The Buffalo Bills were riding high atop the AFC East three weeks ago, but after three straight division losses, they're fighting to avoid falling into last place.
To hear some of their own players tell it, the Cleveland Browns aren't putting up any sort of fight these days.
After two prominent Browns accused some teammates of quitting during their latest loss, Cleveland will try to avoid a third straight defeat on Monday night in Buffalo, where three consecutive losses have the Bills trying to halt their own midseason meltdown.
Buffalo won five of its first six contests, taking advantage of an easy early schedule to grab a one-game lead over New England. But as the Bills (5-4) entered the AFC East portion of their schedule, their solid, efficient play gave way to a bevy of mistakes. They combined for nine turnovers in losses to Miami, the New York Jets and most recently the Patriots, mustering only 168 yards of offense in a 20-10 defeat Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
"We have to get our swagger back,'' running back Fred Jackson said. "Going into these last couple of weeks, we haven't had that normal swagger that we usually have. ... That's something we want to address, because we know we're better than we're playing.''
Cleveland (3-6) feels it should be far better than its record indicates, and back-to-back home losses have put Romeo Crennel's team three games behind AFC North co-leaders Pittsburgh and Baltimore.
While the two losses hurt the Browns in the standings, it was the way they unfolded that had a pair of Cleveland players questioning the commitment of their teammates. The Browns led the Ravens 27-13 on Nov. 2 before Baltimore scored the game's final 24 points, then blew a 23-13 fourth-quarter lead four days later, falling 34-30 to Denver.
"This is as frustrated as I've been in as many years as I've been playing,'' said veteran running back Jamal Lewis, who's gaining 3.6 yards per carry and has yet to have a 100-yard game. "I've never seen anything like it in my life. I'm just not cut from this kind of cloth. I play physical football. I come out here and give it my all - all week. This is the NFL. You can't call it quits until the game is over. But it looks to me like some people call it quits before that."
All-Pro kick returner Joshua Cribbs, third in the NFL at 27.7 yards per return, echoed Lewis' sentiments about the loss to the Broncos.
"We know if everybody didn't quit, we would've won that ballgame,'' he said.
The main culprit for the blown leads has been the Browns' defense, a unit which has allowed an average of 496.5 yards in its last two games. That's where the focus is for Crennel, rather than the accusations of Lewis and Cribbs.
"It seems like the word 'quit' has taken a life of its own and grown a little bit bigger, and now the Browns are quitters and the coach has lost control of the team and there's division in the locker room, and that's not the case,'' Crennel said. "These guys are going to play and play together. Whether we play good enough remains to be seen.''
Both teams have a second-year quarterback under center, though one has far more experience than the other. Brady Quinn made his first career start in the loss to the Broncos, throwing for 239 yards and two touchdowns without an interception.
Quinn was the first rounder that received all the attention in the 2007 draft, but Trent Edwards - the 29th pick of the third round - has already made 18 starts with the Bills. He completed 69.7 percent of his passes and threw only two interceptions during Buffalo's 5-1 start, compiling a 98.8 passer rating that at the time was fourth in the NFL.
But the three straight losses can be linked in large part to the decreased efficiency of Edwards. He's thrown five interceptions during the losing streak, has been sacked nine times and his quarterback rating since Oct. 26 is 67.3.
"I think it's just the same old thing, little mistakes here or there that kill a drive ... it's tough to move the ball and consistently perform well when you continue to shoot yourself in the foot," Edwards told the Bills' official Web site. "That's what's been happening lately and we need to do a good job of fixing that pretty soon."
They also need to get running back Marshawn Lynch going. Like Lewis, Lynch hasn't run for 100 yards in a game yet this season, and he's picked up just 2.7 ypc without a touchdown the past two weeks.
Lynch should find more running room against the Browns, who have given up 160.6 ypg on the ground since Oct. 12 - 30th in the league.
Lynch had 82 yards and Lewis 163 in the teams' last meeting, but neither could find the end zone on Dec. 16 in an 8-0 win for the Browns in Cleveland.