Tag Archives: Josh Gordon

Excruciating Losses Continue To Haunt The Browns

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.

 Josh Lambo #2 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates with his teammates after hitting the game winning field goal.(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Josh Lambo #2 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates with his teammates after hitting the game winning field goal.(Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

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.

Quarterback Tim Couch #2 of the Cleveland Browns passes against the Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 10, 1999. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images
Quarterback Tim Couch #2 of the Cleveland Browns passes against the Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns Stadium on October 10, 1999. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

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.”

Bottles and debris litter the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, as frustrated Brown fans defy a referee call during the Cleveland Browns-Jacksonville Jaguars NFL game 16 December, 2001. (Photo credit DAVID MAXWELL/AFP/Getty Images)
Bottles and debris litter the field at Cleveland Browns Stadium in Cleveland, Ohio, as frustrated Brown fans defy a referee call during the Cleveland Browns-Jacksonville Jaguars NFL game 16 December, 2001. (Photo credit DAVID MAXWELL/AFP/Getty Images)

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?

Until next time, remember that Cleveland Rocks!

Cleveland Browns Draft Prospects: DeVante Parker

Wide receiver has been the Brown’s biggest need ever since  their plan of having Gordon returning to be our number one receiver went down the tube like those 4 drinks on the plane.  Luckily, there are a lot of good free agent receivers, but even if the Browns pickup someone like Torrey Smith or Cecil Shorts III they still will need to draft someone. The main issue with the receivers we have now is their lack of height. Besides free agent to be Miles Austin, every receiver on the roster who has seen the field is 5-foot-10 or shorter. Plus the 3 guys we have are all quick slot-type receivers, making our need for a tall strong outside receiver even greater.

DeVante Parker has the size you look for in a receiver. He stands 6-foot-3 with an 80 inch wingspan that he uses to high point the ball. He is also very athletic, evidenced by his strong 4.45 40 time, 10-foot-5 broad jump,  and 36 inch vertical. He is quick for a man his size and can get separation on routes and make some moves in the open field, but that’s not his best trait. The only issue with him is his durability, especially because of his light frame (only 209 pounds) and injury history including a foot injury that kept him out the first 7 games of 2014. Like almost all young receivers there are some questions about how well Parker run routes and creates separation off the line of scrimmage. Doesn’t have any character issues and displayed toughness in returning strong from injury.

His best game came against the mighty Florida State and their vaunted secondary. He burned their safety Tyler Hunter on the first snap for 71 yards, just part of the 214 yards he had overall in the game. Even more shocking was that he had 65% of the teams total receiving yards for the game. He also ran this beautiful fade route against PJ Williams, a corner who could very well go in the first or second round. You can view this play here. His play against Florida State shows he can be one of those guys who is always open due to his height, frame, wingspan and ability to adjust to the ball.

At best DeVante Parker seems like a poor man’s AJ Green, with his length speed and athleticism, can come into the league and immediately start. Doesn’t have the potential or the pure athleticism that AJ Green and Julio Jones had but has all the tools needed to be a very productive in the league.

According to Walter Football’s consensus mock draft which looks at hundreds of mocks DeVante Parker was tabbed to go to us in the 12th pick in 18% of the mocks in the database. The only prospect mocked more often to us at 12 is Kevin White who sadly ran in the 40 like he was trying to get out of position for the Browns to draft him. Sadly Parker might be out of reach as well. The wide receiver starved Vikings hold the pick ahead of us and have Parker’s old quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. But if Parker were to fall to the Browns he will be the outside threat our offense needs. He will start immediately and knock the top off a defense. Eventually he could become the consistent Pro-Bowl receiver the Browns have been looking for.

 

 

The NFL: It Fascinates Me

If there’s so much we dislike about the game of football, its players, its coaches, its writers, its government, and yes, even our fellow fan, why do we bother with it? Now, I can’t speak for everyone else, but the game simply fascinates me, and I’m not alone. Remember, the game is only three hours of your week for sixteen weeks out of the year, if you affix yourself to one team.

