[(MOST IMPORTANT NOTE: The Breeze will recap CFB’s Alabama-Clemson National Championship game on Tuesday, so this will be Professional Football-heavy, or College-Deflated, depending how you choose to see the glass re: -imisms) It’s near impossible to miss the unfolding humor in a reality that pits America’s Most Traditionally Revered NFL team against the steaming pile of toxic that has been Daniel Snyder’s Washington Trumps, in D.C., for a wild-card playoff game.
When you add the fact that a prominent Packer player is named “Ha Ha Clinton-Dix” while Hillary stumps for the 2016 Democratic Presidential nomination, I mean, clearly Fate’s got a warped thing for the wickedly absurd. So what could prepare us for an NFL Wild-card weekend that lived up to its name? Where Ace Ventura jokes became re-relevant (“laces out”) making my heart gently weep for Minnesota’s Blair Walsh Project, where it seems everyone wants to be like ODB Jr whether it’s receivers vying for his “Best Ever Catch ‘Til Tomorrow” crown, or Vontaze’s Burfict crime-ing for his “Grossest Cheap Shot” frown, where all he does is Russell Wilson Seattle to wins (or perhaps Faith’s wind), while the Bengals missed Double-Deuce Dalton more than the time it takes to restore sore thumbs, Pack Nation slumbers well ’cause Aaron Rodgers remembered how to kinda throw again, some.
To playoff football let’s succumb. Enter to the beating drum of your heart’s hum and maybe find fun…
NFL PLAYOFFS PORTION OF THE PROGRAM
NFL Playoffs Games of the Week (Wild-card Round)Kansas City Chiefs 30 @ Houston Texans 0 So it was, ho hum, on the very first kickoff of the very first ho hum playoff game KNILE DAVIS EXPLODES THROUGH A MASSIVE HOLE AND ho hum RETURNS IT ONE-HUNDRED AND SIX FREAKING YARDS FOR THE TD. Houston was never really close on the majority of this play or for the rest of the game as Kansas City would never relinquish that lead, with the helpful, steady hand of Alex Smith leading the way and the woefully unsteady hand of Bryan Hoyer (4 picks, yikes!) leaving the Texans exposed like a butterfly filet of poor play.
Jon Gruden quote of the day: “JJ Watt’s battling a bad groin injury.” Look, Watt’s an incredible player, but even he can’t fight a Kansas City O-line AND tangle with one of those “bad groin injury” things at the same time.
Pittsburgh Steelers 18 @ Cincinnati Bengals 16 An enchanting, angry contest. Part 1 of “Insane Catches by Incredible Wideouts,” and Vontaze’s Rage. This story told with the help of Vine’s visuality. We’ll start with the uglier portions of the game and finish with the beauty of Martavis’ gorgeous holy-roller TD catch. In all, it seems Andy Dalton will still get blamed for another 1st round exit, even though he wasn’t playing. We begin with one Vontaze Burfict losing his famously hot-tempered mind, producing a near clone of the ODB Jr. cheap-ass headshot, this time on Antonio Brown…
…but thank all that’s True and Right in the world for Martavis Bryant’s incredible athleticism, focus, and brilliance all on display on this catch in the 3rd quarter, possibly trumping Beckham’s one-handed stab heard ’round the world…
Seattle Seahawks 10 @ Minnesota Vikings 9 This game will forever be remembered (by me) as “The Blair Walsh Project,” but it also included Part 2 of “Incredible Catches by Amazing Wideouts” and one of the more unlikely turning-point plays in recent history. First off, it looked cold as freezer burn in Minn-eh-sot-ah, -3 degrees for much of the game, with breath bursting from the entire stadium’s mouths like 80,000 proud vapers.
While their defense was its usual stout self, Seattle came out slightly resembling a steaming crater of ineptitude on offense. Then the play below happened, which appears to foreshadow more terror for Wilson and the ‘Hawks offense. Except he’s Macklemore uncommonly composed Russ Wilson, even in the face of certain peril, proving once again on this play why he’s so valuable to Mr. Pete Carroll and the ‘Hawks. For a little forced imagination, think of how 99.9% of the time the QB/center shotgun exchange is botched like this it results in, at best, a sack.
Instead, picture this reality where Wilson recovers smoothly, calmly baseball slides, retrieving the ball and springing back up in one swift motion, rolls away from oncoming defenders, looks downfield and fires a strike to a wide-open Tyler Lockett for the game-changing play. Seattle would go on to a TD and huge momentum swing, injecting life into their moribund offense and turning the tides of what was shaping up to be a certain Viking victory.
Yeah, I believe in momentum, F Nate Silver on this topic, and this was a huge swing in a game largely dictated by field position.
…although Chase Coffman proves there should be some kinda permit receivers have to earn to attempt one-handed catch, like a driver’s license, ’cause he tries to be like Doug B. but instead makes an interception so easy…
Trailing Seattle 10-9 very late in the 4th quarter, Kyle Rudolph beat Kam Chancellor in man coverage for a huge first down catch (vindication for Chancellor getting away with a clear hold on Rudolph earlier), putting the Vikings in money-FG position for the certain game-winner. It was a kick that 99.6% of the time would’ve been a Blair Walsh layup 3-pointer. In a kinder, gentler reality Walsh nails the kick, the Vikings win, slay the 2-time Super Bowl Seahawks and move on to the next round.
In this harsher, cruel, coooold reality Walsh shanks the kick so badly left of the uprights, like a boomerang that didn’t go where it was supposed to and never came back, allowing America to brush the 8-inch thick dust off every Scott Norwood and Ace Ventura joke no longer forgotten to mankind. I understand Walsh is a professional, paid a ton of money to make that kick. He has to make that kick. But damn, I just feel bad for him.
Green Bay Packers 35 @ Washington Cousins/Trumps 18
This game started with a bizarre “DeSean Jackson scores but doesn’t” on a catch and run where he crossed the goal line near the pylon but crossed too far and stepped first out of bounds while holding the ball back pre-goal line. Green Bay went on to hold Washington to a field goal and early momentum. However, Green Bay’s offense was dormant for much of the first half until Aaron Rodgers started hooking up hardcore with Davante Adams and James Jones (don’t worry, Olivia Munn) and headed into halftime up 17-11 after giving up a safety.
In the second half, the Packers could not cover Washington’s Jordan Reed, who played incredibly (9 catches, 120 yards) with Kirk Cousins putting the Washingtons up 18-17 with a QB run. As the second half wore on though, Green Bay wrested control away, shutting down Washington’s attack, pounding Washington’s D with a steady diet of Lacy and Starks, and squeezing just enough juice out of A-Rod’s recovering air raid to coast comfortably into the next round. Kirk Cousins and the Washingtons were kinda like Leo here, at the Golden Globes: they won their division, had home-field against the Pack, everyone was lauding them for pulling through the RGIII fiasco.
They’re laughing, they’re having a good time, sitting nearer the top than they’ve been in a while. Meanwhile Rodgers and the Pack were like Lady Gaga: they just hadn’t looked like their typically dangerous self after blazing to a 6-0 start to the season before dropping 4 of their next 5 and finishing 2nd in the NFC North.
But oh, never forget about the beautiful power of Aaron Rodgers and the Pack, as they approach laughing Leo/Washington all the way from the forgotten back, shimmering the entire way as they (purposefully?) knock the Snyder’s over-extended elbow out of the way, smirking a triumphant return to the next round with a future full of promise, leaving Leo and the Snyders meekly grimacing in their wake.
No matter where you go on the AM dial, it’s the time of year where NFL talk simply dominates the airwaves. Oh, it’s hockey season? Well, that incredible hat trick and the pace of 3-on-3 overtime are going to have to wait; we’ll try to shoehorn that 90 seconds of NHL coverage between our fluff interview with the head coach of our local team and our commentary on another team’s quarterback’s reaction to being called names. Oh, there’s basketball too? Let’s see, the playoffs start in April, so we’ll see you at the end of May. The NFL season has made the turn for the back 9, so let’s keep that conversation going, ad nauseum.
Only I’m not nauseous. We only get 17 weeks of these regular season games, so give it to me, from every angle you’ve got. Just about every game serves up its share of intrigue, even if it’s just because the NFL has taken a page out of the Oregon Ducks playbook and decided to make uniforms part of the side show. We have heard a lot of talk about paper tigers, and that kind of thing sells when you’re dealing with more that just the football purists.
Here in Arizona, the tailgate was a bigger deal than the games until the Cardinals started playing respectable football. While the pregame parking lot party lot is still a huge draw, the curtains are really pulled back to start the show once you get inside University of Phoenix Stadium and witness the product the Cardinals are putting on the field.
Sure, we can find our Suns and Coyotes in action on any given night of the week, but the locals suddenly find themselves longing for Sunday in these parts. Let’s face it, there’s a lot more to say about a dysfunctional organization, and that dysfunction was the epitome of the Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals for many years after they landed here from St. Louis almost 30 years ago, but the casual fan is more interested in talking about success.
For the Bruce Arians’ Cardinals, defining success and turning the corner from being the team that was blacked out locally for over a decade isn’t about their accomplishments, but their potential. They reached the Super Bowl, and almost won the damn thing, if not for an incredible Santonio Holmes toe-tap to give the Steelers their 6th title, but that’s in the past. What have they done for you lately?
Kurt Warner’s retirement after the 2009 season put the Birds into a bit of a tailspin, leaving people to look back on the team that reached the post-season in consecutive years for the first time since the 70s as a fluke. It’s no wonder; since Warner, the Cardinals marched Matt Leinart, Derek Anderson, John Skelton, Max Hall, Kevin Kolb, Ryan Lindley, and Brian Hoyer out under center, with limited to no success for the team in that time frame.
So, why not throw Oakland a 6th-round pick for the services of a washed-up Carson Palmer? He’d spent the better part of two seasons in Oakland, after retiring rather than returning to the Bengals for the 2011 season. Speaking to the numbers, Palmer wasn’t as bad as most of us remember him being in Oakland, it was that his play didn’t add up to Raider wins, but the Cardinals were arguably one Peyton Manning away from being a Super Bowl team, the way the roster was built a year earlier.
