Thursday, December 27, 2007

Finish Strong

Despite the bad taste still in our mouths over the gag job in Cincinnati that may ultimately cost the Browns a spot in the NFL Playoffs, the Browns still have a chance to do a lot of this season that no one thought they would.

A win against San Francisco would give them a ten win season for the first time since 1994. Anyone would thought the Browns would win 10 games this year is a liar (or mentally insane). I had them pegged for 5, most experts had them a 4 and Vegas had the over/under line at 6.

They also have a chance to go 7-1 at home. The Browns have never won 7 games at home in a single season. Never ever. In their history never. After the performances at Cleveland Browns Stadium since the rebirth in 1999, the fact that the stadium, fans and Dawg Pound are once again assets to the team in a complete turnaround. Football on the shores of Lake Erie in fun again. The tailgates are a happy place for the first time in a long, long time.

The development of some of the key players is leaps and bounds over previous years. The rookie class has been tremendous. Joe Thomas is already a Pro Bowl caliber player. Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald look to be the pieces needed to fix the decrepit secondary of last season. And Brady Quinn's performances in pre-season and practice have the Browns in the good kind of QB controversy... two quality QB to choose from, not two scrubs.

The younger veterans have come along nicely as well. Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow grew up and their play started to show it. Sean Jones and Brodney Pool struggled early on but came on at the end of the season. Despite the forgettable game in Cincinnati, Derek Anderson solidified what has been a volatile position since the Browns returned and even before they left. He has proved to be an NFL caliber quarterback despite his inconsistencies.

Older veterans bounced back as well in 2007. Phil Dawson showed last year's poor season was just a fluke. Jamal Lewis ran hard, hungry and showed he still may have a couple of years left on his tires. Andra Davis had a couple of big games at the end of the season. And who would have thought the simple move of Ryan Tucker to RG and The Human Parking Cone, Kevin Shaffer, to RT would pay huge dividends.

So despite the heartburn last week in Cincinnati, this has still been an incredible season. The games have been exciting, the Browns have been competitive and more importantly they have been winning. A win would finish 2007 strong and set the foundation for 2008. The team, town and people would be able to end 2007 on a high note and in a happy mood. And who knows, with a little help, we all may be rewards with a couple more games in early 2008.

Go Brows! Go Colts!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Cleveland Christmas List

A Cleveland sports fan's Christmas list...

For THE Ohio State University football program:

A competitive BCS Championship Game capped off with a Buckeye victory.
A silencing of the SEC propaganda machine.
Another great recruiting class for Coach Sweater Vest.
A trip to New York for Beanie Wells.
That Rich Rodiriguez's rivalry game struggles at WVU carry over to up north.

For the Cleveland Cavaliers:

A way to dump the awful contracts of Larry Hughes, Damon Jones, et al.
Some legitimate play making help for LeBron James and Boobie Gibson.
Another late season run reminiscent of the 2006-2007 season and playoffs.
That LeBron rises up and stays here forever.

For the Cleveland Indians:

A power bat for one of the corner outfield spots.
An affordable contract extension for C. C. Sabathia.
The rebirth of Pronk.
That Grady, Frankie G and the As Man continue to amaze with their gloves (and bats).
That Victor Martinez remains the heart of this team for a long time.
That the heat gets turned off of Eric Wedge for a while.
Another amazing season in 2008 where the Tribe proves their team is greater than the sum of its parts, complete with revenge on the Massholes.

For the Cleveland Browns:

Sort Term
A win over San Fran, a Brady Quinn appearance and a Colts win over the Titans.
A spot in the postseason versus the Appalachian Inbreds and a win over them.

Long Term
Another great draft and free agent class in 2008.
Some effective defensive linemen.
A new deal for Jamal Lewis.
A long term resolution of the QB situation.
Continued development of the juggernaut offense of Rob Chudzinski.
Continued health and lack of injuries for the team.
Consecutive winning seasons for the first time since the 80's.
That Cleveland Browns stadium continues to be a happy place on Sunday afternoons.. or maybe even Monday Night.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Changing the Perception

The best thing about the Cleveland Browns 2007 season was that the Browns were starting to change others' perceptions about them. With the NFL Draft in April, Phil Savage made people believe that they actually had someone in charge that knew what they were doing in netting not only OT Joe Thomas but also QB Brady Quinn. His knowledge was questioned again after the Opening Weekend performance and subsequent trade of starting QB Charlie Frye. Once again Savage proved his doubters wrong as that trade changed the direction of the Browns' season.

Many were calling for Romeo Crennel's head after a 4-12 campaign in 2006, but the big guy has led his troops to a 9-6 record. He has even shown some fire on the sidelines and some warmth and comic relief in his interviews. His coaching staff has resurrected an offense that has been dormant since 1994, with Rob Chudzinski paving the way with his aggressive, attacking offense. The Browns actually became a scary team for NFL teams to line-up against.

Jamal Lewis proved he still has some gas left in the tank after being jettisoned by Baltimore. Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards proved they could shut up and make plays after a season of being malcontents. Phil Dawson proved he is one of the game's clutch kickers after a bad effort in 2006. Ryan Tucker and Kevin Shaffer proved that maybe their are not as bad as they looked last year and a position change is all they needed. Derek Anderson proved he could be an effective (yet inconsistent) NFL quarterback after a disastrous 2007 pre-season.

But the one thing that the Browns failed to do again on Sunday is change the perception that a Cleveland sports team can not come through and win a big game when needed. Only the Cavs came close by beating the Pistons in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals but they were then routed in the NBA Finals. The Indians failed to put the nail into the Boston Red Sox' coffin in both Game 5 and Game 7 of the ALCS. And the Browns failed to prove they are finally back to NFL significance but beating a woeful Bengals team to secure the first playoff birth since 2002.

Cleveland has seen Jim Chones' broken foot, Red Right 88, The Drive, The Fumble, The Shot, Rick Mahorn's mauling of Mark Price, The Move, Jose Mesa and The Stop Sign. But other cities have had to overcome as well. It took them 86 years but Boston finally overcame 1918. Bill Cowher and the hated Steelers overcame choke jobs in 5 AFC Championship Games. The White Sox put the Black Sox to rest.

Someday the Browns, Indians and Cavs will put their demons to rest. Hopefully sooner than later. Because that is the only way to change the outsiders perception of Cleveland from The Mistake By the Lake to Believeland. And that is what a die hard Cleveland sports fan wants more than anything else.

I beleive in Cleveland. It's about time Cleveland made everyone beleive too.

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.