And to the “3 Hours Per Week” Club, us die-hards just chuckle, which isn’t to say we’re without envy. Some of us have jobs where we clock out and disavow any knowledge of what happens there until we report for our next shift. For others, work consumes our lives and lingers on the mind during dinner, family-time, and in those minutes before we fall asleep at night. For those that clock out daily, but never stop working, you know the life of the NFL fan, or should I say fanatic(?) better than most.

If your favorite team missed the playoffs, you’ve now gone seven Sundays without a dog in the fight. Yet, there you are, tuning into the NFL Network, checking Twitter for the latest, and thinking about how 2015 is going to be different, hopefully better. From the time I started watching the game 30 years ago, it’s always been the same, with some obvious differences that today’s technology affords us. The day my season ends, it’s on to the next one.

Even if you win the Super Bowl, and trust me when I say, that’s a treat I’ve barely sniffed, it’s still the same. How do you do it again? For those that came up short, you’re asking, how do we finish the job? Nothing is ever enough, unless you’re ready to walk away on top, a la John Elway, and that only happened after he did it twice and would have been expected to get it done a third time. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick did it three times in four years, but it took a decade of scratching and clawing at it, with very different supporting casts, to make it happen a fourth time.

Everyone talks about that stuff, and no one questions that playing to win the game, especially a championship game, is what it’s all about. That’s not even the fascinating part. Really, it’s the anticipation of everything, even the otherwise minute stuff, that makes the NFL, the shield, the empire that it actually is.

Personally, I don’t play Fantasy Football. I don’t bet on games against the spread. I don’t watch the draft from start to finish. And, I tend to avoid the pre-game shows. Still, I anticipate it, all of it.

I still want to know who the hot fantasy commodities are going to be, who is going to be favored and by how much, and the bar that Vegas sets for each team, as far as wins and losses are concerned. The draft has become a holiday, and much like actual holidays, they often disappoint (being a life-long Browns fan contributes to this in ways unimagineable). The schedule comes out in April, and the announcement of what date that will be is almost as suspenseful as learning who plays each other and when. Even though I do try to avoid studio shows, I’m always eager for a soundbyte to make waves that transcend the airwaves where they initially reside.

As unfortunate as it is, because heinous crimes are heinous by nature and lesser crimes are still bad, the off-field and off-season beat of our favorite game comes with its own intensity. We know that Josh Gordon and Greg Hardy are worth the price of admission on the field, and that matters more to some us than the type of human beings they are when the clock hits zero. Some of us care about the men they are, but most of you do not.

The game and everything that comes with it are bigger than the sum of their own parts. Those parts will modify, be replaced, and they’ll move on, but game isn’t going anywhere. It will change, and for the better, but it won’t come without its share of red ink for certain aspects. We’ll be able to ignore those and continue to be fascinated by a game. It’s not really fair to call professional football a game, because we’ve reached a point where few can deny it is THE game.

This, That, and Some More: Happenings with the Browns

Just like normal, the Browns’ offseason has been surprisingly action-packed thus far. I mean, why watch of focus on the playoffs and another occurrence of Brady and Belichick unnecessarily cheating their way to the top when instead we can focus our attention on yet another coaching search and our own inflated (unlike the Patriots’ balls) rumor mill. Screw the playoffs, we don’t need them anyway…

On Our New Coach…

So who exactly is he? I mean, who the hell is John DeFilippo? What kind of team goes to Oakland to scrounge for a new offensive coordinator?!?!

Wow, that kind of escalated quicker than I expected. I apologize. Despite the seemingly negative tone of the above, I think I kind of like this hire. At least compared to other options, which were slim and temporarily consisted of the likes of Marc Trestman. Sure, DeFilippo’s resumé consists of working extensively with (the bad version of) Carson Palmer, Terrelle Pryor, Matt McGloin, and Derek Carr, which isn’t the strongest group of quarterbacks (although what he did with Carr this past season was impressive). And sure, his name is much harder to write and pronounce than Shanahan. But despite the name problems (which I’m sure I’ll get over at some point), DeFilippo is an exciting hire. He has been widely lauded across the league as the next Adam Gase (the former Broncos OC), which is a very nice comparison to have. If he can come anywhere close to that, I think our offense will be vastly improved next year. Actually, even if he can’t come close to that, our offense should vastly improve next year. Alex Mack will be back. We have a high draft pick we can comfortably spend on a wide receiver. And we maybe will have a functional quarterback, depending on how well DeFilippo does his job. There are lots of reasons for hope. Maybe…

On Manziel…

Rumor has it Manziel is basically a god-awful teammate. So that’s nice, I guess.