Despite starting out 4-0 in 2012, the bottom fell out after the hot start, and the team would go on to lose 11 of their last 12, which equaled a 5-11 record and a pink slip for head coach Ken Whisenhunt. After that, enter Palmer and Bruce Arians, stage left.
At that point, they were playing meaningful football, going into the month of December. That first year, 10 wins weren’t good enough to make the tournament in 2013. Come 2014, you could have made a case for Arizona being that one team in the National Football League that no one wanted to play, provided the Cardinals stayed healthy at key spots. They were not able to do that, and the net result was Ryan Lindley marking himself as one of the worst quarterbacks in post-season history in a loss to the Carolina Panthers.
With a recent history that does garner some looks from football people that wouldn’t normally give their organization the time of day, Palmer and the gang entered this season with a chip on their shoulder. What they’ve done before this season is inconsequential, especially if you want to be taken seriously in discussing their Super Bowl aspirations. Through nine games, a 7-2 mark has given some weight to those thoughts previously thought to be outlandish, but who have they played?
But, They Haven’t Played Anyone
It took a big play or two at the end to put away the New Orleans Saints in Week 1, and the Saints seem to be a continuation of the mess that was the 2014 Saints. Okay, crossing them off the list. How about the Bears in Week 2 on the road? Forget about the Bears you’re seeing now, now that Jay Cutler and Adam Gase have found their groove, the Cardinals are awarded no points for a 48-23 win at Soldier Field.
It wasn’t that long ago that voices behind the microphone your drive home were trying to sell Niners and Cardinals as a rivalry. Sometimes, you have to reach for the narrative in the NFC West, which is seemingly void of natural rivalries1Not having a team in L.A. makes it difficult for fans in San Francisco and Phoenix to see a rival that isn’t a direct drive down the interstate.. Sure, maybe players have told the teams’ flagship stations that they don’t like the other team, and maybe those two teams were at the top of the division, but that pairing never screamed, “throw the records out the window when these teams square off”.
Seattle and San Francisco had a little thing going, when they were the top 2 in the division, with the Cardinals playing games with the likes of Derek Anderson, John Skelton, and Kevin Kolb running the offense. It made for exciting marketing for the games, but the 49ers regressed, and the edge was taken off of all their division games. So, the Cardinals score defensive touchdown after defensive touchdown at home against the Niners, and no one cares about their 3-0 start.
They’d lose to the Rams, obliterate the then-winless Lions in Detroit, and lay an egg in Pittsburgh to fall to 4-2. They still haven’t played anyone and they’re way behind the pace of all these unbeatens we’re covering in the NFL. No denying they were a good football team, but there were just too many great teams to get hung up on the pretty good one in the desert.
Let’s put them on Monday Night Football. The Ravens making their first trip to University of Phoenix Stadium, that should make for compelling TV. I’m sure a 1-5 Ravens team isn’t what ESPN had in mind, but they made it a football game, right up until the end. Kudos to the Ravens for showing up in prime time2Baltimore’s one win at that point came in overtime at Pittsburgh on Thursday Night Football in Week 4, and Gruden and Tirico will be in Cleveland on November 30th, when they visit the Browns., but surviving a 1-6 team at home doesn’t sell anyone on your Super Bowl prospects.
A second half comeback, after trailing 20-10 at the half, in Cleveland had some people inspired, not just in these parts, but on the national scene. There were some skeletons rearing their ugly heads from the loss in Pittsburgh, that this team couldn’t handle adversity, and while the Browns are absolutely nothing to write home about, a 24-0 whitewash in the 3rd and 4th quarters of that game in Cleveland had everyone feeling this team was on the right track headed into their bye week. Even though there was no game to talk about that next weekend, terrestrial radio gave you your fill of Birdspeak, whether you wanted it or not.
Who could blame them? The Seattle game hung in the balance, and at 4-4, the Cardinals could potentially throw something of a knockout punch to the 2-time defending NFC Champions. Now, the Cardinals have been able to crack the code for winning in front of the Sea Chickens rowdy fans, but Carolina figured out that formula in Week 6, so the task may not have seemed so daunting. We’ve learned, from our talk-radio hosts, that you can dismiss some of the negatives with Seattle, namely their mediocre W-L record, and that the Cardinals have not proven they are a better team than the Seahawks until the show they can beat them.
Well, beat them, they did. The 39-32 final score doesn’t really tell the tale of how that affair went. Arizona got out to a big halftime lead, had a complete meltdown with Palmer putting the pigskin on the turf twice, deep in their own territory, and when they needed the big play, Jermaine Gresham and Andre Ellington were happy to oblige.
Leading up to this game, the sister stations up in Washington were calling these Cardinals “paper tigers”. They haven’t played anyone, they said. Now, the joke is on those who reside near the Puget Sound. Those Sea Chickens that went down at home to their division rival, they’re 4-5; at the end of the day, I guess the Cardinals still haven’t played anyone.
Is Anyone Out There?
Remember, what they’ve done means nothing. We see no rings, therefor the job isn’t done. What does 7-2 get you? Nothing, but maybe prime time games. The NFL flexed this weekend’s contest with Cincinnati into Sunday Night Football, the Cardinals second-straight appearance in NBC’s prime time slot and the Bengals third-straight under the lights. The Bengals look a lot less intimidating after their stripes were exposed by the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football, and the big baby that is Andy Dalton showed a complete void of maturity, based on hearsay.
The travel Palmer and company face isn’t as severe as it was in their first nine games, what with Seattle out of the way and those three of their four games in the Eastern time zone in the books. They’ll travel to play the Niners and Rams in consecutive weeks, pretty much with a chance to lock up the division before a lot of people even get their Christmas trees up, but that division title isn’t the long game.
Unlike the old days, where you’d know who was in town because of the dominance of visiting jerseys at Sun Devil Stadium, this team has a distinct home-field advantage, and they want that in January. They’re still two games behind the 9-0 Carolina Panthers in the loss column, but they’re going to see the Vikings and Packers at home, with home playoff games and maybe a first-round bye in the cards, so there are no breaks.
If they take any, they might be stressing over their home finale with those pesky Sea Chickens in Week 17. In that case, I’m sure talking heads on the radio dial will have plenty to talk about, but topics for discussion are never in short supply in an NFL market. Though, you already knew that.
Joe “Turkey” Jones. Dave Mays. Chris Jennings. Gerald McNeil. David Grayson. Brian Hoyer. Trent Richardson. Tim Couch.
Most of the names on this list didn’t amount to very much during their Browns career. But their names are remembered because of the roles they played in victories over the team’s biggest and most bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Lost in all the turmoil surrounding this year’s team – the seemingly impending dismissal of coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer, the quarterback controversy between veteran Josh McCown and Johnny Manziel, the possible trade of veteran captain Joe Thomas – is that this is “Steeler Week.” And, with Browns nemesis Ben Roethlisberger’s status for the game doubtful due to a leg injury, this Sunday’s game at Heinz Field suddenly looks to be a winnable one.
The Browns have only won one game at Heinz Field since it was opened in 2001, and it was also the site of one of the Browns’ biggest heartbreaks since the franchise returned in 1999 – their 36-33 come-from-ahead playoff loss to the Steelers in early 2003. And, wins for the Browns over the Steelers, and overall for that matter, have been few and far between since the franchise was reborn in 1999.
But, once upon a time, it wasn’t always like that. From 1950-70, the Browns got off to a 32-9 start in this series, winning the first eight games and 16 of the first 18 games the two teams played against each other. In the 80s, the Browns won seven straight games and went 14-8 over Pittsburgh.
However, thanks to the Steelers’ 26-6 record since 1999 – 34-10 dating back to 1990 – Pittsburgh has taken control in this rivalry.
A Jaded Steeler fan may wonder how someone like me could find 25 winning Browns games against the Steelers. I would like to remind Jaded Steeler Fan that your team only leads the series 66-58, not counting two playoff victories over our beloved Dawgs.
So, in honor of “Steeler Week” and the 127th meeting between the Browns and the Steelers, here are my top 25 games between these two squads in this rivalry. Who knows, maybe what happens Sunday can crack this list.
25. Browns 17, Steelers 9 (Oct. 11, 1992): Before Mike Tomczak ended his career as a long-time Steeler backup quarterback, he spent one year backing up Bernie Kosar with the Browns. And, when Kosar battled injuries in 1992, it was the former Ohio State Buckeye and Chicago Bear who stepped up and filled that void. Under second-year coach Bill Belichick, Tomczak did just enough to lead the Browns past the Steelers at the old Stadium, throwing for 171 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown pass, a 47-yard strike to Michael Jackson midway through the fourth quarter, turned a 10-9 lead into a 17-9 advantage. Kevin Mack added a 1-yard touchdown run to start that second half, turning a 6-3 halftime deficit into a 10-6 advantage they never relinquished. Pittsburgh wound up going 11-5, while the Browns slumped to 7-9.
24. Browns 15, Steelers 7 (Oct. 3, 1970):Let the record show that the teams’ first showdown as members of the AFC went in Cleveland’s favor. While the Steelers wound wind up being the NFL’s “Team of the 70s,” they began the decade just 5-9. And, rookie Terry Bradshaw’s introduction to Cleveland on this Saturday night at the old Stadium was not a good one. He was sacked for a safety and threw three interceptions, including a pick-six to Erich Barnes that was returned 38 yards in the third quarter that wound up being the final points.
Fellow rookie Mike Phipps relieved an ineffective Don Gault, who went 1-of-16 for 44 yards and two interceptions, and made his NFL debut a winning one. He went 3-for-5 for 86 yards and a touchdown, a 53-yard pass to Reece Morrison. Yep, the Browns just completed four passes against the Steelers and won. Gault never took another NFL snap, but yet is credited with a 1-0 record as an NFL starter. Bradshaw did rush for a touchdown in the loss.
