It’s the holiday season and children everywhere where will be making lists of all the things they want for Christmas. Some of these lists are short and others are longer than a government document. The Browns list is far more like the latter as they have many holes now and could be losing some key players to free agency. So in theme of lists (I love lists!!!!!) here’s a look at what I believe to be what the Browns and their fans what put on their Christmas list.
1. Josh Gordon to return to 2013 form. Number one for me was an easy pick with Manziel showing enough signs of being a quarterback that can turn this team around. Having Josh Gordon back and focused gives the Browns a dynamic play-maker. Plus if we retain future free agent Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge stays healthy Johnny Manziel will have an arsenal capable of putting a chill down the spine of opposing defenses.
2. Our offensive line to be fixed for next year. One of the most perplexing things about this team is figuring out how good the Browns O-Line is. Pro Football Focus has been adamant that the Browns offensive line has been good and that been issues are with the rest of the team are responsible for the offenses shortcomings. Others look at our high sack rate and sky-high rate of being stuffed and put it more on the O-line. Regardless, Mitchell Schwartz will be a free agent after the season. Schwartz is one of the best pass protecting right tackle in the NFL and could command a 7-9 million dollar a year contract. Alex Mack if he wants to can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. He could get more on the open market than the 8 million that’d he’d get if he stays with the Browns. The Browns knew this and drafted a Cameron Erving, a versatile lineman who could replace either if they left. Sadly Erving has been playing terribly lately and is not giving the fans any reason to believe that he can replace them without a significant dip in production. The offensive line has more complex parts than Santa’s workshop, and the Browns really hope they can figure it out, because a poor offensive line can hold back and otherwise competent offense.
3. A clean bill of health for Joe Haden. It’s been a tough year for Joe Haden injury wise. He started out the year with a bum hamstring and only got worse when he broke his finger and had a rib contusion. Then against the Ravens he suffered a concussion and has not seen the field since. Having Joe Haden come back healthy is the first step in making the pass defense worthy of the nickname Lock-down at the Lake.
4. Our young defensive players to continue improving. Danny Shelton started out the year a little slow but has shown more recently. Xavier Cooper is showing promise as a rotational defensive lineman. Armonty Bryant has had some really good games and has shown flashes of being a good pass rusher. And finally Christian Kirksey has shown he can do many things at the linebacker position. If these players can develop in to quality starters our defense will be greatly improved for next year.
The Browns. They’re something with the potential to be beautiful, if you can see through all of their warts, but it’s important to note how much those warts tend to rub up against weird places on your body, and not in a good way.
The Browns are a solid six, but quickly become a two, or even a generous one, when you learn anything about them. Browns news tends to equal the sight of watching a bar skank eat a piece of cake she found in the trash, while wearing yesterday’s clothes1Or, let’s face it, the clothes she’s been wearing for a couple days or weeks now. and swigging bottom-shelf whiskey at 12:15 on a Wednesday afternoon. The joke is always on them, or me for putting up with it; I’m not sure where I’m going with this just yet. For those of you who are not familiar, the tie-in is with an episode of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, which for my money, is about the funniest 30 minutes I’ve ever gotten out of a TV show. “The Gang Broke Dee” was the season premiere of Season 9, where the butt of the male cast member’s joke finally gives in to the abuse and gives up on life.
Do the Browns ever abuse you to the point where you don’t care how many new ways they find to aggravate you? Do they leave you wondering why you put so much time and love into them, for this?!? When we have to hear from the peanut gallery about our Clowns or put up with the subtle jabs2No mistaking it, the Browns are worthy of said jabs., doesn’t it make us want to fall asleep with a lit cigarette on a highly flammable couch while we leave the door unlocked in our unsafe neighborhood.
Well, in the case of Sweet Dee Reynolds, the gang intervened. The apathetic response to their snide remarks was crimping their style, and they had to feign ambitious drive for their depressed sidekick to put the fun back in their daily routine. Any un-breaking the Cleveland football Browns is solely about mercy at this point. The gang went in two different directions in helping her out. Her pals encouraged her to exploit the lack of anxiety in her3She was in that sweet spot between suicidal and actually dead. The show claims most comedians really thrive there., to really deliver on stage at a comedy club’s open-mic night. Her brother wanted to go the other way, to find her a decidedly below average steed, to settle for down with.
Dee’s brother Dennis was on the hunt for a select for Dee, who by his own admission would not be very smart or handsome. At this point, if that story arc applies to the Browns “breaking me”, Dennis is going to be pushing Polaroids of middle of the road English Premier League teams4You may not know me, but soccer really isn’t my bag. I looked at the EPL Standings and picked two teams from the middle. I won’t be taking any follow-up questions on this. like Watford or Stoke City in my face. In all reality, the answer probably is just liking the Cavs, Ohio State, or just deciding to be a St. Louis Cardinals fan, but I need the Browns in my life. It would just be preferable, you know, if they weren’t always breaking me.
Anyway, the open-mic night appears to go well for one Sweet Dee Reynolds, and she is approached by a talent scout. Mind you, he was not a handsome man, and odds are he wasn’t extremely smart, but Dee was willing to bed him to get ahead. When Dennis asked his sister to defend her interest in such a repulsive bedfellow, it became a matter of describing the ways in which I find the Cleveland Browns attractive, with the stipulation of no nostalgia.
“Well, he still has all of his skin.”
The response is, “Well, I hope so,” and that’s where I think my first argument goes to die. Everyone on the 53-man roster, yes, even you Travis Pasztor, is an NFL-caliber player. Well, they’re on an NFL roster, so I hope so, but I feel this is something the general public doesn’t grasp. It’s difficult to land a spot on a roster, and as the Browns have proven for the better part of two decades, it’s even more difficult to win, once you make it. Please, just once, give me Alabama, Oklahoma, or whoever you feel has the best chance to beat a bad NFL team and watch the Browns kick their tails in.
“He has plenty of teeth”
But not all of them?
“No, not all of them”
This is how I feel when I remind people the Browns have players of relevance. A scattered amount of teeth only matches the standards of Obie Trice, and the Browns only have a few fangs that would pass the standards of any dentist that doesn’t treat Will Hill. Joe Thomas is a Hall-of-Famer, a guy that isn’t still at his peak, though he gets it done, and the Browns are better with him than without him, every day of the week and a lot more than twice on Sundays. Joe Haden intrigues me in the same way that Family Guy currently does; I knew I was watching something really nice for a long time, and now it’s not as good, but I have a hard time lowering my expectations and appreciating what’s there. Travis Benjamin is certainly serviceable, but not a guy champions trust to lead their receiving corps.