An ESPN report that came out last week revealed that close to 20 Browns sources that were interviewed discussed Manziel’s “lack of commitment and preparation, failure to be ready when given his chance in his first start against Cincinnati and continued commitment to nightlife.” According to the report, Manziel was consistently late to practice and meetings, and wasn’t a positive presence in the locker room. On the one hand, I mean we all kind of expected that – one doesn’t really grow up in a year, definitely at the age of 21 and with boatloads of fame and money. But on the other hand, we all have a right to be disappointed. He was drafted with the expectation that he would grow into the role of starting quarterback in the NFL, both in terms of on-field and off-field ability. Though he consistently presented his desire and efforts to do so in press conferences, he never managed to actually translate those words into actions, as evidenced by his being confined to the locker room for the final game of the season. DeFilippo has been extremely noncommittal about Manziel’s future as quarterback of the Browns, and rightly so. Unless Manziel has some sort of epiphany this offseason and comes back to camp as a newly focused and committed player, the Browns are going to have another Josh Gordon situation on their hands. Speaking of which…

On Josh Gordon…

If you were to put money on why Josh Gordon is in the news, what would you say?

If you answered “he probably failed another drug test”, then you would absolutely be correct; Josh Gordon is once again up for a year-long suspension. Now I have supported Gordon through this past year. I mean, he is an incredibly talented player, and he just had to grow up and realize what he was throwing away at some point, right? Nah, that would be too much to ask for these Cleveland Browns. He had a whole season to prove to coaches and fans that he was growing up and would be a valuable asset to this time, but once again he failed to do so. I believe that Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer have no choice but to cut him as soon as possible. If some other team picks him up and turns him into the best receiver in the NFL then great, but that is no longer a realistic expectation for the Browns. He is a bad stock that needs to be dumped, regardless of return on investment. He is a toxic asset that no longer belongs in Cleveland. It is time to move on, once and for all.

And yeah, that’s what’s up with the Browns. At least for now. This weekend I’ll be trying to focus on the Superbowl, assuming no more Browns-related drama pops up. Anyway, here’s to my least favorite NFL team going down in similar fashion to the Broncos last year. Cheers and Go Seahawks!!

Restructuring the Mindset on Drug Addiction

Late Sunday afternoon, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that league sources informed him that Josh Gordon had failed another drug test and will face a year-long suspension. This was the most recent in a litany of Gordon’s missteps involving drug use. He was previously suspended for the entire 2014 season, which was reduced to 10 games after an appeal, he was suspended for the first two games of the 2013 season for a separate failed drug test, and he failed three drug tests while in college. Beginning all the way back with his days in high school, every year of Josh Gordon’s life has been marred by failed drug tests and the corresponding consequences.

Upon hearing the news of Gordon’s latest failed drug test, Stephen A. Smith voiced his thoughts on ESPN’s First Take.

“I am in support of Josh Gordon receiving a one-year ban…I think he deserves it. Why? Because I think Josh Gordon clearly has a problem,” Smith said Monday morning on his show. Smith later went on to say that he believes in using punishment as a deterrent.

Smith is right about one thing: Josh Gordon clearly has a problem. As far as how to deal with Gordon’s problem, Smith appears to be woefully ignorant on the matter. And he is not alone.

Many people in our society fail to properly assess the circumstances surrounding a drug addict. They want to chastise Gordon for his repeated drug usage that may cost him millions of dollars, fame, and the opportunity to provide for those close to him. They want to condemn him for his mistakes, dole out severe consequences, and even cast him out as some sort of pariah because they think that’s what he deserves for his stupidity. This approach must change. We need to seek not to punish and abandon, but to help.