23. Browns 21, Steelers 16 (Nov. 25, 1973): Less than a month before I was born, the Browns handed
the Steelers an ugly loss. With Terry Bradshaw not in the lineup – Joe Gilliam started and Terry Hanratty came on in relief – the Steelers scored the first points of the game and led, 16-14, midway through the fourth quarter. Gilliam found Ron Shanklin for nine yards in the opening drive and then he led three drives that ended in Roy Gerela field goals in the second, third and fourth quarters.
Mike Phipps, who only completed 5 of 17 passes with three interceptions, scored on a one-yard sneak and found Greg Pruitt for a 15-yard touchdown early in the second quarter to give the Browns a 14-10 halftime lead. Pruitt, a rookie, scored the winning touchdown on a 19-yard gain in the fourth quarter. Hall of Famer Leroy Kelly, who would retire following the season, was held to just 12 yards on 11 carries. Franco Harris, in his second year, was held to 48 yards on 22 carries. The Steelers went 10-4, but lost in the first round of the playoffs to the Raiders. The Browns went 7-5-2, their last winning season until they went 9-7 in 1979.
22. Browns 30, Steelers 17 (Nov. 1, 1964):En route to their final NFL Championship, the Browns rebounded from a 23-7 loss to the Steelers at home by coming into Pitt Stadium and dominating their rivals from pillar to post. The Steelers rallied from a 10-0 deficit to tie the score at halftime, but the second half was all Browns. Ernie Green rushed for two touchdowns in the second half, en route to 86 yards on 17 carries, while Hall of Famer Lou “The Toe” Groza added two of his three field goals during that 20-7 second half.
Jim Brown gained 149 yards on 23 carries and added five more receptions, while quarterback Frank Ryan completed 15 of 28 passes for 179 yards and a touchdown to Clifton McNeil. The Browns defense intercepted Steeler quarterback Ed Brown twice – both by Larry Benz – and held him to just 8 of 23 for 128 yards. The win improved the Browns to 6-1-1, en route to a 11-3-1 finish and a championship.
21. Browns 17, Steelers 7 (Sept. 16, 1985):A new era of Browns football began with this Monday Night Football clash at Cleveland Stadium on the second week of the regular season. With Marty Schottenheimer in his first full-season as the head football coach and veteran Gary Danielson and rookie Bernie Kosar taking over at quarterback, the Browns needed to knock off their hated rivals after dropping a 27-24 overtime loss to the St. Louis Cardinals in last week’s season opener. Danielson, making his second start as a Brown, completed 18-of-30 passes for 206 yards and a touchdown and an interception. His 17-yard scoring pass to wideout Fred Banks in the second quarter opened the scoring for both teams, and an 18-yard field goal by Matt Bahr in the third made it a 10-0 Browns lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Mark Malone found John Stallworth for a 6-yard score in the fourth to cut the Browns’ lead to 10-7. But Cleveland put the game away on its ensuing possession with a 21-yard touchdown run by second-year running back Earnest Byner. Byner rushed for 82 yards on 18 carries, while rookie Kevin Mack added 40 yards on 12 carries. Both backs would go over 1,000 yards rushing –just the third time in NFL history a pair of running backs would accomplish the feat – and the Browns wound up winning the AFC Central Division with an 8-8 record, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1982 and winning their first division title since 1980.
20. Browns 19, Steelers 13 (Dec. 26, 1987):Wins at Three Rivers Stadium could never be counted
on, especially since the Browns had just ended a 16-year losing streak the previous season. Yet the Browns needed to win at their perennial house of horrors in the 1987 season finale to clinch their second-straight division title over an 8-6 Steelers team. The Browns jumped out to a 9-0 lead on a 31-yard field goal from Matt Bahr and a two-yard touchdown pass from Bernie Kosar to backup tight end Derek Tennell, but a 39-yard field goal by Gary Anderson cut that lead to 9-3 at halftime. The Browns got a 30-yard field goal from Bahr to take a 12-3 lead heading into fourth quarter, and the Steelers cut that deficit to six with another Anderson field goal.
However, the Browns put the game away with two-yard touchdown run by Earnest Byner to take a 19-6 lead. Pittsburgh’s Cornell Gowdy made things interesting with a 45-yard interception return late in the fourth quarter to make it a six-point game, but the Browns were able to run out the clock and improve to 10-5. Hanford Dixon and linebacker Eddie Johnson each picked off Mark Malone once apiece, while Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome caught six passes for 94 yards to lead the Browns offense. The 10-5 Browns reached the AFC Championship game three weeks later, but lost a heartbreaking 38-33 game to the Denver Broncos when Byner fumbled on the 2 with just over a minute remaining in the game.
19. Browns 27, Steelers 7 (Nov. 20, 1988):The Browns, who had started four different quarterbacks during the season, were sitting at 6-5 with the hapless Steelers coming to town. If the Browns wanted to get back to the playoffs for the fourth-straight season, they needed to take care of business against Pittsburgh. With Bernie Kosar healthy and back under center, the Browns didn’t waste any time showing who the dominant team really was. After opening the scoring with a 32-yard field goal from Matt Bahr, Kosar found backup tight end Derek Tennell for a two-yard scoring pass to take a 10-0 lead into the second quarter. Frank Minnifield added to that lead when he blocked a Harry Newsom punt and returned it 11 yards to give the Browns a 17-0 lead that the Steelers cut to 17-7 just before the half.
Kosar, who threw for 204 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions, found Reggie Langhorne for a 77-yard touchdown bomb early in the third quarter to put the game away, and Bahr added a 34-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. The Browns defense sacked Steelers starter Bubby Brister six times, led by rookie Michael Dean Perry’s two, and picked him off twice. Linebacker Eddie Johnson had a sack and an interception, while Minnifield had the other pick to go along with his huge blocked punt. The Browns used this performance to win five of their last six games and finish 10-6, qualifying for the playoffs as a wild-card team. This was also the last time the Browns swept the Steelers in a season series (until this year, perhaps).
18. Browns 23, Steelers 20 (Sept. 17, 2000):The Browns had just stunned the Steelers, 16-15, at Three Rivers Stadium in 1999 – one of just two victories for the expansion Browns that season – and had rebounded from a 27-7 thrashing by Jacksonville in the 2000 season opener to defeat the Bengals, 24-7, on the road to take a 1-1 record into Cleveland Browns Stadium and their next meeting with the hated Steelers. The Browns jumped out to a 14-0 lead behind two first quarter touchdown passes from Tim Couch to tight end Aaron Shea and fullback Mark Edwards, respectively. But the Steelers, behind former Ohio State quarterback Kent Graham, rallied to cut that lead to 14-10 at halftime with a field goal and a four-yard scoring run by Richard Huntley. A 23-yard field goal by Phil Dawson gave the Browns a 17-13 lead midway through the third quarter.
However, a 10-yard rush by Jerome Bettis gave the Steelers a 20-17 lead heading into the fourth. Instead of rolling over, the young Browns fought back with a pair of fourth-quarter Dawson field goals – the latter from 19-yards out with 2:48 remaining – to take a 23-20 lead. Graham had the Steelers marching into field goal territory on his final two-minute drive. However, with no timeouts, rookie No. 1 overall draft choice Courtney Brown sacked Graham for a four-yard loss with 13 seconds remaining, and the Steelers ran out of time before assembling the field goal team. It’s the last time the Browns have won two straight against the Steelers (hopefully, until this coming Sunday). The Browns couldn’t sustain that 2-1 start, finishing a dismal 3-13. Ironically, of Chris Palmer’s five wins as the Browns’ head coach in two seasons, two of those wins came against the Steelers. That loss dropped the Steelers to 0-3, but they rebounded to finish 9-7 (and missing the playoffs).
17. Browns 33, Steelers 13 (Oct. 5, 2003):This is still the only time the Browns have won at Heinz Field (until this Sunday, hopefully). More importantly, not only was this a nationally-televised Sunday night game, but this was the teams’ first meeting since the Steelers came back from deficits of 24-7 and 33-17 to escape with a 36-33 playoff victory. Tim Couch, playing arguably the best game of his short five-year career, completed 20-of-25 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. William Green gauged the vaunted Steeler defense for 115 yards on 33 carries. Couch’s six-yard touchdown pass to Andre Davis and a short Phil Dawson field goal gave the Browns a 10-0 first quarter lead, and a 9-yard scoring pass from Couch to Kevin Johnson made it a 16-3 advantage midway through the second quarter.
Jerome Bettis plunged in from the 1 to cut that lead to 16-10, but Couch capped a 9-play, 78-yard drive with a nine-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds left to give the Browns a 23-10 halftime advantage. Daylon McCutcheon’s 75-yard interception return off a Tommy Maddux pass early in the third quarter was the final nail in the Steelers’ coffin. The Browns improved to 2-3 with the win (same record as the Steelers). However, they would finish 5-11. It would be Couch’s final year in the NFL. This would also be the Browns’ last win over the Steelers for the next 12 games and six seasons.
16. Browns 45, Steelers 7 (Oct. 29, 1950):The rivalry made its first appearance on the shores of Lake Erie with the 4-2 Browns taking on the 2-4 Steelers. The Browns had beaten Pittsburgh three weeks prior, 30-17 (see No. 15 on this list) in a dominating effort, and actually were more dominant at home. Hall of Famer Marion Motley rushed for 188 yards on 11 carries and scored a 69-yard rushing touchdown and a 38-yard receiving touchdown from Otto Graham. Both scores helped the Browns open up a 24-0 lead midway through the third quarter, and a 14-yard scoring run by Don Phelps made it a 31-0 lead after three quarters.