Then, you look at that defense, and I’m sorry for jumping all over the pop culture universe, but it’s Roger Dorn5This is a reference to the movie Major League, the character is played by Corbin Bernsen. all over the place. You might think you see high-priced talent, but forget about it because it’s only high-priced. Now, don’t get me wrong, Tashaun Gipson is a diamond in the rough, undrafted out of Wyoming and Jon Gruden calls him an “interception machine”. Other critiques Gruden might have about Gipson (or any other player he likes) might sound something along the lines of “Now, that’s a football player! When you see him playing on the football field, you know that you’re watching a football player in the National Football League!”
The rest–Paul Krueger, Craig Robertson, Barkevious Mingo, Tramon Williams–just collect paychecks and add no value. What good is a defense that can’t stop the run, can’t tackle well, and is never in the right place at the right time? The joke is really on me, us, the fans, but we watch, we cheer, and hope we’re still around when it gets better.
Sweet Dee progressed on the local comedy circuit, to the point where she was opening for local legend Landslide. All you needed to know about Landslide, played magnificently by the guy who played Hewell on Breaking Bad, is that he specialized in fart and diarrhea jokes. Speaking of poop, did you see the cast of characters that John Harbaugh brought into First Energy Stadium for Monday Night Football this week? While the Ravens have done their fair share of cutting the cheese, it was the Browns that were revealed, after their 33-27 loss at home, to be the big, giant ball of flatulence shaped like a professional sports organization.
For years, while suffering through 4 and 5-win seasons every year, all I asked for was that one big break, that year where they could win 6 games in a season. Last season, it happened, but not in fashion that could be described as glorious or given any semblance of a positive superlative. We don’t live in that dream world where the Ravens are the opening act and the Browns are the headliners; our world is where a promising 7-4 start is the catalyst for disappointment. Our big break is nothing but devastating blow after devastating blow of dysfunction hidden under the guise of moderate success.
Sweet Dee thought she had her break when she got booked on Conan, but it was all for not. Our big break is nothing more than being put in a position to win a game over a lousy team, and the Ravens, like Landslide, are nothing more than garbage men. Meanwhile, the broken Browns fans are left to sit there, eat month-old dumpster-cake, and take the abuse in perpetuity.
It’s Steelers week, the one of the weeks each season we stop thinking about which quarterbacks we should
draft next year and pray the Browns can beat the Steelers and hurt their playoff odds. This year’s contest should be interesting because Ben Roethlisberger and Josh McCown are questionable for the game, which could lead to an unpredictable outcome.
When the Browns have the ball:
Pittsburgh’s defense has been declining in recent years, and this year is no different. They sometimes show the dominance of old like against the Cardinals, but often have major defensive meltdowns like last week when they gave up 35 points against a young but explosive Raider’s attack. Perhaps we can have somewhat similar success. If McCown starts, the biggest thing the Browns need to do is keep him upright, which could prove difficult with the injury to stud left guard Joel Bitonio.
First round pick Cameron Erving will likely replace him though he didn’t look that great in the Bengals game. If McCown is healthy he should have no problem slinging against a very poor secondary. Barnidge and Benjamin could have great days. If Manziel plays, as reports seem to indicate, the key is to get the running game going. The Robert Turbin experiment failed so I’m hoping that we can see more of Duke Johnson the runner, since we already have seen enough of the Crow. If we can establish the run we can let Johnny scramble a bit on play action rollouts. Hopefully Johnny can make exciting plays outside the pocket without taking humongous hits in the process. This is another big thing as we don’t want to see Manziel get hurt.
When the Steelers have the ball:
Like usual I expect the opposing team to be able to run all over us. DeAngelo Williams proved to me that he wasn’t washed up like I thought before the season began. He has actually been one of the most dynamic and consistent runners in the game when playing.
In passing situations Landry Jones has proven to be a competent quarterback and an excellent one when throwing to Antonio Brown. Joe Haden and Donte Whitner are still questionable but if they play they will be hungry to stop their longtime rival, Brown. If Big Ben plays odds are it will only be worse for Cleveland, as Roethlisberger always finds a new way to gouge our defense.
The Steelers seem to have finally found a kicker that they trust in Chris Boswell who has only missed one field goal all year-long. Like our own Travis Coons he is still untested on long field goals. The Browns do have an edge in punting as Andy Lee has proven himself to be a great punter despite last weeks performance. The Steelers coverage teams seem strong but when you have a good returner like Travis Benjamin anything could happen.
With all of the uncertainty regarding the injured QBs I decided to give four predictions for the price of one!
McCown vs Roethlisberger– 31-24 Steelers- Big Ben is too good to overcome.
McCown vs Landry Jones 27-21 Browns- Really our only shot of winning.
Manziel vs Roethlisberger 34-14 Steelers- I’m just not sold on Johnny being a legitimate starting QB. Especially with the lack of weapons on the offense.
Manziel vs Landry Jones 24- 17 Steelers-Landry Jones seems to have found his groove with Antonio Brown.
I did my best, readers. In writing these previews I always tried to keep my head up and look at the positives, well I can’t anymore. I honestly feel this game could be the worst Browns game played since Bruce Gradkowki started for us.
When the Browns have the ball:
It is going to be really tough for Johnny Manziel to get anything going against this defense for a number of reasons. First, Manziel will be without receivers Brian Hartline and Andrew Hawkins. This leaves Manziel only Benjamin, Gabriel, and Dwayne Bowe to throw to. Second, the Bengals defense is quite good at playing defense, only allowing 18.9 points per game. And finally, I just don’t think Manziel is good enough to move the ball especially since the running game is anemic. The offensive line was struggling to protect McCown, who has been doing nicely under pressure. Manziel on the other hand has yet to show he can make good decisions, and often turns the ball over under heat. This team will struggle to put up more than 14 points this Thursday night.
When the Bengals have the ball:
The Bengals should be able to torch our secondary that will be with out Joe Haden, Donte Whitner, and perhaps without Tashaun Gipson. Unlike previous years, Andy Dalton has all of weapons healthy and ready. A.J Green, Marvin Jones, and Tyler Eifert will be able to force favorable match-ups and they all have big play ability. In addition to there passing attack the Bengals possess a two-headed rushing attack that could demolish the Browns league worst rushing defense. The Bengals should be able to score quickly and easily this Thursday.
In a performance that will make Mike Pettine’s and Ray Farmer’s seat a lot hotter, the Browns will lose to the Bengals 38-9 partly due to four
The Cleveland Browns enter week 8 on a two game losing streak and their playoff chances are looking as bad as Jeb Bush’s debate performance last night. The Rams game looked like a textbook performance from those numerous Browns teams that have finished in the 4 to 5 win range. The mistake prone offense could not buy a big play while the defense wore down as the game went on. The schedule will only get harder as they welcome the current first place team in the NFC West.