Sadly, many do not feel any inclination to provide aid. Instead, they want to callously ban him from the NFL. They disregard any notion that Josh Gordon deserves sympathy. After all, it seems strange to feel sorry for someone who is making millions playing football. So for those who choose not to sympathize, perhaps they can try to empathize.

Consider this—Josh Gordon is fully aware of the ramifications of his drug habits, yet he continues to use. No rational mind would make such a decision. But the mind of an addict is not a rational one. This addiction is an illness, and it’s controlling his behavior. He is facing an opponent that he cannot defeat on his own. He needs help.

An addiction is not unlike any other medical condition, for instance, diabetes. When individuals are diagnosed with diabetes, medical professionals will help them cope with the condition. In some cases, the diabetes is brought about by questionable life choices (poor diet) just as drug addiction can be brought about by questionable life choices (associating with sketchy characters). Yet because of certain societal stigmas, the two afflictions are viewed completely differently. One is accepted and met with treatment; the other is condemned and met with shame and punishment. In both cases, the people are dealing with something that is beyond their control. The only way that they can return to a healthy lifestyle is for them to receive the proper help.

Some may contend that it is not the NFL’s responsibility to ensure that its players receive help with their dug problems. A moral argument could be made in favor of the league helping its players, but instead I’ll focus what the NFL understands best: money. It is in its own best interests to provide help to players struggling with drug addiction because after they are treated they can return to the field and increase ticket sales, TV ratings, etc. Helping players overcome their addictions can only help the NFL, especially if that player is as ultra-talented and popular as Josh Gordon.

This Josh Gordon situation has afforded the NFL a tremendous opportunity. The league has a chance to restructure its entire substance abuse policy. Right now, the focus of the policy is to specify the punishments (i.e. fines and suspensions) that are enforced after each failed drug test. Because Gordon has continued to use, the fines and suspensions clearly are not effectively correcting his behavior. The new policy can still mention the punishments, but the major concern should be to outline a treatment plan for the players with drug addictions. With each additional failed drug test, the players should receive a more comprehensive treatment. For instance, a first offense may result in a four-part training session on combatting the urges to use, after a second offense a sponsor is assigned to the player and weekly sessions are attended, a third offense requires the player to check into a rehab facility. Bear in mind that the actual policy would be far more detailed and thoroughly researched to determine which steps to take after each failed drug test, but the concept of a plan to combat the addiction remains the same.

As great an impact as a change in the NFL drug policy can make, that is merely a single step in the mile-long journey toward the end goal. Eventually society needs to implement a complete overhaul of the mindset about addiction. Everyone must understand that these addicts are not choosing to relapse. These individuals are not bad, stupid, or irresponsible; they simply do not have the tools and resources to deal with the addiction on their own. If addiction can be de-stigmatized, people struggling with addiction will be more willing to admit their problems and will have easier access to the help that they need.   The  NFL alone cannot destroy the stigma or resolve the problem, but they can certainly move things in the right direction.  For a league often criticized for not looking after its players, this would be a great step toward repairing its image and repairing the lives of its players who desperately need the proper help.

Browns End Of Season Awards

Now that I’ve had over a week to allow the Browns’ season, and specifically the rather disappointing end to it, to sink in, I am going to go ahead and declare who would win my awards for most valuable player, most valuable rookie, least valuable player (hint: he couldn’t put a ball through the uprights to save his life), and the players and rookies who most and least impressed me – that is the player who exceeded expectations the most, or fell the furthest short. So, here goes…

