Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Bounce Back

Wipe off the stink from the loss to Pittspuke it's off to Balti-whore for a date with the Ravens and their imperial leader, Lord Billick.

The Ravens managed only 7 points last week against the porous Cincinnati defense that allowed the Browns to drop 51 points on them in Week 2. They have switched from Steve McNair to Kyle Boller due to "injury". Many insiders think it has more to do with McNair doing his best Charlie Frye impersonation as a 60 minute sack and turnover machine. They have a young, inexperience offensive line. They don't have a lot of explosive weapons on offense. They're defensive backfield is far less than healthy. Ray Ray Lewis and the boys have lost a step on D and the team is arguing internally. Despite that, the Ravens are still a dangerous team especially at home.

The Browns made some mistakes last week that haunted them. A bad challenge that resulted in a double time-out, shaky QB play, a crucial turnover and not coming up big when they had the chance to. The Ravens are not a good team but they are not a bad team either. Any one or, god forbid, combination of them will give the Ravens a chance at victory. They do posses a quality RB which always gives the Browns fits and they D, despite their age and injury, does still posses a number of play makers who can change the game if given the opportunity.

The Browns couldn't take the next step last week by beating an elite team on the road. That time will come. Now it's time to grow up and rebound from a heartbreaking loss to a rival by beating a rival that they are better than. The Browns have always matched-up well against the Ravens. They need to be aggressive and take chances like they did in the first half against the Steelers. They need to play with the tenacity that they displayed in the first Ravens game. And they need to do this on the road. The Browns have turned it around at home but now they need to beat teams they are better than on the road.

They don't need another Oakland game. That game has left them at 5-4 instead of 6-3. A huge difference. Another misstep will make their prospects for the first play-off birth since 2002 grim. They have seven games remaining against teams they are better then, but four are on the road. They are only 1-3 on the road. They need to finish at .500 or better away from home to have a shot at the playoffs. They are done playing the dredges of the league like Miami and St. Louis. They don't have juggernauts like New England or Pittspuke left on the schedule. They have 7 average, run of the mill teams that they are better than. It time to start to run the gauntlet towards the playoffs and the first stop is Baltimore.

This game will tell us as much about the Browns as the Pittspuke game did. They hung tough took some punches but faded at the end and couldn't seal the deal. They have a Balit-whore team teetering on the brink of implosion up next. The Browns have better talent. They have better schemes. They are better people. But the Browns have to believe it before they can do it. Can they bounce back and get back on track for something that seemed like a pipe dream at the beginning of the season? Browns fans want to believe they can but it only matters if the Browns themselves do.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Close, But So Far

In the end, the Browns came up just short. A few inches short on Phil Dawson's potential game winning 53 yard field goal and 3 points short of the Steelers in a 31-28 loss at Heinz Field. As brilliantly as they played in the first half, they just could not sustain it in the second half, allowing the Steelers to overcome a 21-9 Browns lead at halftime.

After forcing the Steelers to go 3 and out on the opening series the Browns drove the field on a 16 play 8 minute drive that ending in a DA touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow. 7-0 Browns.

Willie Parker drove the Steelers down the field on the ensuing possession but the Browns D held the to 3. Josh Cribbs responded with a 90 yard KO return to the Steelers 4 and after a Lawrence Vickers TD reception i t was 14-3 Browns.

The Steelers drove down the field again but the Browns D held again to keep the Browns up 14-6. After a short drive Browns punt on the next possession Brodney Pool intercepted Ben Roethlisberger and Braylon Edwards pulled in an amazing TD catch that needed a Romeo Crennel challenge to make it true and it was 21-6 Browns.

The Steelers drove the field again but yet again the Browns D held to finish the first half with the score Browns 21, Steelers 9.

In the first half the Browns O looked great and was firing on all cylinders. The Browns D stepped up and looked stout when it needed to be. But some key mistakes by the Browns int he second half turned the tide for the Steelers.

After both teams went 3 and out twice to start the half, the Steelers got the big break they needed when James Harrison forced Jamal Lewis to fumble in their own end and the Steelers turned it into an easy Hines Ward TD, 21-16 Browns.

The Browns and Steelers traded 3 and outs again as the third quarter ended, mercifully. The Browns finished the quarter with no first downs and DA was definitely frazzled by the Steelers D who obviously made the necessary adjustments needed at halftime.

The Browns went 3 and out... again, and again the Steelers made them pay. On the arm of Roethlisberger the Steelers drove down the field effortlessly and Roethlisberger then ran, almost untouched, for a 30 yard TD. Add the 2 point conversion by Ward and it was 24-21 Steelers.

With the Browns O struggling, Josh Cribbs answered as he corralled a squib kick at the goal line juked one man, tip toed up the sideline and somehow stayed inbounds and found a convoy to the endzone for a Browns 28-24 lead. The play withstood a Mike Tomlin challenge as the Browns finally caught a break in the game.

But the Browns D couldn't come up with the big stop it had in the previous weeks. The Steelers converted third downs of 7, 18 and 8 yards (many on Roethlisberger scrambles) to set up a 2 yard TD catch by Heath Miller to go up 31-28.

Romeo Crennel then made his only coaching mistake of the game calling a timeout before challenging the play, which he lost, ultimately costing the Browns 2 timeout on one play. It would come back to be a factor.

The Browns went 3 and out again but forced the Steelers to go 3 and out and punt. Josh Cribbs returned the punt to the Steelers 33 but a holding penalty moved the ball back to the Browns 39. DA managed to drive the Browns to the Steelers 36 but was forced to spike the ball with 7 seconds left on 3rd and 2, because they had used their final timeout previously, and on 4th and 2, Phil Dawson's 53 yard field goal attempt into the windy, open end on Heinz Field was dead on the money... but came up just inched short. Ballgame. Steelers 31, Browns 28.

In the end the Steelers showed the resolve of a time tested veteran team expecting to win while the Browns looked like an improving team not yet ready to make the next step to an elite challenger. Instead of coming out int he second half ready to step on the opponents' neck the Browns came out flat with poor QB play, a costly fumble, a poor coaching challenge and a an inability to make a play when needed. Josh Cribbs out gained the Browns offense on the day but they still came within inches of sending the game to overtime.

A frustrating loss but the best effort the Browns have shown against the Steelers in four years. An exciting, exhilarating game that Browns fans haven't seen in a long time. We learned the Browns are not in the Steelers class yet, but we knew that already. What we didn't know is that the gap isn't as wide as we thought. With a few pieces on D the Browns may become a contender in the AFC sooner than expected. Despite it's struggles the O put up 28 points on the the #1 D in the NFL and a D that was giving up about 6 points per game at home.

So the Browns sit alone in 2nd in the AFC North at 5-4. Seven games to go. Seven games against opponent they can beat. Seven games against teams that they ARE better then. The Browns have had an amazing run so far. They have proved all their doubters wrong. They continue to get better every game. They came up short against the Steelers but they didn't back down and traded punches all day.

In the end the Steelers took the game from the Browns. The Browns have a great chance to take what they and their fans want. To taste something they haven't since 2002. The Browns control their own destiny, all they have to do it take it. Let's shake off the Pittspuke hangover and take what is ours.