After the Steelers scored, the Browns put the game away with an 80-yard touchdown pass from Graham to Dub Jones and a 38-yard TD pass from backup Cliff Lewis to Horace Gillom. The Browns defense forced eight turnovers in this romp, and the Cleveland offense outgained Pittsburgh, 533-349. The Browns wound wind up going 10-2 in their first NFL season and won the NFL Championship – their fifth title in their first five years of existence.
15. Browns 30, Steelers 17 (Oct. 7, 1950):This was the first-ever meeting between these two storied franchises, and the Browns – in their first year in the National Football League after dominating the All-American Football Conference from 1946-49 – quickly showed who the dominant force was.
Played at Pitt Stadium, Hall of Famer Otto Graham rushed for two one-yard touchdowns to give the Browns a 14-3 lead, followed by a Dub Jones 7-yard rush to make it a 21-3 halftime lead. Cleveland put the game away in the fourth quarter with a 48-yard touchdown run by Jones to make it a 30-10 advantage. The defense forced six Steeler turnovers, despite giving up 345 yards of total offense.
14. Browns 30, Steelers 17 (Dec. 18, 1983):This was Brian Sipe’s final game in a Cleveland Browns’ uniform, and he went out with a blaze of glory against their hated and bitter rival in this late-season showdown. With the Steelers at 10-5 and already clinched the division title, the 8-7 Browns needed to win just to get a chance at a playoff berth. Sipe completed 14-of-22 passes for 199 yards with four touchdowns
and no interceptions to lead this minor upset. Sipe opened things up with a 64-yard touchdown pass to rookie wideout Rocky Belk, and added a two-yard scoring toss to backup tight end Harry Holt and a three-yarder to wideout Ricky Feacher to give the Browns a 23-10 halftime lead.
The Sipe-Holt connection put the game away early in the third quarter with a one-yard scoring toss and a 30-10 lead. Belk would only play that season, finishing with five receptions and two touchdowns. Franco Harris, in his final game as a Steeler, would be held to just 56 yards on 20 carries by a Browns defense that picked off quarterbacks Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone once apiece. Alas, the 9-7 Browns finished second in the AFC Central with the win, but missed out on the playoffs by tiebreakers. It would be the last hurrah of the Kardiac Kid-era Browns — head coach Sam Rutigliano would be fired midway through the 1984 season after a 1-8 start.
13. Browns 10, Steelers 9 (Dec. 19, 1982):This one landed on my ninth birthday (it’s still the last time the Browns have won a game on my birthday). However, a closer look shows just how important this win really was. The Browns, in the strike-shortened season, were just 2-4 heading into this showdown at Cleveland Stadium with Paul McDonald at quarterback replacing an injured Brian Sipe. A loss would have essentially ended their season. However, the defense picked off Terry Bradshaw four times — three of which by rookie Hanford Dixon — and sacked him three times. The Steelers led, 7-3, at halftime on a six-yard TD pass from Bradshaw to John Stallworth.
However, McDonald, who completed 19-of-40 passes for 227 yards, led the Browns on a third-quarter scoring drive, capped by a 1-yard plunge by fullback Johnny Davis. An intentional safety taken when punter Steve Cox ran out of the end zone in the final seconds made it a one-point game, but it wasn’t enough. The win improved the Browns to 3-4 and led to a 4-5 season. It was good enough for them to make the playoffs under the expanded eight-team format, and this win propelled them to that playoff berth. It was also the last time the Browns beat a Bradshaw-led Steeler team – he retired after just one game in 1983.
12. Browns 20, Steelers 14 (Nov. 25, 2012):Prior to last year’s 31-10 win at home, this had been the most recent victory for the good guys. With the Steelers down to third-string quarterback Charlie Batch, the Browns defense forced a whopping eight turnovers – three of which occurred in the final three minutes of play. They intercepted three Batch passes, but recovered five fumbles from five different Steeler running backs. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who had a batted pass intercepted and returned for a 53-yard touchdown by linebacker Lawrence Timmons on the fourth play from scrimmage, recovered to lead the Browns to 20 points. He threw a five-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jordan Cameron late in the second quarter off of a turnover, but the Steelers led, 14-13, at halftime on a Chris Rainey 1-yard run in the final seconds of the second quarter.
Kicker Phil Dawson connected from 28 and 32 yards out in the first half. But rookie Trent Richardson’s 15-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter gave the Browns a 20-14 lead, which was good enough for the long-awaited ‘W.’ Richardson finished with 85 yards on 29 carries, while Weeden (who was knocked out of the game late in the fourth quarter) threw for 153 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
11. Browns 13, Steelers 6 (Dec. 10, 2009):This one cracks our list because of how out-of-nowhere it really was. The Browns came into this Thursday Night home contest with a 1-11 record, and new coach Eric Mangini was on the hot seat with the rumored hiring of Mike Holmgren as team president earlier that week. However, instead of rolling over to the vaunted Steelers, the defending Super Bowl champions, they hit them in the mouth.
Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times – a season-best for the Browns’ beleaguered defense – and held them to just two field goals. Brady Quinn only threw for 90 yards and was offset a lot by receiver Josh Cribbs, who ran for a team-best 87 yards out of the Wildcat formation. But, he led two first quarter scoring drives (both Phil Dawson field goals) and another just before halftime, capped by rookie Chris Jennings’ 10-yard touchdown run to make it 13-0. The game wasn’t over until linebacker David Bowens batted away a fourth-down Roethlisberger pass with just over a minute remaining, and Santonio Holmes was leveled after a short punt return with no time remaining to cap one of the most satisfying Browns victory during the “Expansion Era.”
10. Browns 24, Steelers 19 (Oct. 9, 1965):The Browns came into 1965 as the defending NFL champions (alas, they haven’t been able to do that since then) and picked up right where they left off, winning two of their first three games before hosting the hated Steelers (0-4) on a Saturday night. However, the underdog Steelers hung tough with the vaunted Browns, rallying from a 10-0 first quarter deficit to take a 19-17 fourth quarter lead on a Dick Hoak 15-yard run. Jim Brown (who Cleveland drafted just one pick after the Steelers selected Len Dawson in the first round of the 1957 draft) scored two touchdowns, one receiving, and gained 168 yards on the ground.
However, it was his backup Leroy Kelly (who also wound up in the Hall of Fame), who made the biggest plays of the game-winning drive, which began on their own 22 with 3:35 remaining, catching passes of 22 and 21 yards. Following a four-yard run by Brown to put the ball on the Pittsburgh 14 with less than a minute to go, Frank Ryan found Gary Collins on a post pattern in the end zone for the game-winning score. The Browns wound up going 11-3 and reaching the NFL Championship game for the second-straight year, but lost to the Green Bay Packers in what turned out to be Brown’s final game of his storied career.
9. Browns 16, Steelers 15 (Nov. 14, 1999):After three years without football, the Browns were reborn
as an expansion team in 1999, playing in a sparkling new stadium in the exact spot that the old Cleveland Stadium stood. In their first game back, the Browns were humiliated by the Steelers, 43-0, at home. Just a few weeks later, on Nov. 14, the Browns played like a totally different team, keeping themselves in the game. The Browns scored first on a 35-yard touchdown pass from Tim Couch to Kevin Johnson (both rookies), but the Steelers battled back to take a 15-7 lead on a touchdown and three field goals.
But, with 6:26 left in the game, defensive lineman John Thierry intercepted Kordell Stewart and was brought down at the Steeler 15, setting up a Couch to Mark Edwards touchdown pass a few plays later. Karim Abdul-Jabbar’s two-point conversion run was stopped, but the Browns had one more chance. Taking over with no timeouts at his own 20 with 1:51 remaining, Couch drove the Browns 58 yards in five plays. Without stopping the clock and with 18 seconds left, Chris Palmer ran the field goal team out on to the field. The Browns snapped the ball with two seconds left, and rookie Phil Dawson, into an 18 mph wind, calmly drilled a 40-yard field goal to give Cleveland the stunning upset win. It turned out to be the Browns’ second-to-last visit to Three Rivers Stadium and their first win there since 1989’s 51-0 blowout.
8. Browns 26, Steelers 24 (Nov. 19, 1972): The suddenly resurgent Steelers, after decades of ineptitude, took a 7-2 record into this contest at Cleveland Stadium, with the Browns at 6-3. The Browns jumped out to a 20-3 lead behind two TD passes from Mike Phipps, but the Steelers scored just before halftime to make it 20-10, then got two touchdown runs – the latter a 75-yard run from Franco Harris – to take a 24-23 fourth quarter lead.
Don Cockroft missed a 27-yard field goal with just under two minutes remaining, but he got another chance thanks to the defense forcing a three-and-out and a clutch drive led by Phipps. With 13 seconds remaining, Cockroft earned his redemption with a 26-yard field goal, giving the Browns a much-needed victory. Both teams made the playoffs that season, but both were defeated by the undefeated Miami Dolphins.
7. Browns 27, Steelers 26 (Oct. 16, 1980):This game virtually signaled the death of the first Steeler dynasty and helped propel the “Kardiac Kids” to their first-ever AFC Central crown and first playoff berth since 1972. Despite the Steelers missing most of their regular offensive starters, Pittsburgh jumped out to a 26-14 fourth quarter lead with backup QB Cliff Stoudt, an Oberlin native, at the helm.
But Brian Sipe and Co., despite blowing a couple of golden scoring opportunities earlier in the game, came to life in the fourth quarter. Sipe found Greg Pruitt for a 7-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 9:21 remaining (Don Cockroft missed the extra point, keeping the Steelers ahead by six). Then, with 5:38 remaining, Sipe found a streaking Ozzie Newsome wide open for an 18-yard touchdown, sending 80,000 fans at Cleveland Stadium into a frenzy. Ron Bolton prevented Stoudt from making a late rally with an interception at the two-minute warning, and the Browns were able to run out the clock on this huge victory over the defending Super Bowl champs.