Most Valuable Player…

Joe Thomas

When trying to decide who most deserved this, I considered two factors: their leadership (both on and off the field), and their performance above their replacement level on the team (that is, how much better they played than the second stringer behind them). The perfect candidate would be someone like Alex Mack, who was not only a leader at center, but tremendously better than his backup, as was evidenced by the disintegration of the Browns’ running game post-Mack-injury. However, I could not pick Mack simply because he missed so much of the season. I narrowed my list of potential candidates down to Thomas – who was the only offensive player I thought was worthy of consideration – all four starters in the secondary, Craig Robertson, and Karlos Dansby. Dansby and Tashuan Gipson were the first two I eliminated, as both missed multiple games, during which time Christian Kirksey and Jim Leonhard stepped up to play at a high level, meaning there wasn’t a large dropoff in production at the position. Similarly, when Joe Haden missed a game, Pierre Desir filled in quite admirably. Additionally, both Buster Skrine and Haden committed too many penalties at big times, and both suffered bouts of inconsistency. That left me with Thomas, Robertson, and Donte Whitner. Whitner came in and did what he was supposed to do – provide a veteran presence in the secondary while performing at a very high level (he led the team in tackles). Roberston was second on the team in tackles, and consistently made big plays in both the passing and running games. However, he only started 12 games and had weeks where he made relatively little impact. In the end, I had to choose Thomas over Whitner because he is irreplaceable to the Browns. Thomas held together a line that started to collapse in on itself after Mack went down. He played at a Pro Bowl level at one of the most important positions in the NFL. And he helped Joel Bitonio (who had a wonderful season) play at a much higher level than he would’ve had anyone else been alongside him. Thomas was the only consistently bright spot on the Browns’ offense, and for that I have to give this to him.

Most Valuable Rookie…

Christian Kirksey

A very good argument could be made for Joel Bitonio, but I decided to go with Kirksey for the way in which he stepped into Karlos Dansby’s role when he got injured. Kirksey played well enough that Dansby’s absence was scantly noticed, at least among the common viewer. Not only that, but he played in every game this season and made big plays in most of them. He tied for fifth on the team in solo tackles (with 47), and had a forced fumble to go along. He was also very serviceable against the pass, covering athletic and talented tight ends quite well. I also considered K’Waun Williams, but because he only played in 13 games, I had to give the nod to Kirksey.


Least Valuable Player…

Billy Cundiff

If you have ever read my column before, you shouldn’t be at all surprised by this choice. I hate Cundiff with a fiery passion. I’m sure he’s a wonderful guy to talk to and all, but he is a god awful kicker. Just terrible, terrible, terrible. He kicked a mere 75.9% on the season, ranking him 30th out of 33 qualifying kickers (those who attempted at least 10 field goals). He missed more field goals from between 30 and 39 yards than any other kicker in the league. And he managed to miss in close games. In the Browns’ Week 2 loss to the Ravens (you know, that one that we lost by 2 points), he missed not one, but two field goal attempts. In the one-point Week 14 loss to the Colts, he missed from 40 yards out, giving the Colts solid field position (not to mention momentum) to start a drive in which they would score and tie the game up. He consistently let the team down, and for that he wins this prestigious LVP award, which from now on will be referred to as the Cundiff award.

Most Impressive Player…

 Paul Kruger

In 2013, Kruger was one of the most disappointing players on the Browns’ squad. He signed a large contract (5 years, $40 million), and completely failed to live up to it. This year was different; Kruger racked up 11 sacks along with 4 forced fumbles. He made numerous plays at big moments, and he was one of the few consistencies in a defensive front that was demolished by injuries. His hair and beard also were impressive this past season, just reinforcing the decision to put declare him the Browns’ most impressive player of the season. (I also considered putting Buster Skrine here, but lack of facial hair cost him).

Most Impressive Rookie…

K’Waun Williams

I also heavily considered putting Taylor Gabriel here, but I had to go with Williams because he was not on my radar. Like at all. I wrote about Gabriel joining the team during the summer, and although I did not expect him to perform at this level, I nonetheless was at least aware of his existence. Williams, on the other hand, came out of nowhere. I honestly had no idea who he was when he first took the field for the first time. Additionally, he made the Browns better in a way that Gabriel didn’t and couldn’t. Williams allowed Buster Skrine to move inside to the slot, a position that he is more effective at, making the secondary better as a whole. But individually, Williams was no slouch either, amassing 29 solo tackles, 8 passes defensed, and 1 sack in 13 appearances (4 starts).

