' Cribbs said. ``What other way can you? You can say we always play them well and fought hard, but the real test is taking advantage of our opportunities by winning, not by coming close.

``A win is a win.''

For several years, there was a huge disparity in talent between Cleveland and the rest of the division. That's no longer the case as Browns general manager Tom Heckert has drafted well, infusing the roster the past three years with up-and-coming players like Haden, defensive tackle Phil Taylor and a trio of rising rookies: running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was plucked in the second round of the supplemental draft.

The Browns look better, and they're playing better, too. Cleveland is no longer a pushover, not that the Ravens ever considered the Browns as such. Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco has won all nine games he's played against the Browns, a lopsided statistic he says may be a bit deceiving.

``It's kind of crazy that we haven't lost, because there have been a lot of close ones,'' Flacco said. ``Even all the way back to my rookie year, they were beating us up there and we came back. There have been a lot of games that have come down to the wire, including the last one we played against them.''

Before they beat the Bengals on Oct. 14, the Browns had lost 12 straight division games. By contrast, the Ravens have won 10 in a row inside the AFC North, the league's longest current streak.

For the Browns to be taken seriously as an improved team, they need to start stringing together wins over their division rivals. And now that the weather has gotten colder, Cribbs said there's nothing like a division foe to get the blood boiling.

``It's great football in the AFC North, especially at this time of year,'' he said. ``This is what football is all about, playing football at this time of year when the weather is bad, the field is bad. It really shows what you're made of. If you succumb to the elements it really shows. It showed last week playing against a team from California, they're not used to these elements and we have to take advantage of it. Now we're playing for a team that comes from the same elements.

``It's going to be a nitty-gritty football game.''

Ravens coach John Harbaugh expects nothing less. Although he's also 9-0 against Cleveland, Harbaugh doesn't see the Browns as the division weakling.

``We've always had the greatest respect for all the teams in this division,'' he said. ``Cleveland plays us to the wire every single year. It's always a tough, physical game. We consider it a rivalry. We always have. Same thing with Cincinnati. It's just a really tough division, and it always has been. From the outside looking in, that's how we've seen it and that's kind of how it's played out every time we've played everybody in this division.''

The Browns feel as if they let a win slip away when they played the Ravens in Week 4. Cleveland was driving for a possible go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, when Weeden's pass toward the sideline was intercepted by cornerback Cary Williams and returned 63 yards for a TD.

Weeden couldn't make up for it that night, but this week he'll finally gets a chance to atone for the mistake. But Weeden understands there's a bigger picture to consider when Baltimore's in town.

``More than anything it's a divisional game,'' he said. ``We're 2-6 and we're trying to win a divisional game. They hit us in the mouth and they played well. We've grown up a lot since then and they've gotten better, so you know it's a big game for both teams. They're coming off a bye week, we're coming off a win and want to keep going off that.

``It's a divisional game and both teams are ready to rock and roll.''

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NOTES: WR Mohamed Massaquoi may return this week after missing five games with a hamstring injury. Browns coach Pat Shurmur feels Weeden and Massaquoi, who had developed a nice chemistry together, will pick up where they left off. ``I've watched in practice and they really haven't lost that feel,'' Shurmur said. ``There's a pretty good connection there.'' ... DT Ahtyba Rubin (calf), CB Dimitri Patterson (ankle) and DL Brian Sanford (knee) missed practice.

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Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

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USA Today Sports

Fellow dance student of Ravens' Alex Collins fatally shot in Florida school shooting

On Wednesday, February 14, a horrific school shooting claimed the lives of 17 innocent people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. 

The tragic event impacted people far and wide, and hit especially close to home for Ravens running back Alex Collins.

The former Arkansas star was born in Plantation, Fla., a suburb of Fort Lauderdale and went to high school just 15 miles south of Douglas High School. 

In the offseason, Collins took Irish dancing lessons to improve his footwork, and following the act of terror, the Ravens' tailback learned that one of his dance partners had been killed in the mass shooting.

17-year-old Cara Loughran attended The Drake school of Irish Dance with Collins in addition to two other Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and was fatally shot by the gunman on Wednesday afternoon. 

Collins took to his Twitter account to issue this heartfelt message.

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“The school shooting yesterday hit home,” Collins wrote.

“We received confirmation a few hours ago we lost one of the girls, Cara Loughran. Two other girls saw and experienced unspeakable tragedy. My heart goes out to these girls, all their families and their teacher Chrissy.”

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Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

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USA Today Sports

Baltimore Ravens to take on Chicago Bears in Hall of Fame game

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens and Chicago Bears will launch the NFL's 99th season by playing in the annual Hall of Fame game on Aug. 2.

The Ravens' first appearance in the Hall of Fame game, which launches the league's 2018 Enshrinement Week. Former Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis is among the inductees, along with former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

Lewis, who played 17 seasons with the Ravens, and Urlacher, who played all of his 13 seasons with Chicago, both were elected on the first ballot.

Lewis joins Jonathan Ogden as the only Ravens in the Hall of Fame. Both were selected by Baltimore in the first round of the 1996 draft.

The other members of the Class of 2018 include Bobby Beathard, Robert Brazile, Brian Dawkins, Jerry Kramer, Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. All will be inducted on Saturday, Aug. 4.

This will be the record-tying fifth time that the Bears will play in the Hall of Fame game. They won the previous four, most recently 27-24 over Miami in 2005.

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