The Arizona Cardinals escaped the Ravens’ furious 4th quarter comeback to come away with another of their one-possession wins that has become a trademark of Bruce Arians’ coaching reign since 2012. Speaking of the Coach Who Wears That Funny Hat at Press Conferences, here’s a trivia question: who was the Brown’s defensive coordinator the last time they made the playoffs? That’s right. It’s the immortal Foge Fazio. He has absolutely nothing to do with this article. He just has a super cool alliterative name. Bruce Arians on the other hand, was the offensive architect of that one non-embarrassing Browns year. His Air-Coryell style passing strategy coupled with an unspectacular single-back rushing attack (remember William Green) have been trademarks of his offenses for two decades. He helped Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb look like decent quarterbacks at times. True to form today, the key for the Browns will be how they will stop the top rated Cards passing attack. The biggest matchup will be how the suddenly healthy secondary matches up to the three-headed receiver monster of John Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, and Michael Floyd. Will K’Waun Williams follow the much larger Fitzgerald in his new slot position or stick to the much smaller John Brown no matter where he lines up? The Browns do match up very well against the Cardinals offense and the defense has had two much better performances in a row. With Haden, Robertson and Gipson looking to return to the starting lineup, the D is trending upward.
The offense on the other hand, is going in the opposite direction. Defenses have figured out the McCown enigma, cracking the code with heavy blitzes. This makes perfect sense as McCown is one of the league leaders in holding onto balls for too long (insert Liberace joke here). The Cardinals love to send the house as well, leaving their talented and versatile secondary led by the Honey Badger (who doesn’t care) to make plays. Anyway, it will be rough treading for the aerial attack. Is this the week that Robert Turbin becomes the number one back in terms of carries and Crowell sees his role drastically reduced? I see a low scoring affair that is decided by the last defensive team to create a turnover.
Final Score: Cardinals 18, Browns 16
Note: Thanks to my good friend Luke Ackerman for writing this piece. I had a finance exam to study for so I thought it would fun to let my old blogging partner write a preview for me this week! Hope you enjoyed it!
One thing about the Cleveland Browns – since they’ve returned in 1999, they’ve found more inventive and heart-breaking ways to lose games than any other NFL team.
Last Sunday’s last-second 30-27 loss by the Browns to the San Diego Chargers was the latest in a long line of “Only In Cleveland” improbable losses.
After the Browns tied the game with 2:09 remaining on a Josh McCown touchdown pass to Gary Barnidge and subsequent two-point conversion pass from McCown to Taylor Gabriel, the Chargers – missing three starting offensive linemen and with just two healthy wide receivers – drove down to the Browns 21 in eight plays, going 57 yards. Rookie kicker Josh Lambo lined up for a game-winning 39-yard field goal attempt with two seconds left and kicked it wide right. However, the Browns’ Tramon Williams jumped offside, giving Lambo and the Chargers one last chance five yards closer.
This time, and with no time on the clock, Lambo delivered from 34 yards out, giving San Diego an improbable win that dropped the Browns to 1-3.
Andrew Clayman from the site Waiting For Next Year compiled a list of all 41 instances in which the Browns had defeat snatched from the jaws of victory in the final minute since the franchise returned in 1999. Whatever you do, avoid being around sharp objects or listening to songs from The Cure while reading this article (http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/2015/09/heres-every-last-minute-browns-loss-since-1999) because chances are good you may feel suicidal when you are done.
What I’ve decided to do is take that list of 41 and whittle it down to the 10 most memorable (or most heartbreaking) of those last-second losses. The more unique the circumstance, the better chance it got on the list. I did not include the Browns’ 36-33 loss in the 2002 playoffs to the Pittsburgh Steelers because I wanted to limit it to regular season games (and, also, because that game is still a sore subject).
Because it’s so new, I did not include Sunday’s loss in this list. Instead, and because I feel like torturing myself and you, I found 10 others. Enjoy.
10. Dec. 2, 2007: Cardinals 27, Browns 21 – Nowadays, there is no such thing as a force out – defenders can shove a receiver out of bounds on a catch and, as long as his feet don’t touch inbounds, it’s considered an incomplete pass. But back in 2007, defenders weren’t allowed to do this maneuver. This came into question on the last play of this late-season game in Glendale. Derek Anderson, who threw for 304 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, took over at his own 18 with 1:48 remaining and began to put together a nice drive. The Browns drove to the Arizona 37 with 22 seconds left, but Anderson threw three straight incomplete passes. On fourth-and-10 with six seconds left, Anderson found tight end Kellen Winslow in the left corner of the end zone, but Winslow was shoved out of bounds before he could get his feet in. The play was not overturned by a replay review, and, in a season in which the Browns just missed the playoffs despite a 10-6 record, this loss loomed large.
9. Nov. 14, 2010: Jets 26, Browns 20 (OT) – The Browns were surging under rookie quarterback Colt McCoy after he engineered two shocking upsets over the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots. Playing with confidence in a charged up stadium that booed the returning Braylon Edwards every time a pass was thrown his way, the Browns forced overtime when McCoy found Mohamed Massaquoi for a 3-yard touchdown with 44 seconds remaining. In overtime, a Chansi Stuckey fumble at the Jets 30 after a long completion prevented the Browns from attempting a potential game-winning field goal. And, an interception by rookie Joe Haden at the 3 with 1:35 left appeared to seal a tie game. But, in typical Browns fashion, they wound up punting the ball back to the Jets, who took over at their own 37 with no timeouts and 24 seconds left. On the first play, Sanchez found Ohio State product Santonio Holmes, who broke an Eric Wright tackle and ran into the end zone for a walkoff touchdown. The Browns wound up going 5-11 and Mangini was fired.
8. Sept. 23, 2007: Raiders 26, Browns 24 – Another narrow loss in the 2007 season that loomed large because the Browns came up an eyelash short of a playoff berth. The Raiders, quarterbacked by Josh McCown – yes, THAT Josh McCown – jumped out to a 16-0 first half lead before Anderson and the Browns came battling back. A 21-yard touchdown pass to Braylon Edwards in the third quarter gave the Browns a 17-16 lead, and a 1-yard sneak from Anderson with 3:33 left cut the deficit to 26-24. Getting the ball back at their own 9 with no timeouts and 1:04 left, Anderson drove the Browns into field goal range on a 13-yard completion to Joe Jurevicius with 3 seconds left. As Phil Dawson kicked a 40-yard game-winning field goal, rookie head coach Lane Kiffin called timeout just before the ball was snapped. Having to re-do it, Dawson’s second attempt was blocked by Oakland’s Tommy Kelly.
