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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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Ravens cancel Saturday's open practice at M&T Bank Stadium

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USA Today Sports

Ravens cancel Saturday's open practice at M&T Bank Stadium

The Baltimore Ravens cancelled Saturday night's free open practice at M&T Bank Stadium due to a forecast that calls for heavy rain and inclement weather.

There is no official word from the team on whether this practice will be resheduled, but it seems like Sunday may be an option, even though there's rain in the forecast then too.

Ravens fans who were looking to see first-round draft pick and potential future starting quarterback Lamar Jackson will have to wait for another day. His presence at training camp, an inevitable competition with the incumbent, Joe Flacco, and potential two-quarterback packages involving both of them are set to be some of the biggest storylines of Ravens camp this summer.

As a Heisman Trophy winner, Jackson was one of the most dynamic players in college football during his time at Louisville. If he can replicate that kind of performance in the NFL, he will be at plenty more training camp sessions for Ravens fans to watch.

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After breakout 2017 season, Ravens running back Alex Collins isn't getting too comfortable

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After breakout 2017 season, Ravens running back Alex Collins isn't getting too comfortable

This time last year, running back Alex Collins wasn't a part of the Baltimore Ravens.

After being released by the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the 2017 preseason, the Ravens placed the 23-year-old on their practice squad, and by Week 2, Collins was already making plays.

As the season progressed, Collins found himself as the Ravens' top running back. He finished 2017 as the team's leading rusher with 973 yards while Javorius "Buck" Allen followed behind him with 591 yards.

If the 2018 NFL season began today, Collins would likely be the Ravens' starter, which is quite ironic considering the fate of his 2017 preseason.

"I always go back to where I started and where I am now, and I use that as my motivation," Collins said after Thursday's training camp practice.

"No matter the day, no matter how tired I am, I think to myself, at this time last year, I didn’t know my position, where I was, where I’d end up. So just having that security behind it is definitely my motivation to keep it this way and keep pushing forward and keep trying to get better instead of being complacent.”

Over the course of 15 games, Collins proved he had the strength and speed to make an impact on the team after Danny Woodhead suffered a hamstring injury on the first drive of the Ravens' Week 1 game and Kenneth Dixon sat out the entire season with a torn meniscus. 

While job security is something we all strive for, Collins isn't getting too comfortable with the hierarchy. 

“I don’t want to say necessarily ‘comfortable,’ because when I use that word, it makes me feel like I’m too relaxed and lackadaisical," Collins said.

"I’m more focused. I don’t want to get comfortable. I don’t want the team or our group to get comfortable, because we just want to get better every day. So, in the position I am, it’s a great feeling, but I’m always pushing myself to be better.”

While Collins has set personal goals for himself – like a 1,000-yard season – he is equally as focused on making the Ravens backfield one of the best groups in the National Football League. 

“I expect that," Collins said on being the Ravens' starter.

"I would hope that all the other running backs expect [to be the starter] as well, and that’s what kind of drives our group – when we all know that we have that capability to be the No. 1 guy, and we’re out competing and push each other and try to be the best. No matter who’s out there during the game, you’ll see a productive play out of that person. So, I have that mindset. I want to be the guy. I have that fire in me, and I hope [that is] as well as the other running backs, as I encouraged them as well.”

Collins noted that he's coming into training camp a bit heavier. He added five pounds to his 200-pound frame "just to see how that feels," but is still maintaining the stamina and strength he's always had. 

Collins – who was one of several veterans released from practice early as the team begins to adjust their way into the extended preseason – finished his media availability with a friendly warning to fantasy football owners: "Draft me now before it’s too late, guys."

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