6. Browns 31, Steelers 10 (Oct. 12, 2014):What does Brian Hoyer have in common with Tim Couch, Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden? They were all starting quarterbacks during the “Expansion Era” who manufactured wins over the hated Steelers. The Browns enter this Sunday’s game on a one-game winning streak over the Steelers thanks to this white-washing – the Browns biggest win over the Steelers since they went to Three Rivers and won, 51-0, in 1989. The Steelers took a 3-0 first quarter lead before Hoyer – a former Pittsburgh backup in 2012 – led three second-quarter touchdown drives to take a 21-3 halftime lead.
The biggest play was a 51-yard bomb to tight end Jordan Cameron with 9:35 left in the quarter, sandwiched between touchdown runs by rookie Isaiah Crowell and Ben Tate (who would wind up starting for Pittsburgh in a Wild Card game that year). Tate’s second touchdown of the season, a 1-yard plunge with 12:37 left in the game, made it a 31-3 lead. Hoyer went 8-for-17 for 215 yards and a touchdown, but the running game rolled up 138 yards on 38 carries. Defensively, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just twice, but threw an interception and was thwarted on two fourth-down conversions. It snapped a four-game losing streak to the Steelers and was, arguably, the most satisfying victory for the Browns since 1999.
5. Browns 18, Steelers 16 (Oct. 10, 1976):This game is famous for Browns defensive end Joe “Turkey” Jones’ sack of Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw, where Jones slammed Bradshaw right on his head and knocked him out of the game. The Steelers had won Super Bowl X the previous season and were poised to try to win it again.
They knocked out Brian Sipe early in the game, which resulted in little-used rookie Dave Mays (the Browns’ third-string QB) making his NFL debut. Mays – who was Cleveland’s first black quarterback – earned his way into Browns lore by calmly leading the Browns to two third-quarter scores – a 1-yard run by Cleo Miller and a 50-yard field goal by Don Cockroft – which gave them a 15-10 lead. Following Turkey’s sack, Cockroft added the game-clinching 40-yard field goal with less than two minutes remaining.
4. Browns 27, Steelers 24(Oct. 5, 1986): Since Three Rivers Stadium opened up in 1970, the Browns had never won there. They would always seem to lose in bizarre fashion as well, which perpetuated the local myth of the “Three Rivers Jinx.” The previous season, the Browns had the Steelers on the ropes before Gary Anderson’s last-second field goal gave Pittsburgh a 10-9 win. The Browns tried everything; staying in different hotels, busing instead of flying, bringing dirt from Cleveland Stadium and sprinkling it on the field during warm-ups, you name it. And, this one wasn’t without its bizarre moments as well.
The Browns took a quick 10-0 lead, but back-to-back turnovers gave Pittsburgh a 14-10 lead late in the first half. That’s when Gerald McNeil, nicknamed “The Ice Cube,” became a permanent fixture in Browns lore when he returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, giving the Browns a 17-14 halftime lead. At the time, it was the Browns’ first kickoff return touchdown in 12 years! However, the Steelers regained the lead early in the third quarter, and the two teams traded scores which resulted in Pittsburgh leading, 24-20, to start the fourth quarter. But, Mike Johnson recovered a muffed punt, and Earnest Byner’s four-yard TD run with eight minutes left gave the Browns the lead for good. It got interesting though – Matt Bahr missed a chip-shot field goal with just under five minutes to play, but Mark Malone’s pitch to Earnest Jackson on a bizarre option call from the Browns 35 was botched and the Browns recovered.
3. Browns 37, Steelers 31 OT (Nov. 23, 1986):The Browns had just ended their 16-year “Three Rivers Jinx” earlier in the season (see No. 4) and had come off a huge win over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night at home. Bernie Kosar and Mark Malone engaged in a wild shootout. Kosar completed 28 of 46 passes for a then-career-best 414 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, just two days before his 23rd birthday. The Browns had taken a 31-28 lead with 1:51 left on a Matt Bahr field goal, but lost Bahr for the season on the ensuing kickoff when he made a game-saving tackle on the Steelers’ Lupe Sanchez at the Browns 40.
Gary Anderson made a 40-yard field goal to send the game into overtime, and the Browns did not have a healthy kicker. After both teams went three-and-out in the OT, Kosar went to work. With 6:37 remaining and the ball on the Steeler 36, Kosar pumped once and fired deep down the left sideline for rookie Webster Slaughter. Slaughter caught the ball in stride and scored the walk-off touchdown. The Browns’ 536 yards offense was the most a Pittsburgh defense had ever yielded up to that point.
2. Browns 51, Steelers 0 (Sept. 10, 1989):The Browns were in the midst of a five-season playoff streak, where they qualified for the AFC Championship game three times in a four-year span. This season
capped off both streaks and began with question marks concerning new head coach Bud Carson. Carson, who was the architect of the famed Pittsburgh “Steel Curtain” defense in the 1970s, had never been a head coach before. But, in this season opener at Three Rivers Stadium, Carson’s attack 4-3 defense stunned Bubby Brister and the Steelers by forcing six turnovers and scoring three defensive touchdowns – two of which by linebacker David Grayson and the other by veteran Clay Matthews.
Rookie running back Tim Worley fumbled the ball at least four times, and two of them were returned for touchdowns. This rout catapulted the Browns to a 9-6-1 season and their last AFC Championship game berth. The Steelers rebounded to finish 9-7 and came within a point of meeting the Browns in that AFC Title game.
1. Browns 28, Steelers 23 (Oct. 24, 1993):Just two weeks after this game, Bill Belichick and Art Modell touched off mass furor when they released regional icon Bernie Kosar. However, all was right in the world with this game, simply remembered as the ”Eric Metcalf Game.” The Browns jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, thanks to a 62-yard touchdown pass from Vinny Testaverde to Michael Jackson and a 91-yard punt return by Metcalf, but the Steelers tied at 14 just before halftime. The Browns led again, 21-17, on a short TD pass from Testaverde to fullback Ron Wolfley, but the Steelers came back to take a 23-21 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
With Testaverde knocked out of the game with a separated shoulder, Kosar was poised to direct one his patented two-minute drives. However, Metcalf never gave him the chance, weaving through the Steeler special teams for a breathtaking 75-yard touchdown with 2:05 remaining. Metcalf became just the first NFL player to have two punt return TDs in the same game. Stevon Moore clinched the win by recovering a fumble with less than a minute remaining, but everyone remembers the Metcalf return as the winning play. The win improved the Browns to 5-2, but Kosar’s release deflated this team that wound up a disappointing 7-9. It was also the last time the original Browns beat the Steelers. The Steelers wound up 9-7 and reached the playoffs.
If you have followed Cleveland sports for as long as I have, you know that feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see one of our star players writhing in pain on the court or field. Your first thought is “Oh God No! Not again!” No sports franchise is immune to injuries, but knowing that never seems to help.
I got that old fashioned feeling Tuesday night when Kevin Love landed wrong on his ankle. I stood up from my couch with my hands on my head verbally pleading for the sports gods to give us a pass. After all, Love has been the heart of our production this year with Lebron’s play being less relied upon and his minutes being managed.
I immediately was taken back to several similar instances from the past. Names like LeCharles Bentley come to mind. Bentley was a hometown boy who was a Pro Bowler in New Orleans and just wanted to come back to Cleveland and help the Browns be a contender. Sadly, his dreams were dashed in the most abrupt and immediate fashion I have ever heard of. Bentley sustained a career ending injury on literally the FIRST snap of TRAINING CAMP! “Only in Cleveland”, we said.
I also think of Brian Hoyer, who even though he is no longer here, was setting this town on fire with the chemistry he was showing with his receivers in the early part of the 2013 Browns season only to be felled by an ACL tear in his 3rd start.
The most relevant to the Cavs were the playoff injuries to both Love and Kyrie Irving. Love’s shoulder was severely damaged in the opening series against Boston by Kelly Olynyk, causing him to miss the rest of the playoffs.
Irving, the yin to Lebron’s yang all season, injured his knee in Game 1 of the Finals and had surgery to repair his kneecap. That injury will keep Kyrie off of the court until almost mid season of this campaign. There is no doubt that both of these injuries contributed to our eventual loss in the Finals to Golden State.
Most experts believe that if both Love and Irving were healthy, the Cavaliers could have triumphed over Steph Curry and company.
All of these thoughts went through my head when Love went down on Tuesday. I take some solace in the fact that our bench is much improved this year. If Love were to go down, I’m sure Tristan Thompson would be able to step in and fill his shoes. I feel as if Tristan’s offensive game is coming along but is, as it always has, lagging behind his defensive strengths.
Though Lebron had an amazing 4th quarter against Utah (17 points), the other 3 quarters were not played at his typical level. LBJ should not have to bear the burden of “saving” this team as he attempted to do in the Finals.
It seems to me that Coach David Blatt is managing the players minutes much more efficiently this season and the reason we are doing so well is that the team’s productivity doesn’t fall off much when the second unit is on the court. I believe that we could endure one or maybe two injuries to starters this season as a result. In the NBA, these things are often inevitable as the 82 game season, plus playoffs, last from late October until mid June sometimes. This is a long time to play such a physically grueling sport and managing players minutes is the best defense against not only injury but fatigue.
Even with all of that, I’m sure we will see one or more of our prominent players sidelined before the season is over. Selfishly, I don’t want it to happen this early in the season when the players are just starting to hit their stride and develop chemistry with their teammates.
Ultimately, Love had his ankle looked at and rejoined the game Tuesday continuing to play at the high level he had for the entire game. To me, this felt like a warning shot to all of the Cleveland fans about what could and likely will happen this season.
In the past, I have felt as if this team was a house of cards in the sense that any injury to a starter meant that we couldn’t win without them. So far I feel that this team is built with a strong enough foundation that even if we lose a big piece, we have the right players to fill it and continue on towards our ultimate goal of being known as the best team in basketball.
There may have been nine other teams eligible for this 2015 post-season, and some great stories behind those teams’ run to get here, but the Chicago Cubs are the story. With the Yankees out of the picture, the St. Louis Cardinals are the only ones left standing with nowhere near three decades, if not all of eternity, between now and their last World Championship. And look, those Cardinals are the next obstacle in the way of the Cubs’ destiny.