7. Sept. 29, 2002: Steelers 16, Browns 13 (OT) – The Browns went 0-3 against the Steelers in this playoff season, with all three losses coming by three points apiece. Other than the playoff defeat, this one was probably the most bizarre. At Heinz Field, Tommy Maddux relieved an ineffective Kordell Stewart in the fourth quarter and found Plaxico Burress for a game-tying 10-yard touchdown pass with 2:05 remaining to send the game into overtime. After Andra Davis intercepted Maddux on the first play of overtime at the Steelers 34, Dawson missed a game-winning 45-yard field goal. Given new life, Maddux and the Steelers drove inside the Browns’ 10-yard line. Pittsburgh elected to try to kick a game-winning 24-yard field goal on second down – remember that, folks. However, Todd Peterson’s kick was blocked by Alvin McKinley. Peterson recovered the kick, and his fumble was pounced on by Steelers lineman John Fiala. Because the kick did not cross the line of scrimmage, and because the kick didn’t occur on fourth down, the Steelers got another chance. This time, Peterson kicked a 31-yard field goal to give the bad guys the win.
6. Oct. 10, 1999: Bengals 18, Browns 17 – In the 1999 NFL Draft, the two quarterbacks the Browns were torn over for the first pick were Tim Couch out of Kentucky and Akili Smith out of Oregon. Both QBs were photographed together wearing Browns jerseys with John “Big Dawg” Thompson for the cover of Sports Illustrated. Couch wound up being the pick and Smith wound up being taken third-overall by the rival Cincinnati Bengals. Both quarterbacks didn’t amount to much in the NFL, but Smith’s career was more miserable than Couch’s. However, for one afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium, Smith showed up Couch and the Browns’ braintrust who passed on him. On a day when rookie kicker Dawson scored the first – and only – rushing touchdown of his career, and the first rushing touchdown of the season for the Browns, the young hosts clung to a 17-12 lead late in the game. Smith took over at his own 20 with two timeouts and 2:04 remaining and drove his team down to the Browns’ 2 thanks to a 9-yard pass to Darnay Scott on fourth down and a pass interference penalty on Corey Fuller at the 2. On third down and with nine seconds on the clock, Smith found Carl Pickens on a fade route to rob the expansion Browns of their first win of the season. Smith only finished with five TD passes in his career and only won three games in four years, adding insult in injury.
5. Dec. 8, 2013: Patriots 27, Browns 26 – The Browns really had no business being in this game. But, thanks to receiver Josh Gordon’s 151 receiving yards and quarterback Jason Campbell – who wasn’t cleared to start until two days prior to kickoff – and his 391 passing yards and 3 touchdowns, Cleveland led throughout and took a 26-14 lead with 2:39 left on a four-yard pass from Campbell to tight end Jordan Cameron. At that point, the Patriots’ win probability was 0.1 percent. But that doesn’t factor in the team they were playing. Tom Brady threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman with 1:01 remaining to cut the deficit to 26-21. An unnecessary roughness penalty on Jordan Poyer on the touchdown allowed the Patriots to kickoff 15 yards closer than normal. Then, Fozzy Whitaker fumbled the ensuing onside kick, which was recovered by kicker Stephen Gostkowski at the Cleveland 30. A pass interference penalty on rookie Leon McFadden in the end zone put the ball on the 1, where Brady found Danny Amendola for what turned out to be the improbable game-winning touchdown with 31 seconds remaining. Amazingly, the Browns had a chance to win on the last play of the game. But Billy Cundiff’s 58-yard field goal fell just short.
4. Nov. 4, 2001: Bears 27, Browns 21 (OT) – After winning just five games in the two previous years, the Browns were 4-2 under first-year coach Butch Davis heading into this showdown at Soldier Field. And, a 25-yard fumble recovery by former No. 1 overall pick Courtney Brown just 55 seconds into the game gave the Browns an early 7-0 lead. A 55-yard touchdown pass from Couch to Kevin Johnson late in the third quarter gave the Browns a 21-7 lead, and, with less than a minute remaining, that lead appeared to be safe. But that’s when things got really weird. Bears quarterback Shane Matthews, the regular backup, found Marty Booker on a 9-yard touchdown pass with 28 seconds left to cut the deficit to 21-14. Then, Chicago recovered an onside kick at the Browns 47. After two short completions, Matthews flung a Hail Mary pass that was tipped in the air and caught in the back of the end zone by running back James Allen for a stunning 34-yard touchdown with no time remaining. Then, before anyone realized what was truly happening, the game was over. After the Browns stopped the Bears in overtime, a Couch pass on their third offensive play was batted at the line of scrimmage and intercepted by safety Mike Brown, who returned the gift 23 yards for a game-winning touchdown.
3. Nov. 22, 2009: Lions 38, Browns 37 – Former first-round pick Brady Quinn had, by far, his best game as a pro on this afternoon at Ford Field, throwing for 304 yards with four touchdowns. It was a shootout with rookie top-overall pick Matthew Stafford, who wound up throwing for 422 yards and five touchdowns. The Browns blew a 24-3 first-quarter lead, but a two-yard touchdown pass to backup tight end Michael Gaines – and a two-point conversion from Jamal Lewis – gave Cleveland a 37-31 lead with five minutes remaining. A Brodney Pool interception in the end zone with 3:40 remaining appeared to be enough to get the Browns just their second win of the season, and, when Detroit got the ball back, it had to drive 88 yards in 1:46 without any timeouts. With eight seconds left and the ball on the Cleveland 32, Stafford threw a Hail Mary into the end zone that was picked off by Pool with no time on the clock. However, officials flagged Hank Poteat for pass interference – officials rarely flag defenders for interference on a jump ball, but they did on this day. Because coach Eric Mangini called a timeout, Stafford – who separated his shoulder on the throw – was able to reenter the game and find Brandon Pettigrew for the game-winning touchdown. Typical Browns.
2. Sept. 8, 2002: Chiefs 40, Browns 39 – Browns backup quarterback Kelly Holcomb, starting for an injured Couch, burst on the scene with a 329-yard, three-touchdown performance in the season opener. Holcomb completed 27-of-39 passes in his first start as a Brown, and the Browns threw four touchdown passes in the game (one from receiver Kevin Johnson). A 41-yard field goal from Dawson with 29 seconds remaining appeared to give the Browns a wild 39-37 win. However, as Trent Green tried to throw a Hail Mary pass with no time remaining, linebacker Dwayne Rudd got to him and appeared to sack him. Green was able to pitch the ball to lineman John Tait just before he went down, but that didn’t stop Rudd from running to midfield and flinging his helmet off in celebration. In the meantime, the 320-pound Tait was rumbling down the sideline, and the officials flagged Rudd for unsportsmanlike conduct for removing his helmet on the field of play. That gave the Chiefs one last play with no time remaining, and veteran Morten Andersen made a 30-yard field goal to give the visitors an improbable win. Rudd will always be remembered in Cleveland for this boneheaded maneuver.