Least Impressive Player…

Josh Gordon

This one was also very difficult to decide. I almost went with Ben Tate because…well, he lost his job to two rookies and got cut. That’s pretty low. I also thought about putting Jordan Cameron here due to his plethora of injuries that prevented him from playing anywhere close to the level where he was last year. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized the only Gordon could truly sit in this spot. His time on the field was limited due to his suspension, but when he finally returned, I was nothing but disappointed. Granted I had huge expectations for him, but rightfully so, seeing as he was the best receiver in the NFL in 2013. In the few games he played, he was merely average. But that isn’t what won him this spot. Despite having nearly been suspended for a whole season, he showed no growth in maturity. Quite literally zero. I mean, what kind of player misses his first ten games, comes back, and then misses a walkthrough and gets suspended by his coach for the final game of the year. Honestly, grow up Gordon. You’re not in high school anymore, and this shit doesn’t make you cool. What makes you cool is leading your team to the playoffs. Figure things out and make that happen next year.

Least Impressive Rookie…

Justin Gilbert

This was a no-brainer for me. I didn’t expect Johnny Manziel to do much of anything this year, but I expected Gilbert to start across from Haden and be in the conversation for rookie of the year. Instead his season was a story of poor decision after poor decision. There was a constant storyline regarding his lack of effort in practice, and he too missed the final game due to what amount to poor decisions. He’s real talented, and I’d really like to write this year off as him adjusting to real life. Hopefully he can come back next year and make a real impact, but we will see I guess.

And that is it. I’d love to hear where y’all agree or disagree, so feel free to tweet at me (@nicstapig) or just comment here. Cheers.

 

NOTE: It was announced earlier this morning that both OC Kyle Shanahan and QB coach Dowell Loggains have parted ways with the Browns. I will discuss this in length next week, but for information about it now, you can check out here.

It's A Happy New Year For The Browns

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.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

Down By Contact #2: The Fun and Games

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The late week edition of Down By Contact will focus on the fans, and how they can be interactive with the action on Sunday, Monday, and even Thursday. Some people like to do it all, office pools, friendly wagering with friends, betting games against the spread, and of course, the ever-popular game of Fantasy Football.

This week, Jeff Rich welcomes Mike Burgermeister and Tarik Adam, the facilitator and top player in the Cheddar Bay Reality Football Competition, respectively, in the first segment. They preview the prime time and other marquee matchups in the National Football League, and even weigh in on the classic Army-Navy game in the college ranks on Saturday. Then, we shift gears from reality to fantasy, where More Than a Fan guru Alex Squires gives our host a remedial lesson on Fantasy Football, and gives some tips on who to start/who to sit in Week 15.

The Players
Jeff Rich (Host) – @byJeffRich

Mike Burgermeister – @603_brown
Tarik Adam – @ClevTA
Alex Squires – @ASquiresFF

The Browns' Midweek Report, Week 14: Pass Game Problems

So…..Johnny?

Mike Pettine’s choice to play Manziel last Sunday caught me off guard, but looking back now it really shouldn’t have. Pettine hasn’t proven to one to shy away from making decisions regardless of the opinions of fans and analysts, and with Hoyer playing as poorly as he was, the offense at a standstill, and the game basically lost, it was the perfect time to put in Manziel to see how the offense reacted. And it ended up working. Kind of. I mean he was able to move the ball, but it was against what was a soft prevent defense, so it only kind of counts. Nonetheless, Manziel provided the offense with an energy that hadn’t been seen all day. However, Pettine announced that Hoyer will again be in the driver’s seat this weekend against the Indianapolis Colts, which many are lauding as the correct decision…

…which it is. Hoyer is 10-5 in his career as a starter in Cleveland, and he has led the team this far. Sure, he has been sliding a bit the past few weeks, but he is still someone that the players and coaches trust in, and he is capable of running this offense adequately. The question becomes though, how much of a leash will he be given?, and how much should he actually get?. Here’s my guesses/opinions:

How much of a leash will Hoyer be given?

The Colts’ defense is not anywhere as strong as the Bills’, meaning that, at least in theory, the Browns offense should find more success moving the ball. Facing a front line that isn’t close to as dominant, the Browns should be able to get the ground game going this week. If this happens, Shanahan will be able to employ more play-action passes into his game plan, an area where Hoyer really excels. Given those opportunities, I think Hoyer will be given a somewhat short leash. This is a game that he should play well in, so, due to those high expectations, I feel the coaching staff will not give him too much room to screw up. Two interceptions off of poor throws, or a string of failed third down conversions due to poor execution or poor decision making, and we will be seeing Johnny take the field again.