It’s a different attitude on the north side of Chicago, this time around. We’re not blessing dugouts, exorcising goats, or doing whatever’s been done in the past to fuel the hysteria that comes with a fan-base that’s gone their entire lives without seeing their beloved baseball team compete for, let alone win, a World Championship. Okay, I concede there’s less than a what I would consider a chunk of Cubbie fans that are old enough to remember the Cubs falling to Detroit in 7 games in 1945, but no one has actually been waiting 107 years for what might happen next.
Give it up for the Ricketts family, for putting the right people in charge of the baseball side, and then getting the hell out of the way until it’s time to open the checkbook. There are only two ways to be a bad owner in sports; one is to meddle, and the other is to be cheap, and this family has done no such thing. They went out and got Theo Epstein to run the show, who in turn, brought in Jed Hoyer to be the General Manager, and eventually Joe Maddon was enlisted to manage the games. This group has done their diligence in serving the fans, by not giving a damn what they think. The first order of business was slamming the door shut on the dream of making Ryne Sandberg the skipper. Sure, Dale Sveum and Rick Renteria never brought the Cubs anywhere near the promised land, but Ryno didn’t tear it up in his first go-around in the bigs, with the Phillies, either.
In addition to Sandberg not possessing the championship pedigree, if you think the fans were pissed he wasn’t considered, imagine the outrage when they had to fire him. The whole “we run the Cubs, not the fans” effect trickles down to the roster too. Cubs fans loved Tony Campana, and while this wasn’t exactly trading away Ernie Banks, Theo and Jed were able to ignore the groans heard when Campana was traded to Arizona for a couple of teenagers. Epstein wasn’t hired to dwell on the 103 years prior to his 2011 hire, but to make the next century of Cubs baseball great. He’s well on his way.
No matter how well you’re able to put the past away, if you have any rooting interest in the Cubs, and mine is tertiary, as I married into it, there’s always a little lack of confidence, if not paranoia, due to precedent. For many, the next hard groundball to first is still going through Leon Durham’s legs and the next 50/50 ball between the left fielder and the spectators represents a prelude to doom. Entering the snakepit that was a blacked-out PNC Park on Wednesday night, Maddon’s Cubs had to strike early and prevent the Pirates from reciprocating. Dexter Fowler and Kyle Schwarber answered the call early and often. They were loose and unintimidated by Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, almost like someone forgot to tell them the Cubs hadn’t won a post-season game since 2003. Jake Arrieta took the ball, and despite not having his best stuff on the mound, he made sure Schwarber’s RBI single in the top of the first inning was enough. However, Schwarber put one in the Allegheny River and Fowler was a little more modest, instead going to the right-center field seats with his shot, to make the probably Cy Young Award winner comfortable with a 4-run lead. He was able to pitch out of several jams, thanks to several defensive gems behind him, but there is a sour note about Wednesday.
Aside from Schwarber and Fowler, not much offensive production from the Cubs. The probably Rookie of the Year, Kris Bryant looked so lost at the plate, you might have thought he missed the flight to Western Pennsylvania. You also have to take into account, the perils of playing that Wild Card game of the 1-game sort, you’ve exhausted your Ace and he won’t get two starts in the best-of-five division series. Those are bridges they’ll cross when they encounter them in the Gateway City, as they face that next obstacle in the Cardinals. The time to worry about that is today, but a nice little honeymoom was to be had all day Thursday. To paraphrase (What About) Bob(?) Wiley, Baby Steps towards a World Championship. It started in Pittsburgh, and may not have a happy ending for Bill Murray and the rest of Cubs Nation, but it’s a start.
And, in other news…
Texas Rangers fans would probably prefer it, if I stop listening to their big games on the radio while driving down I-8 towards San Diego. For the second time in four years, the previous time being Game 6 of the World Series, my ears were privy to an epic Rangers collapse while en route to California for a Browns game. The last time, it was David Freese of the Cardinals, down to his final strike, who prevented the Rangers from closing out their first-ever World Championship with a double off the wall. The Boys of Arlington would get a shot at redemption in Game 7, but would have no luck in the deciding game. On Saturday, they took a 10-6 lead into the 9th, as I pulled into a Yuma gas station to re-fuel and call my wife. By the time, I got back in the car, the Angels led 11-10, and the assumption I’d had minutes earlier, that the Rangers were going to clinch the American League West had disintegrated. Unlike in 2011, the Rangers were able to take care of business the next day, and all was well in North Texas.
No one knows anything in College Football, a truth that reveals itself to the masses watching each week. On paper, Ohio State should have been able to exercise The Karate Kid III clause, and just waited for a worthy a opponent to take their title from them, in Glendale on January 11th, but they have to play the games. It hasn’t been pretty; you could argue they’re getting everyone’s best shot, but you could probably make a better argument that they’re a lot more flat than the team that impressed us in January. Imagine if it was TCU, and not the Buckeyes, that got to take that magical ride through the inaugural College Football Playoff. Would Ohio State be able to maintain its #1 spot with their play in 2015? If Utah and Florida can hold serve, this point is rendered moot, but how little do we know about the Pac-12 and SEC, and how confusing can the entire College Football Playoff picture be entering the month of December?
Toledo could finish the season undefeated, and there’s a strong possibility that they won’t get the “Group of 5” bid to the Access Bowls, given Boise State’s history and a committee’s tendency to forgive September losses. Rockets fans have to be hoping the stock on the win at Arkansas rises throughout SEC play.
The Browns found a new way to lose in San Diego on Sunday, and I was on hand for the agony. Having watched Josh Lambo’s first attempt sail wide, when my celebration was interrupted by news of the laundry on the field, I assumed someone in a brown jersey ran into the Chargers kicker, but the call was off-sides. I didn’t see off-sides, but the guy in the striped shirt on the field had a better vantage point. I went on with my day in Southern California, overhearing plenty of same ol’ Browns conversations. It was like Tuesday or Wednesday that I was retroactively angry at the linesman on Bill Vinovich’s crew, who guessed wrong and cost Cleveland a chance to take the game in overtime. The Lions are in the same boat with the bad luck of letting an official decide a game. It’s really no wonder, none at all, why neither of these teams have played in a Super Bowl or won a title since 1967.
As a Browns fan, I’ve had faith in both Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer, but now that I’m seeing them play in other jerseys, I almost have to slap myself. Difference being, I liked the potential of Weeden, and soon as he put on the orange helmet, he showed he couldn’t play at a high level. Hoyer, on the other hand, won games for the Browns, giving people like me false hope and dismissing poor play as a slump or fluke. It took seeing that punt-looking interception he threw to former Brown Mike Adams on Thursday night, to convince me of his true colors.
Sunday’s New England-Dallas game will get a lot of the headlines, but I’m going to learn a lot more about the landscape of the NFL from Seahawks-Bengals and Rams-Packers on Sunday. I know the Seahawks and Packers are good, but I still need some convincing on 4-0 Cincinnati and the 2-2 Rams.
I’m offering up a lot of chalk with my Division Series predictions in baseball, but I’m looking forward to a Blue Jays-Royals ALCS, and I’m putting the Cubs and Mets in the NLCS. Regarding those National League teams, once they start winning, they don’t stop.
Basketball and hockey, we’ll get to you next week.
In the NFL, there are the “haves” and the “have nots”. There’s little question where the Cleveland Browns fall, if those are the choices. I could literally start about 25,000 sentences with the words “The Browns have not” and not duplicate a thought. The low-hanging fruit starts with the Super Bowl. The Browns have not won a Super Bowl…wait, the Browns have not played in a Super Bowl is slightly more accurate, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. One playoff appearance and a 16-year rebooted history that includes two 7-9 seasons in its Top 4, dictates a simple truth, the Browns have not rendered themselves relevant enough for coverage on a league-wide site.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not going to stop me from throwing some occasional thoughts on the NFL’s most dysfunctional franchise. I don’t know if they are actually that, but it isn’t difficult to make a case for their dysfunction out dysfunctioning the rest. It starts at the top. Jimmy Haslam, the team’s new-ish owner, has faced corruption charges from misdeeds at his non-football interest. Alec Scheiner, the team president and allegedly a non-football guy, has been caught with his hand in the cookie jar on the football side of things (worth mentioning, but not that big of a deal). The GM, an apologetic Ray Farmer, broke a silly rule, which may be detrimental to the development of a budding organization. Mike Pettine is on a 5-game losing streak as the team’s head coach, and “his guy” for the quarterback position may have proven to be “just a guy”. Exploration of the 53-man roster will return similar results in the department of dysfunction, but who has time for all of that?
I don’t care. I mean, I do care, but I just cannot put myself through the trauma of re-hashing it all every day. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have thoughts on all of it. At the core of it all, I’m a fan, but the connection is more about what the original franchise did in the 80s to get me into the game as a fan, and a lot less about what they’ve done for me lately. Lately, we, because I’m assuming I’m not on an island in this regard, have tried to find any cog of success to grip on to. We’re complete losers for doing so, and few of us will apologize for our foolish optimism. Anyway, I’m going to have some thoughts, and I’m going to try to maintain some level of objectivity when it comes to the team with the logo-less helmets, but know it’s coming from a rather subjective place. Without further ado, here are some Browns Bites…
I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve been willing to give Johnny Manziel the benefit of the doubt on a lot of how his celebrity is received and scrutinized by the general public. Some of it, most of it, is deserved. You think he’s a tool, because he acts like a tool in the public eye. No denying that. From a football perspective, if he’s not taking that seriously because of his extra-curricular activity, that’s a problem. This season, he played and it was clear he wasn’t ready.