1. Dec. 16, 2001: Jaguars 15, Browns 10 – This game will forever be known simply as “Bottlegate.”
Trailing by five with under a minute to go, Couch drove the Browns deep into Jacksonville territory. Believe it not, the 6-6 Browns still had a chance to make the playoffs, but needed a win. On fourth-and-2 from the Jacksonville 10, Couch connected with Quincy Morgan for three yards and a first down. After Couch spiked the ball to stop the clock on first down, referee Terry McAuley decided to have another look at the Morgan catch – which is forbidden by NFL rules. When McAuley decided to reverse the catch, giving Jacksonville possession with no timeouts remaining, confused and angry Browns fans decided to let the refs know they weren’t happy by throwing whatever they had available onto the playing field. That was mostly hundreds of plastic beer bottles that were, at the time, served at the games. McAuley further broke more NFL rules by deciding to call the game with 48 seconds remaining, but was forced to return to the field, along with both teams, to run two more plays 30 minutes after the game was initially called. The riot from fans makes this one more memorable, but overshadows the fact that McAuley and his officials broke an NFL rule. The Browns wound up finishing 7-9. It’s still the only time that play has been reviewed after another play had already been run.
As you can see, the Browns found 10 very inventive ways to lose a game in this list. It’s not uncommon for a franchise to fall victim to one of these types of losses. Maybe two or three. But 10? And when you realize this is only the tip of the 41 last-second loss iceberg, it only gets more nauseating. I don’t know what forces are at work when it comes to the Cleveland Browns, but I think they’ve made their point by now, don’t you?
Well, that one certainly went better than expected.
Not many people expected the Cleveland Browns to win Sunday’s home opener against the Tennessee Titans. There were a few you didn’t expect the Browns to even be COMPETITIVE, especially when starting quarterback Josh McCown wasn’t cleared from the NFL’s concussion protocol by Friday.
That meant that beleaguered second-year quarterback Johnny Manziel – he of the dismal two starts as a rookie and the stay in substance-abuse rehab this past winter and the tendonitis in his throwing elbow that had him splitting first-team reps in practice this week – was going to make his first start of the regular season. And, after an up-and-down performance in relief during the Browns’ season-opening 31-10 loss to the New York Jets last Sunday, you really didn’t know what you were going to get.
With fellow Heisman Trophy winner Marcus Mariota, who threw four touchdown passes in his first half of NFL football (which was three more than Manziel had thrown in his entire NFL career) and compiled a perfect passer rating last Sunday, coming to town with the 1-0 Tennessee Titans, the story line looked to be how much better one Heisman winner would be than the other.
Well, not many people – except maybe the most diehard of “Johnny Football Fan” – expected that the Heisman Trophy winner who would be better – albeit not by much – was Manziel, and that Manziel’s team would wind up higher on the scoreboard than Mariota’s. But that’s what happened.
Despite going just 8 of 15 for 157 yards, two long touchdown passes to Travis Benjamin, a defense that
sacked Mariota seven times, and a running attack that carried the ball 30 times for 116 yards was enough for Manziel and the Browns to defeat the Titans, 28-14. It was the Browns’ second-straight win in a home opener, marking the first time that had happened since 1989-90.
What happened? Well, here are a few thoughts and observations from a guy who obsesses over everything Cleveland Browns:
1. Travis Benjamin was ‘The Man’: Benjamin came into this season with his spot on the Browns firmly on the bubble. Coming back from a torn ACL, he lost his punt returning job last season due to muffed kicks, fumbles and poor decisions. But he made enough plays during training camp and the preseason to keep his job, and, through two games, he’s made that decision a wise one. He made a great fingertip catch on the Browns’ second play from scrimmage for a 60-yard touchdown, ripped off a 78-yard punt return touchdown during the second quarter that also involved him hurdling the Titans’ punter, and improvised on a route that led to a game-clinching 50-yard touchdown catch with just under three minute remaining. Benjamin has scored four of the Browns’ five touchdowns this season and has caught every single one of Manziel’s TD passes – of 54, 60 and 50 yards, respectively. If Benjamin isn’t the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week at the very least, it’s a crime. On a team desperately seeking a playmaker, Benjamin has emerged as one through two games.
2. Manziel looked better, but had his moments: Forgive me if I’m not one of the several in the local media who are now clamoring for the Browns to turn the quarterback job over to Manziel. While it was clearly the best game of Manziel’s young career – and a victory, to boot – it wasn’t “outstanding.” Like the Jets game and the Bills game when he made his first rookie relief appearance, Manziel came out of the gate looking great. He hit Benjamin in stride for a 60-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage, but then looked mortal. He had trouble sustaining any semblance of a long drive all game. His fumbling problems continued, putting two more on the ground that, fortunately, his linemen were able to recover. The offensive gameplan seemed very conservative – calling twice as many run plays as passes. He failed to pick up a foot on a fourth-and-short inside the red zone during the second quarter that could have put the Browns up by three scores. And, after Mariota led a fourth-quarter scoring drive that cut the deficit to seven, things didn’t look good. But Manziel ended the game like he began it, hitting Benjamin for a long touchdown pass that seemed to catch the Titans off guard. His quarterback rating of 133.9 was the highest for a Browns quarterback since Derek Anderson on Oct. 28, 2007 (140.3). The bottom line is he won, which he did for the first time in his NFL career. But keep in mind that fans wanted the team to “Fail for Cardale” just days before this game.
3. Mariota looked better: Mariota struggled in his second pro start. The Browns put pressure on him all game, sacking him seven times and hurrying a lot of throws. He made some head-scratching decisions at times. However, in the second half, Mariota looked like the better quarterback. He led two long touchdown drives that turned a 21-0 halftime deficit into a 21-14 deficit. And, many fans feared that Mariota would gash the suddenly tired Browns defense for a third scoring drive if Manziel couldn’t get anything going. Fortunately, Manziel and Benjamin came through, preventing the unthinkable from happening. Mariota wound up 21 of 37 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. But he tasted defeat for the first time in his young career. He’s now lost to both Ohio State and the Browns in the same calendar year, just sayin’.
4. THAT’S our defense: The Browns came into this season expecting to be one of the NFL’s best defenses. After the hapless Jets tore them apart last week, many believed that the unit was overrated. However, for the most part Sunday, the Browns’ defense looked better than Dick LeBeau’s Titans defense. The Browns forced three turnovers and held Mariota scoreless in the first half a week after he erupted for four first-half touchdowns against the Buccaneers. They put the rookie on the ground seven times for sacks, harassed him into several hurried throws and into some mistakes that looked, dare I say it, Manziel-like. They were running out of gas in the second half, and Joe Haden was burned for a big touchdown by a rookie receiver late in the game, which was concerning. And, Dexter McCluster gashed the team for 98 rushing yards on just 10 carries. But it was a marked improvement from a week before.
