Sunday, December 23, 2007

Brown Coal for Christmas

This one hurts worse than the 41-0 debacle versus the Steelers back in 2005. Much, much worse. In that one, the Browns were a crappy team with nothing to play for who no showed the game and had no heart. Today, the Browns were a far superior team with everything to play for and did everything to ruin Christmas for the Cleveland faithful.

That big, brown piece of coal in your stocking isn't coal. It's the 19-14 sh*t the Browns took today in Cincinnati against the hapless Bengals. All the Browns had to do is win and they were in the playoffs and they despite the score they didn't come close. It effectively renders the Week 17 game versus San Francisco meaningless as the only way the Browns can make the playoffs now is if the Tennessee Titans lose to the Colts in Indianapolis next week. The Browns game is irrelevant. The Colts are firmly entrenched in the #2 spot (no pun intended) in the AFC and will be resting starters left and right.

People will say the Browns stopped running Jamal Lewis too soon. They will say the Browns gave up 130 rushing yards to a back-up running back. They will the defense broke on the two late Bengal TD drives in the second quarter. They will say the bobbled snap on a potential field goal attempt in the first quarter set the morbid tone for the Browns. They will say the Browns looked flat out of the gate and looked tight the entire game. All valid points. But the reason the Browns were never really in this game came down to poor quarterback play, plain and simple.

Derek Anderson threw 4 interceptions last Christmas Eve at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He followed it up with 4 more today, and it may have cost the Browns a shot at the playoffs. All 4 interceptions were awful and that is being kind. All 4 interceptions were absolute drive, momentum and energy killers. The first pick was an attempt to force a ball to Braylon Edwards that was thrown right to the Bengals and returned to the Browns 5. The Bengals scored on the next play. Anderson's next pass was also a force to Edwards, with Kellen Winslow wide open underneath, that was returned to the Browns 30. A few plays later a 6-0 game was 19-0 and effectively over. How long did it take? 1:05. The longest 1:05 on the Browns season so far.

But the defense held in the second half and the offense started to drive. First and Goal, Bengals 9. Anderson forced a ball to Winslow in the corner of the endzone. He was covered by 3 Bengals. The pass bounded off the ugliest helmet in football and into a defenders arms. Drive killed. Then in the middle of the fourth quarter, with the Browns running the no-huddle effectively, the reached the Benglas red zone again and again Anderson threw a poor pass on an out route to Winslow that was picked for interception #4. 14 points left on the field, 13 given to the Bengals at the end of the first half. The Browns weren't going to overcome those numbers.

Yet, they still had a chance in the end, recovering a fumble on their own 20, trailing 19-14, with two timeouts, and just under 2 minutes left. But as effective as the no-huddle was earlier, the 2 minute version was atrocious. Tons of crossing routes, no attempt to get to the sidelines and embarrassing use of timeouts and the lack of spiking the ball to kill the clock, letting precious seconds off the clock. Anderson missed an open Winslow with no time remaining to seal the deal and break Cleveland's collective heart for Christmas.

Now us Browns fans must suffer through another meaningless Week 17 game on the lake front and then wait nervously until an 8 PM kick-off between the Titans and Colts to discover our destiny. But for now we can wonder how the Browns no showed for the biggest game of the season. Wonder how they handed the Steelers the AFC North Division crown. Wonder how they let a dysfunctional, selfish team like the Bengals show them up when they had nothing to play for. And wonder why they always seem to give us coal in our stockings for Christmas.

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