Here’s the thing. It wasn’t inflatable swans, money phones, rolled up currency, or even his perceived tardiness for work-related functions, the latter being the most concerning, that told me he wasn’t ready. It was what we saw in August, that he needed time to catch up to the NFL game. One of his greatest assets, his ability to get to the edge as a runner, was neutralized by Detroit’s number two’s in August. He wasn’t able to do it when teams were just going through the motions over the summer, so when it came to facing defenses playing for their playoff lives in December, I’m not sure why the results were so surprising. The guy wasn’t ready, probably shouldn’t have been expected to, and apparently did himself no favors in preparing for what was inevitable when Brian Hoyer, the aforementioned “Mike Pettine guy”, struggled.
Write off the Heisman winner as a bust, if you must, but don’t tell me this guy can’t turn it around. Now, I’ll be the first to admit that, when it was first suggested before the season, Johnny needed “help”, I chuckled. I didn’t see an addict, an alcoholic, or even a guy that didn’t love football. In my eyes, he was a young man, not unlike the young man I was a decade ago. He drank, went out often, and probably derelicted his primary responsibilities, but needs help? I didn’t see it. Maybe I was wrong, or maybe he’s going through the motions of needing help; it’s too close for me to make the call. Now that he’s in treatment, he might discover that he needed help all along, and the worst case scenario would be going through the motions and being a regular at these rehab resorts like some sort of child actor.
Let’s say he does come out on the other side of this with a new outlook on life, and acknowledge that’s a huge “if” at the same time, what faith should the Browns have in getting what they thought they were getting with the 22nd pick in the 2014 Draft? Though I would have to think Mike Pettine and the Browns are best fit for Mark Sanchez, an acquisition that makes the most mutual sense, I think Mike Vick makes a lot of sense, if they want to go all-in on Johnny. Brian Hoyer is, of course, an option, but it just doesn’t appear to be in the cards. Vick is a guy that wasted his best years, even before incarceration, with his focus being outside of being the very best at his craft. With that experience comes wisdom, and perhaps his history could teach the young and probably impressionable man from Texas A&M. Right now, my assumption is that Manziel starts in Week 1, but I’ll waver on that if a free agent trying to start for someone or anyone gets brought into the fold.
What Was Farmer Texting?
From 90 minutes before the game until the final gun, the NFL says no digital communication. Maybe Ray Farmer didn’t know of that statute, but it’s a better assumption that he did, thought he’d get away with it, and was/is surprised that he is going to face punitive action for the exercise. I’d prefer to see my GM as sly, rather than ignorant, but that’s just me.
There’s little question, in my mind, that he was sending anything that gave the Browns a competitive advantage. In fact, I believe those text messages had to be more of a nuisance than an aid on game day. Did he say “run this play” or “get Player X on the field”? That’s not exactly the support I want from my front office, if I’m the head coach, but Mike Pettine is no puppet. He just doesn’t come across as someone that will tolerate the back-seat driving. He doesn’t let his star players get away with the nonsense, so my guess is that any instruction, and we don’t know that he was receiving instruction, would be taken with a grain of salt, even if Ray Farmer is his boss. The jury is still out on who exactly Pettine answers to.
Change isn’t always good. If you have something that works, like the New York Yankees and the Green Packers do, just leave it alone. No sense in changing for the sake of changing. They say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Well, I think we’ve established that the Browns are broken. Uniforms don’t fix anything, and let me pay homage to my pal Dan Zaleski here by saying the time dedicated to uniform re-design and logo concepts don’t take any resources away from what happens on the field, so changing uniforms do nothing to harm the product on the field, as if it could get worse. Tradition is great, but the current uniform doesn’t bring thoughts of Otto Graham or Lou Groza to the forefront. Remember, the Browns have not done anything to render themselves relevant in the modern era, so change here means bucking a tradition of ineptitude.
The helmet, in all of its nothingness, seems to be the most sacred thing. In all of my attempts at apathy on the overall subject, I find myself starting to care, but only to the point where I don’t want radical change. I don’t want the helmet to be primarily brown and I don’t want the dog or “dawg”, if we’re matching up with the Dawg Pound of the 80s and 90s, rather than Chomps or Swagger, which are an actual mascot and an actual dog to boot. Based on what we’re hearing about the upcoming unveiling of the new, my guess is the helmet changes, but not drastically. I expect a different hue of orange, maybe even two different tones of it and a possible widening of the brown stripe that runs across the top.
The jersey has changed. It’s possible that Browns fans don’t necessarily identify with any particular jersey over any other the team has worn, and we venture to guess most couldn’t pinpoint the subtle changes that have been made it in the last fifteen years. Change the shade of brown, the stripes on the sleeves, and/or the font on the numbering and name on back, and I’m sure everyone will be fine. Do the eccentric things that Tampa Bay, Jacksonville, and Arizona do, and many will say they did it wrong. Keep in mind, the Browns do tend to have a lot of the market cornered on doing it wrong, so the hope is Nike and the Browns will let someone else have this one in the department of dysfunction.
Pants. The white ones are bland, but commonplace. The brown ones look terrible with white jerseys and gimmicky with the brown jerseys, but I think they can get away with the brown monochrome look for special occasions, only as an alternate though. The answer, and I don’t know why it gets to be like pulling teeth to see them these days, but orange pants. Like the grey ones the Giants wear at all times, the orange bottoms can be universal with the white and dark jerseys and should match the helmet. All of that is assuming the helmet remains orange, even if it isn’t the same orange. If the helmet is something different altogether (read: not orange), then all bets are off.
In the end, we shouldn’t care about uniforms so much. In reality, we should have stopped caring about this organization long ago, but we have not.
The Draft is Here! The Draft is Here! The Draft is Here!
…Kind of. Ok, not really. But it is never too early to talk about the Draft, especially for the Cleveland Browns, who are still (as they have been for the past forever) in rebuilding mode. And, speaking of the Draft, the NFL Scouting Combine started on Tuesday, as Offensive Linemen, Kickers, and Tight Ends all arrived in Indianapolis, and will continue through Monday, when the defensive backs finally make their ways home. And so, with all the Draft-related happenings this week (and because I love love love the Draft), I am going to focus on the Browns on the Draft today. However, I am not going to look at everything. Instead I am going to focus on what everyone is really most interested in right now – the QB situation. So, without further rambling, here is what the Browns will do when it comes to the quarterback position over the next couple of months…
First off, Brian Hoyer is remaining at home. This is kind of a no-brainer to me. With Johnny Manziel in rehab and really just questionable overall when it comes to his ability to play at the NFL level, the Browns have to keep at least one quarterback that is familiar with the team and personnel and who is capable of winning games. While I like Connor Shaw, the only guy that fits this description is Hoyer. Hoyer still has an interest in remaining in Cleveland, and the Browns shouldn’t have too much trouble inking him to a rather cheap deal, although they have the room to give him more if necessary. But either way, he stays in Cleveland for at least one more year.
Second, Ray Farmer is not trading up to draft Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston. Winston will be off the board to the Bucs at #1, and it would be incredibly stupid to package a boatload and a half of picks to move up and grab another project QB in Mariota. I don’t care that our new QBs coach has been working with him; it simply isn’t going to happen. Instead, the Browns will draft a quarterback in the later rounds. I’m thinking someone like Brett Hundley (UCLA) or Garrett Grayson (CSU), but more on that in a couple of weeks. Anyway, the bottomline is that the Browns have way too many other important needs (e.g. Wide Receiver) to idiotically trade up to grab Mariota.
Third, the Browns will pursue a quarterback other than Hoyer in free agency, but fail to be willing to fork over enough to sign him. This quarterback will be one Ryan Mallett, if only for the simple reason that there is no one else worth pursuing. The Browns won’t be looking for a backup in this search, instantly ruling out the perpetual backup who goes by the name of Matt Moore. The Browns aren’t looking to bring in somebody who seems to always be injured, so knock Jake Locker off the list too. The Browns won’t pursue either of the aging options that are barely worth mentioning, meaning one can ignore Shaun Hill and Josh McCown. And, finally, the Browns won’t be looking to sign a QB who couldn’t manage to lead an offense with more weapons than the Browns into the playoffs despite being in prime position to do so, so take Mark Sanchez off the list as well. So that leaves only Ryan Mallett. However, that leaves only Ryan Mallett, meaning a lot of other teams will be looking for his services, and the Browns are going to lose a bidding war over him.
So, come the end of the Draft this coming year, the Browns will have 4 quarterbacks on the roster. Three are old, one will be new. And all will appear to be equally poor options to the average fan. However one, and I’m putting my money on Hoyer here, will emerge during training camp and take control of the team. It will be hard for Pettine to begin another season with Hoyer at the helm, as the average fan is likely to be very unhappy. But Pettine has not been one to give into fan pressure much at all so far, and that isn’t changing this coming season. Anyway, with a more explosive set of receivers, some dude named Julius Thomas, and a stronger offensive line in front of him, Hoyer will quickly silence the critics. The only difference is that in 2015 he won’t fade after 8 games.
At least that’s my take on it. Over the next few weeks I will take a closer look at what the Browns will be doing in free agency, and then will move into the ever-exciting Draft. Stay tuned folks, for the Browns are never boring, and this offseason won’t lack news.
While by no means the most surprising (see John Fox) or significant (see Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles) coaching news of the past week, Kyle Shanahan’s decision to leave the Browns clearly affects us, as Browns fans, more than any other.
One week ago, on January 8th, reports surfaced that Shanahan had decided to resign from his position as offensive coordinator, primarily due to friction among coaches and front office members. Two days later, on the 10th, the Browns held a press conference announcing that they were accepting Shanahan’s resignation and would be looking for a new offensive coordinator. Quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains was also let go of on Saturday. One week later, the Browns are once again searching for a new coach to fill a high-profile position in their organization, but before we get into that, let’s look at what Shanahan did iduring his short stint here in Cleveland.