That being said, I don’t expect to see Johnny this weekend, except for during the numerous camera shots of him pacing around the sidelines that will inevitably occur. Knowing that his job is probably on the line, Hoyer is going to elevate his game back to the level that we saw earlier on in the season in order to make sure he is able to remain on the field.

How much of a leash should Hoyer be given?

Not much. In an ideal world, Hoyer is given a short leash and is informed that he has a short leash. …Ok let me rephrase, ’cause in “an ideal world” right now, the Browns would be perfect and just rolling over everybody…. In my opinion, the correct decision would be to give Hoyer a short leash and inform him of that decision. This will put him under a significant amount of pressure, which is very important. You see, I believe that the Browns are going to make the playoffs this year, or are at least going to be in the running to through the final week of the season. As the season inches closer and closer to its conclusion, the pressure to perform well keeps rising higher. If Hoyer “Andy Dalton’s” under pressure, I would rather have the opportunity to correct that now and get Johnny a little experience than wait till the playoffs to implode.

I say that if the offense is fairly ineffective throughout the first half, then Pettine should throw in Manziel coming out the gate to start the second half. Manziel has the ability to spark an immobile offense, and coming out to start the second half with him would give the Colts less time to react, and the Browns would be given a few more minutes to prepare.

On top of letting Hoyer know he is on a short leash, Pettine should make the information public. It would help feed the ever-ravenous fans and analysts, and the real threat of having Manziel on the field will force the Colts to spend more time working on two defensive playbooks, which would be helpful for a Browns team that right now is looking like it’s going to need all the help it can get.

In other Browns passing game news, Miles Austin, our most reliable third down option, has been placed on IR due to a kidney problem, ending his season. So that sucks. A lot. Sure, his production was declining with Josh Gordon’s return, but he was one of the few players who actually moved the chains last week. For a team struggling on third down, this will not help in the least.

Despite all of that though, I still have faith in the Browns, especially this weekend. This game is huge, not only for the time, but for Brian Hoyer too. I’m expecting a performance on the level of the Bengals game. The defense is going to step up in big ways and force at least three turnovers. Hoyer is going to eclipse 300 yards passing to go with a pair of touchdowns in a very clean game, and Isaiah Crowell is going to top the century mark and find the endzone. The Josh Gordon of last year is going to pay the Dawg Pound a visit this weekend, and it is going to be glorious.

Prediction: Browns 38 – Colts 24

Browns Fantasy Football Update Week 14

Despite the spark that Johnny Manziel provided against the Bills the Browns decided to stay with Brian Hoyer. Hopefully Hoyer can play with a little more fire now that he knows Johnny Football is breathing down his neck. It also helps that the Colts defense is a lot weaker than the Bills.

QB- Brian Hoyer: A crucial game for him. Is high risk QB2 because of the possibility that he gets benched in favor for Manziel.

QB- Johnny Manziel- Once he starts he becomes a QB1 immediately. Must add if you don’t have one of the top 6 QBs right now regardless. Running quarterbacks are almost always quality fantasy quarterbacks, even awful passers like Vince Young and Tim Tebow were good fantasy quarterbacks. Until he starts playing he shouldn’t be starting but he should be added because it looks like he could start playing real soon.

RB- Isaiah Crowell- He will do better against the Colts than what he did against the stout Buffalo. Still a decent RB2 option for this week and the rest of the season.

RB- Terrance West: Still getting carries, but remains a risky flex play. Cannot continue fumbling.

WR- Josh Gordon- Hoyer and Gordon just don’t seem to be on the same page, but hopefully another good week of practice will help. Because if it does watch out, Gordon could be deadly.

WR- Andrew Hawkins- Hawkins will continue to get the second looks as long as Cameron is hurt.

TE- Jordan Cameron- If he comes back this weekend he’ll has a good matchup against a Colt defense that struggles against TEs.

K- Billy Cundiff- Billy Cundiff has been awful lately, if you own him as a joke the joke is probably awful.

DEF- The defense will struggle against the Colts explosive offense, but Luck is turnover prone so they could get some points.