Close only counts in horseshoes, as they say, and the horseshoe on the Indianapolis Colts' helmet was anything but lucky for the Cleveland Browns. The Colts rested all of their starters and a lot of their back-ups, losing to 16-10 to the Tennessee Titans giving the Titans the sixth and final playoff berth in the AFC. A ten win season without the playoffs is an NFL rarity but unfortunately that is the Browns fate in 2007.
In the end, a win in one of any of the gut retching last minute losses to Oakland, Pittsburgh, Arizona or Cincinnati would have not only given the Browns a layoff berth but also the AFC North Title, which would have been their first since winning the AFC Central in 1989. The Browns came close, but end up on the outside looking in. Regardless it was an amazing season that all Cleveland fans should be proud of as it may be the step the Browns need to finally leap up into the level of contender.
The Browns held off and beat down the San Francisco 49ers, 20-7, to notch win #10 in a meaningless game but played with aggressiveness and passion as they have throughout the year. The defense continued to show improvement, even against the lowly 49ers and 4th string QB Chris Weinke, with the 49ers mounting only 1 serious threat the entire game.
On offense Jamal Lewis continued to be a workhorse, showing that he just may have been the Browns offensive MVP this season. Derek Anderson was effective, but continued his late season slump, and concluded a great season in which he lead the browns to a 10-5 record in games he started. Braylon Edwars and Phil Dawson set franchise offensive records in receiving and kicking, respectively, and Josh Cribbs continued to shine with a 76 yard punt return touchdown to start the scoring.
The Browns only major free agent is Jamal Lewis and signs of an impending deal are apparent. The Brady Quinn versus Derek Anderson debate will start-up almost immediately but after watching some of the QB play in the league (I'm looking at you Jim Sorgi) it is a nice luxury to have. Other than that the Browns appear set on offense and can focus on developing depth on the line and skill positions. The special teams are solid, if not exceptional, as I fully expect a bounce back year from Dave Zastudil in 2008. The defense showed signs of improvement late, but still needs an influx of young talent in the Front 7 as the defensive backfield seems to be set for years to come.
The best year since the Browns resurrection in 1999 and the most fun to watch since the late 1980's. The end may have been bittersweet but the journey was an incredible ride. The Browns restored some pride to the City of Cleveland and have given the fan base hope for years to come. After the the perception of the team in the pre-season and after Week 1 no one could have seen that coming. For the first time in a long time the Browns are the face of Cleveland and that's the way it should be.