5. West isn’t the best: Terrence West was literally given away to the Titans just days after the NFL’s final cut day due to what have been called attitude problems when he was with the Browns. Everyone knew that the Browns’ leading rusher from a year ago would be licking his chops at his first crack at his former team, and would nothing more than to do well against Mike Pettine and the team’s other decision makers who cast him aside so quickly. But it turned into a forgettable game for the Towson product. West fumbled on his first carry of the game, which led to the Browns’ second touchdown (scored by Isiah Crowell, to add insult to injury), and he finished with just three carries for 10 yards. Vindication, thy name is Pettine.
6. The kicking game looked awesome … again: Andy Lee may be one of the highest-paid punters in the NFL, and he deserves every single penny. Lee punted six times for a 53.2-yard average and put two inside the 20. He kept field position tipped in the Browns’ favor most of the day. Travis Coons didn’t attempt any field goals, but converted all three of his 33-yard extra points. And, Benjamin’s punt-return touchdown and 154 return yards certainly didn’t help a banner day for the special teams.
7. Feed The Crow: There were questions about Crowell heading into the season, and the second-year man out of Alabama State did little to answer those questions last Sunday. However, against the Titans, Crowell gained a team-best 72 yards on 15 carries (4.8 average) with a touchdown. His 15-yard run from the 20 on the first play following the Titans’ fourth quarter touchdown may have helped set up the big 50-yard touchdown pass six plays later.
It always feels good to be a fan after a victory Sunday. All of those “Fail for Cardale” cries and the fears of an 0-16 season are a distant memory. A lot of what was concerning last week was rectified this week. With an Oakland Raiders team coming to town riding high on their upset of the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, next Sunday’s game won’t be easy. Expect a week full of quarterback questions – with McCown expected to come off the NFL’s concussion protocol, the annual Browns QB controversy is about to return. Does McCown get his job back, or do the Browns give Manziel another look? We’ll see, but you already feel more optimistic about our chances next week no matter what the answer is.
Coming into Sunday’s opener against the New York Jets, the Cleveland Browns were hit with all kinds of media distractions … then played like a team that had to deal with those distractions.
From trading Terrance West and Billy Winn for conditional late-round draft picks to the whole Terrelle Pryor saga (keeping him over the clubhouse popular Josh Lenz and then cutting him for injured running back Robert Turbin) to the suspension of offensive line coach Andy Moeller over a domestic violence incident to the road-rage incident from maligned second-year cornerback Justin Gilbert – and that doesn’t even include the fact that general manager Ray Farmer began his league-imposed four-game suspension for texting coaches during games last season – the Browns were in the news for all the wrong reasons this past week.
All of that intensified following a dismal 31-10 loss to the Jets at MetLife Stadium – the Browns’ 11th
straight loss on opening day and dropping them to 1-16 in openers since they returned in 1999. And, despite playing with a backup quarterback who spent most of his offseason in substance-abuse rehab in Johnny Manziel, the Browns actually led 10-7 midway through the second quarter and looked like the better team up to that point.
But the wheels came off in a hurry, and when they did, the game tilted decidedly to the Jets’ favor. And let’s not forget the Jets went 4-12 last season, were being coached by a first-time head coach in Todd Bowles and playing with supposed backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. It was the Jets who looked like the team that went 7-9 last season while the Browns looked like the perennial 4-12 team they were before last season.
What happened? Well, here are a few thoughts and observations from a guy who obsesses over everything Cleveland Browns:
1. The Browns missed Josh McCown: McCown, the 36-year-old veteran journeyman signed to replace Brian Hoyer in the offseason, looked more like the guy who stood out for the Bears two years ago and not the guy who struggled for the Buccaneers last season in his only drive with the Browns. McCown drove the Browns 90 yards in 17 plays, completing 5-of-8 passes for 49 yards, and melted almost 10 minutes off the clock before disaster struck. On a third-and-goal play, McCown took off toward the end zone and attempted to dive in for a touchdown. However, he was hit by two Jet defenders, was helicoptered and fumbled the ball just before he crossed the plane. He was taken to the locker room for concussion protocol and was ruled out for the game. I will not fault McCown for trying for the touchdown – had he slid down at the 2, I’m sure all the Manziel-honks would have been screaming about how he should have went for the touchdown and how they need to take him out. He’s a competitive player and that’s what competitive players do. Unfortunately, it not only cost the Browns a touchdown, but cost them their starting quarterback. While Manziel did OK in relief, one could imagine how much better the Browns’ offense would have looked with the steady McCown under center, considering how well he moved the team in his only possession.
2. Manziel faded fast: Those who know me know that I’m one of the biggest Manziel critics in Cleveland. And his play Sunday did little to make me ease up on that criticism. Sure, he came in and hit Travis Benjamin for a big 54-yard touchdown pass – the first of his career – and then led another scoring drive. However, Manziel quickly reverted to the guy we saw flounder in two starts against the Bengals and Panthers last year. He threw a costly interception on the first possession of the second half, which was turned into a Jets’ touchdown and helped switch momentum firmly to the hosts. He later lost two key fumbles on two ill-advised scrambles and took some big hits. The stats look decent – 13-of-24 for 182 yards and 35 more on five carries – but Manziel looked like a guy who is too small and too undisciplined to be a standout NFL quarterback. If anything, he did little to answer the questions folks may have had after his dismal rookie season and looks more like yet another first-round Browns quarterback bust than the potential savior. Some, like the Plain Dealer’s Mary Kay Cabot, tried to use his lack of first-team reps as an excuse, but I refuse to do that. I’d rather see Austin Davis next week if McCown isn’t cleared.
3. Running struggles: The Browns were a team that wanted to rely on the running game on offense and felt they would be better at stopping the run after the drafting of Danny Shelton in the first round last April, among other free agent signing. Instead, the run defense looked like the 32nd-ranked unit from last season, getting gashed by Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell en route to 154 yards allowed on the ground. And the Browns’ rushing offense? When your top two ground gainers are quarterbacks, that is inexcusable. Isaiah Crowell only averaged 1.7 yards-per-carry, which will not fly out of a No. 1 running back, and backups Duke Johnson and Shaun Draughn only had eight carries for 26 yards combined. If this running game is non-existent and we’re relying on McCown, Manziel or Davis to win games with their arms, it’s gonna be a long season.
4. Where’s the line?: Maybe getting their position coach suspended just days before the season opener led to their struggles. But the offensive line was dominated by the Jets’ defensive front all day long. Right guard John Greco was lost due to injury, pushing rookie first-rounder Cameron Erving into action, but the line struggled before this happened. Many false start and holding penalties did little to offset their struggles. Both McCown and Manziel had to run more than they intended due to the poor protection provided. For a line that boasts two perennial Pro Bowlers, three first-round picks (including Erving) and two second-rounders, including an All-Rookie selection, this performance is unacceptable.