The Browns’ offense was ranked 23rd in total offense and 27th in scoring for the 2014 season. A squad hindered by injuries and another year of disappointing quarterback play, the offense slowly declined as the season wore on. Alex Mack’s injury in late October had more impact than most anyone could’ve imagined, and Shanahan’s offense was largely ineffective in the second half of the season. Personally, I’m not all that bummed to see him go. Growing up in Denver, I have a special place in my heart for his last name, but I was more than a little disappointed in his playcalling in 2014. Having watched him lead Robert Griffin III to an Offensive Rookie of the Year award in 2012, I expected Shanahan’s playbook to be just shy of brilliant if Johnny Manziel ever saw the field this past season. Brian Hoyer’s play quickly declined after Mack went down, and, inevitably, the overhyped rookie was given the opportunity to lead the team. Going into Manziel’s Week 15 debut as a starter, I was really really excited. The Browns had destroyed the Bengals in their earlier meeting, and with Shanahan calling plays for Manziel, I expected more of the same. Instead, Shanahan presented the Browns and their fans with what was probably one of the worst play books I have ever seen. The Browns got shutout, trampled, and humiliated. Manziel managed 80 yards through the air while putting up a 27.3 passer rating. Shanahan’s play calling wasn’t much better the following week either. As the season went on, Shanahan’s playcalling became less and less effective; as such, I don’t think his departure will be that much of a loss. As to Loggains, the Browns’ quarterbacks clearly underperformed this season, so I don’t have to much of a problem with that move either.
Shanahan’s departure leaves the Browns once again in the coaching hunt. As of Thursday morning, the Browns had interviewed former Bears head coach Marc Trestman. They also have set up interviews with John DeFilippo, the Raiders QB coach, and Anthony Lynn, the Jets assistant head coach and running backs coach. Other names that have surfaced in association with the job include Cowboys OC Bill Callahan and former Bills Coach Chan Gailey. Out of this list of names, Trestman would probably be the best hire, although it will be difficult to lure him to Cleveland. He is known around the NFL for his ability to coax good play out of QBs, a skill the Browns could really use. However, because of his profile, he is being interviewed for numerous jobs across the NFL, including serving as the Raiders new OC. If they Browns were unable to land him, it would be quite possible they bring on Lynn, someone who Mike Pettine worked with from 2009 to 2012 while in New York. In that case, the Browns would do well trying to bring on someone like Bears QB coach Matt Cavanaugh to replace Loggains. Although it will be difficult to convince any coach to join an organization with such an absurd history of turnover since Jimmy Haslam took ownership, the Browns might could leverage Johnny Manziel to draw someone in. Manziel’s first season was a massive failure, and there are many questioning whether he could even come close to making it on this level. A young coach with a lot of ambition might see a place to prove himself and fasttrack his career. If not…well then the Browns might end up having to claw for scraps when it comes to new coaching hires.
Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next couple weeks. I originally considered making a prediction as to who might be hired, but then I realized this was the Browns I was talking about. When it comes to coaching decisions, they are as unpredictable as it gets. As such, I’m going to go ahead and postpone making a fool of myself with a wildly incorrect guess…at least till next week that is.
First off, happy New Year everybody. May 2015 be better than 2014. Especially for us Browns fans.
That five game skid to end the season was painful. I have to admit, when we were sitting atop the division in early November, I really truly believed that we would sneak into the playoffs, and I was 100% certain that we would at least finish with a winning record. Alas, neither of those things happened, and us Browns fans had to suffer through a skid that was reminiscent of past years. But despite that ickiness to end the season, we fans have many a reason to be happy and excited heading into this new year:
1. Our Coaches Don’t Take Bullshit
Mike Pettine’s reaction to Johnny Manziel’s alleged party and its after-math (in which Josh Gordon, Justin Gilbert, and Manziel were all late to mandatory team-related activities) shows that he does not have patience for players who don’t put their team and their job first. Suspending Gordon and forcing the rookie tandem to remain in the locker room for the duration of the game showed that Pettine isn’t willing to waste time on individuals who are unwilling to make sacrifices for the team. Although this sort of attitude has adverse effects on the team in the short-term (I’m sure Connor Shaw could’ve benefitted from Gordon’s presence), over the long-term it will lead to a team that is more… well, teamly. The players will trust each other more without this type of toxicity in the locker room, and as a result the team will play better on the field.
2. The Injury Bug Can Only Eat So Much
Armonty Bryant (11 games missed), Alex Mack (11), John Hughes (10), Phil Taylor (11), Miles Austin (4), Paul McQuistan (1), Desmond Bryant (1), Pierre Desir (1), Barkevious Mingo (1), Jordan Cameron (5), Ben Tate (2), Ahtyba Rubin (3), Billy Winn (3), K’Waun Williams (3), Johnson Bademosi (2), Andrew Hawkins (1), Marlon Moore (2), Karlos Dansby (4), Tashaun Gipson (5), Gary Barnidge (3), Joe Haden (1), Brian Hoyer (1), Ryan Seymour (1), Ishmaa’ily Kitchen (1), Johnny Manziel (1). Every single one of those players was inactive due to injury at some point during the season. Considering the caliber of the players on the list, I think it is fair to say that the Browns got unfairly roughed up this season. And yet still managed to improve vastly from previous years. Sure, there will inevitably be injuries next season, but I just don’t see there being as many as this season. With more of our core players remaining in the game, expect improvement.
3. Ray Farmer is Kind of a Minor Personnel Genius
The number of rookies who contributed significantly this season was astounding. Joel Bitonio, K’Waun Williams, Christian Kirksey, Terrance West, and Isaiah Crowell all played big roles for the Browns. Pierre Desir and Connor Shaw both out played expectations. Both Manziel and Gilbert disappointed, but they are both talented enough to turn themselves around this offseason. Combine the rookies with the free agent signings of the past year (which include Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, Miles Austin, and Andrew Hawkins, among others), and Ray Farmer’s first class of personnel changes is astounding. With two first round picks this year and less holes to patch up, Farmer is set up to have another great offseason.
4. The Curse of Eternal Browns Optimism
This is probably the biggest reason we fans should be excited going into next year – we always are. Realistically we often know that the Browns are not going to have a great year, but nonetheless the most exciting time of the year is when Week 1 rolls around. Even if this team was set for a decline, we would still be excited for next season. Life is just not the same without football, and win or lose we are always going to be there cheering (and complaining).
I’m really bummed that I have to suffer through watching the Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens all play this coming weekend, but I’m still happy with what the Browns did. They are an organization that is poised to keep improving over the next few years, and I have little doubt that we will be playing in January in the next season or two.
Disgusting disgusting disgusting. Just completely and utterly disgusting…
And no, I’m not talking about Johnny Manziel‘s first start, although that wasn’t really a pretty matter either. I’m talking about the ensuing reaction, about the endless stream of negativity. Hell, it was so bad that I marched myself to the airport yesterday morning and left the state of Ohio…
Ok, maybe that was going to happen anyway. But still. People, get a hold of yourselves. Pull your head out from that place the sun don’t shine. GET A GRIP!!!
Yes, Manziel’s numbers were extremely poor. And yes, he did not look anywhere close to ready to start an NFL game. But that doesn’t mean we should start shopping for a new quarterback, as way too many analysts and public figures are suggesting. It takes time to adjust to the NFL; that’s why not just anyone can waltz in from a college level and play. You have to work at it. And inevitably there are going to be mistakes, and lots of them. We as Browns fans just happened to get vastly unlucky; these mistakes decided to all show up at once in a game with playoff implications. And that sucks, but that’s how the league works. We can’t storm around calling for a veteran QB to be acquired in the offseason. Nor should we run around asking to spend a first round draft pick on one. That will just lead us to end up exactly how we did this year: with the veteran playing well enough but declining towards the end of the season only to watch a rookie come in and drop a nice and steamy deuce.
Personally, I still believe that Mike Pettine made the correct choice in starting Manziel on Sunday. Brian Hoyer was given what was clearly a last shot to prove he should finish the season out when he played the Colts two weeks ago. And he failed to rise to the occasion. With the offense having sputtered almost all of November, the Manziel was the right direction to take. I talked a bit about this last week, but going with Manziel against the Bengals was either going to be a great decision that payed huge dividends, or it was going to blow up and be termed as the worst decision Pettine made in his rookie season. It turned out to be the latter, but, regardless of that, it was still the right, and really only decision. Now we get to see what Manziel can do the rest of the season, giving us a nice short preview of what to expect next year and bringing to light areas that need to be worked on in the offseason. Anyway, even if Brian Hoyer had started Sunday, we would not have won. The Bengals came to win, and there was no way for us to stand in their way. They outplayed us at every position. And sometimes that just happens. It’s happened to many a team this year, as it does every year.
As Browns fans we should really not even be that uncomfortable with what happened Sunday. It was a low, but we are used to lows. And honestly we were sort of due one. The Browns have been terrible in recent years, and no matter how you want to look at it, turning around a franchise takes time. The fact that Pettine has come in and in his rookie season had us fighting for a playoff spot through Week 15 is incredible. This team is going places, and it is doing so quickly. But quickly means over a two or three year period, not in a single season. Honestly, the fact that Pettine has led this fanbase to a place where they get angry and upset when we are knocked from playoff contention in one of the final three games of the season is mind-blowing. A majority of that same fanbase would’ve laughed in your face if you told them that they would be in the playoff hunt through mid-December. So props to Pettine, his first year has been amazing, and he should be incredibly proud.
Looking ahead, the Browns still have an opportunity to finish the season with a winning record. Mathematically we aren’t yet eliminated from playoff contention, but we are effectively out. We would need every single miracle to occur over the next two weeks for us to get in. But, we can still play spoiler, which is, at least for me, usually quite motivating. The Panthers are beatable this weekend, although they will be playing for their playoff lives. But I think Manziel bounces back. Kyle Shanahan’s gameplan was real terrible last week, and I think after actually getting to see what didn’t work with Manziel running things, I expect a kick-ass gameplan this week. In fact, I’m expecting such a stellar gameplan that I am starting Manziel at QB in my fantasy football playoff matchup this week. As such…
Prediction: Browns 31 – Panthers 17
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