5. Haden Island: Joe Haden has a reputation as one of the NFL’s top cornerbacks and has become a perennial Pro Bowler. However, the taller Brandon Marshall – a receiver viewed on the downside of his career – abused Haden all game long Sunday. The touchdown reception by Marshall over Haden was the highlight play. The secondary, as a whole, struggled mightily. Even when things went right, like Tashaun Gipson’s interception, it turned into a negative when Gipson allowed himself to get stripped by Marshall. The Browns defense allowed four touchdowns to the Jets. Imagine what a team with a good offense could do against them – scary thought. Titans’ rookie QB Marcus Mariota, who torched Tampa Bay for four first-half touchdown passes, is probably licking his chops for next Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium.
6. The kicking game looked awesome: If there ever was a bright spot from Sunday’s game, it is Browns veteran punter Andy Lee and rookie kicker Travis Coons. Coons’ first NFL point was the league’s longest extra point ever – 48 yards – thanks to two stupid penalties and he later drilled a 26-yard field goal. Lee, obtained for a seventh-round choice from the 49ers, only punted twice, but averaged 60.5 yards on the two kicks. The guy will likely be the AFC Pro Bowl punter this year, so at least the Browns will have one Pro Bowler this year.
7. Coach ‘em up: Mike Pettine blamed himself and his coaching staff for the loss following the game, and he won’t find many people disagreeing with him. The Browns looked undisciplined thanks to 12 penalties for 109 yards and four lost fumbles and five total turnovers. You can’t blame the officiating for these penalties – the Browns made mistake after mistake after mistake. They looked unorganized at times. The defense was atrocious and the offense wasn’t much better. The Jets looked like the better coached team, and that’s just sad. Their decision to roll with two QBs almost bit them in the butt on Sunday – Manziel took some tough shots, and that’s to be expected for the remainder of his career. I respect Pettine greatly and believe he is the man to coach this team over the hump. However, he and his coaches need to do a better job if they want to hold on to their jobs.
Hopefully, the week leading into the home opener against the Titans will not be rife with off-the-field distractions, but I doubt it. With McCown hurt, the QB controversy questions won’t go away, and surely the focus will go to veteran receiver Dwayne Bowe, who was deactivated for Sunday’s game and leaving a unit heavy on possession receivers to try to make plays against the Jets. Unlike last year’s season opener, which was a loss to the hated Steelers but included a dramatic second-half turnaround, there is not much optimism going forward
Throughout my childhood I always remained optimistic about the Browns chances each and every year. But as I have grown older I find my optimism replaced with an ever-present feeling of hopelessness. This feeling is bothering me so much so I decided I was going to force myself to write about five things us Browns fans have to look forward to this year, that don’t involve the 2016 draft.
1. Our secondary is excellent. The Legion of Boom may get the most press but it was the Browns secondary which was graded the best in coverage by Pro Football Focus. This year they could improve with the addition of Tramon Williams and the continued development of K’Waun Williams, Pierre Desir, and hopefully Justin Gilbert. It will be fun to watch opposing quarterbacks try to beat this unit.
2. Joe Thomas and our offensive line could be dominant. For years now I claimed that Thomas was the best lineman in the league and on pace to be the greatest offensive lineman of ALL TIME. This man has been a top three tackle now eight years running and I know that the rumors of his decline are greatly exaggerated. Next to Thomas is Joel Bitonio, who is quickly looking like the only bright spot of the 2014 draft. He is an All-Pro candidate for this season as is center Alex Mack. The right side is solid with John Greco at guard, Mitchell Schwartz at tackle and Cameron Erving backing everyone up. Even though our offense will be tough to watch, if you just take your eye off the ball you will see some great work in the trenches.
3. Isaiah Crowell will have more opportunities to run the ball. Last year, Crowell showed lots of potential and became a bit of a fan favorite. But after Alex Mack’s injury Crowell’s production declined and Mike Pettine went all Bill Belichick and started rotating his running backs seemingly randomly. Now Terrance West is gone and Duke Johnson seems like he’s going to be the third down back when he gets healthy. Crowell will now have the chance to sink or swim behind one of the best offensive lines in the league.
4. Brian Hartline will be so much fun to cheer for. Cheering for Ohio guys is always fun especially if he becomes that one receiver who always seems to come through on critical third downs. Hopefully he can become like Joe Jurevicius in that way.
5. Lots of fresh faces will see playing time this year. The Browns have a few rookies that could really make a difference this from big defensive tackle Danny Shelton to not so big running back Duke Johnson. These players can quickly make a name for themselves and hopefully give the fans more hope for the future.
Well, here we are again. The door has finally closed on the most recent Browns season. It may actually be more appropriate to say that the lid has finally been closed on the casket, but hey, semantics. 2014 ended much the same way that every season seemingly ends. The Browns strolled into one of their rival’s stadiums with their third string quarterback while nursing a massive losing streak, and proceeded to put up a valiant (pathetic) performance that came up short.
In what has become the saddest, most infuriating and depressing holiday tradition around these parts, the Browns train flew off the tracks halfway through the season and careened down the hillside in flames. The details of this particular fiery wreck were a little different than seasons past, as is normally the case, but the end result was eerily familiar. The only thing that is slightly unfamiliar to me is that I have to write about it this year for an adoring public clamoring for my thoughts on the year that was.
(Deliberate pause for everyone to get in their prolonged eye rolls)
As is the case with an NFL season, especially one involving the team that plays on the Northern edge of downtown Cleveland, there is so much that happens that trying to pack it all into one article would be borderline irresponsible. It would also eat up content that could be stretched out for a few weeks, but let’s go with the previous sentence. It sounds much better. That being said, over the next month or so I’ll be taking a look back at all things 2014 Cleveland Browns before we get to start talking about the offseason and our favorite civic past time which is, of course, the NFL Draft. Today I’ll be starting off with the positive and counting down the Cleveland Browns ten best of 2014.
10. Kyle Shanahan
We’ll start things off with the Browns young offensive coordinator. Granted, there were some issues with his offense that showed after starting center Alex Mack went down, but I have to say that I really do like his offense overall and saw a lot of positives that give me hope for the future. He’ll be getting interviews for Head Coaching jobs elsewhere, and I wouldn’t be all that surprised if he actually landed on of them, but if he comes back the Browns will have a year under their belt with him and I would be willing to bet the Browns offense improves come next season. If you look at what he did, especially early on, with some limitations at certain positions and his ability to adjust, I have to give a very positive review of Kyle Shanahan’s job in his first season with the team.
9. “Scrap Heap” Wide Receiver Acquisitions
I wasn’t exactly sure how to title this one. When I made my list for this I ended up with fourteen players and coaches that I wanted to mention. Unfortunately, a top fourteen list doesn’t quite have the ring to it that a top ten list does, so I had to make some edits. The first of those was combining three guys that I thought clearly needed to be mentioned into one item. Those guys, in no particular order, are Andrew Hawkins, Taylor Gabriel, and Miles Austin. These three were each acquired through different ways and all made their mark at a position that was thought to be among the worst on the team.
To be clear, none of these receivers will be mistaken for an elite player. But each of them were extremely pleasant surprises that had very good first seasons with the Browns. There were big plays made by all of them, they brought a sure handedness that we had been sorely lacking, and I would wholeheartedly support all three of them being back next season. As sad as it is, there aren’t many receivers that have played for the Browns the past decade or so that I could say any of those things about, let alone all three.
8. Karlos Dansby
One of the big offseason acquisitions for the Browns, Dansby was brought in for both his on field performance and his veteran presence in the locker room. And he exceeded all expectations that I had for both of those things. He may have been higher on this list had his season not been cut short by injury, but there is no doubt that the signing of Karlos Dansby was an incredibly important one for the development of a winning culture, and there is also no doubt that he still has something left in the tank.
7. Paul Kruger
After signing a huge free agent deal and having a disappointing first season, Kruger came back in a big way this year. He was a guy that I thought could be gone if his second season went the same way as his first, but he turned things around and was one of the better players on the defensive side of the ball throughout 2014. Kruger ended up with 11.5 sacks and he was one of the only players, if not the only, who applied consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
6. The Baby Backs
You may know them by their given names Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, but together they were known throughout the season as the Baby Backs. And while each of them had some issues during their rookie year, they both showed enough flashes that I think we can all be satisfied with the running back position going into next season. The talent is obvious and as long they can clean up their respective problems the Browns will have a great 1-2 punch for the foreseeable future.
5. Mike Pettine
There were definitely mistakes made by the Browns rookie Head Coach, but he is someone that I have to put in this top ten. I’m positive that I will have much more on Pettine in the very near future, but for now I’ll slot him right smack in the middle of this list. There are almost certainly other coaches that we all would have liked the Browns to have hired the past few years using hindsight, but we ended up with Mike Pettine. And I have to say that I have a much better feeling in my gut regarding him than I had for all of his predecessors dating back to Butch Davis. I love his honesty, I love his relatability, and I love the type of program that he’s trying to build here. I’m only hoping that he gets the time needed to build that program.
4. Joe Thomas
Joe Thomas, Pro Bowl, All Pro. Rinse, wash, repeat. The Browns veteran left tackle caught a lot of flack for having a down season and nearing the end of his career as an elite lineman. This Browns columnist would like to tell you that that is all a steaming pile of crap. Sure, he may not have had his best season, but let’s remember that his best season ranks among the elite for the entire history of the NFL. Rumors of his demise are far, far exaggerated and we should all continue to count our lucky stars that we have him on our team. Here’s hoping that he actually gets to play in the postseason before his Hall of Fame career ends.
3. Joel Bitonio
It would make sense that the high second round draft pick that practically no one in Cleveland had ever heard of would be higher on this list than the future Hall of Famer that he played next to, right? In Browns world, of course it would. The pick of Bitonio either enraged fans because he wasn’t a wide receiver or befuddled fans because they had no clue who he was. There really wasn’t much in between, me included. I fell into the second category, but instantly fell in love with the guy after listening to his conference call after the second day of the Draft and reading up on him. And then he went out and had himself a fantastic rookie season at left guard. He’s the kind of person you want in the locker room, and judging by his first year with the Browns he’s also the kind of player you want on the field. Barring injury, you can set it in stone that he’ll be playing in some Pro Bowls and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if he’s the guy who ends up taking over at left tackle when Joe Thomas calls it quits.
2. The Secondary
Again, this is kind of cheating. I had three players that definitely needed to be mentioned, and a couple others who were close to making the list. But, for the sake of not leaving out some of the others, I have combined them all and will talk about them as a unit. The Browns secondary in 2014 contained two players who made the Pro Bowl in Joe Haden and Tashaun Gipson, two steadfast veterans who played well in Buster Skrine and Donte Whitner, and a surprising undrafted rookie who was fantastic before getting hurt in K’Waun Williams.
I mainly wanted to make sure that Haden, Gipson, and Williams were mentioned, but it seems fitting for me to include the unit as a whole. Gipson had his coming out party this year, leading the league in interceptions before suffering a season ending injury, and K’Waun Williams was an incredibly pleasant surprise, vastly outplaying first round pick Justin Gilbert.
But mostly, I have to talk about Joe Haden. After a slow start that could probably be attributed to being banged up out of the gate and adjusting to the new restrictive rules for defenders, Haden played at as high a level as anyone could given the restrictions on defensive backs in today’s NFL. To put it much more simply, Joe Haden was out of this world fantastic and showed why he continues to be among the best at his position in all of the NFL. He came up with a couple of the more ridiculous pass break ups and interceptions that you’ll ever see and, as far as I can tell, continues to be a great presence in the locker room. I should probably qualify everything I write about him with the fact that he will probably go down as one of my favorite Cleveland athletes of all time, but I won’t right now because his play on the field doesn’t need any qualifiers.
1. Alex Mack
I stewed over whether the secondary or Mack should earn the number one spot on this list. After all, the secondary encompassed a half dozen players who ranged from fantastic to good, had two Pro Bowl nominations, and a myriad of other points for other players going for it. As much of a cop out as it may have been, part of me couldn’t see how anything from the 2014 Browns could top the resume of that unit.
But then there was that other part of me. The part that saw the offense in the first five games before Alex Mack went down with a season ending injury. The part that saw an offensive line, a unit, and an entire team that could impose their will on any team and dictate the tempo. The same part of me that saw a team with a new identity that could play with any team in the league, and was winning more than they were losing.
Sadly, that part of me, and all parts of me really, were slowly devastated in the weeks and months following Mack’s injury. Sure, there were some wins against bad teams and a few good performances against playoff bound squads, but for all intents and purposes the season ended when Alex Mack was carted off the field in October during the bludgeoning of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
I would never have believed that a center could have such a monumental impact on a team. Hell, I think I even wrote as much last offseason when talking about whether the Browns should keep T.J. Ward or Mack. But I have never seen an injury, aside from a quarterback, affect a team as much as Mack’s injury did to the Browns. I honestly still can’t believe how staggering the difference was. I’ll have more on this in the next few weeks, but there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that Alex Mack was the most valuable player on the Browns in 2014. There’s no way we would have ever known it had he not gotten hurt and had he stayed healthy it would have certainly been someone else.
But, unfortunately for all of us, he did get hurt. His season was ended prematurely. And the team went into a tailspin that was impressive even for the Browns. And a center who didn’t even play five games ends up atop my list of the best of the 2014 Cleveland Browns. It’s almost unbelievable.
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