During the preseason, it was the play of quarterback Jake Delhomme and do-everything running back Peyton Hillis that had Cleveland Browns fans delusionally optimistic about the direction of the offense heading into the regular season. On Sunday afternoon against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, it was the miscues by these two, as well as a questionable game plan, that foiled the Browns bid to win their first season opener since 2004.
Both offensive newcomers got off to promising starts, however, with Delhomme hooking up with wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi for a 41 yard touchdown pass in the first quarter and then Hillis rumbling for a 10 yard touchdown midway through the second to put the Browns up 14-3. From that point on, though, things quickly unraveled for both players, with Delhomme throwing a costly interception late in the half and Hillis spoiling a promising third quarter drive with a fumble.
Delhomme would eventually throw another pick later in the game, but it was his first interception that really spelled doom for the Browns and stirred up some anxiety about his play. The offense was driving after Mike Adams, who played well, picked off an errant pass by Buccaneers second year quarterback, Josh Freeman, which set up Delhomme and the O with an opportunity to extend the lead before half. It was not to be, however, and on 1st and 10 Delhomme made a costly, game changing error by attempting to hit tight end Ben Watson while pressured and falling to his right. Delhomme’s off balance, sidearmed throw was consequently intercepted and returned to the Browns 3-yard line by wily veteran cornerback, Ronde Barber, who’s also known as the Barber twin that did not leave his pregnant, twin-carrying wife for a blonde, NBC intern. Regardless, the Browns lead would be cut into the very next play as Freeman hooked up with rookie wide receiver Mike Williams for a touchdown pass.
Overall, it was just really deflating to see this kind of decision out of Jake given the tremendous preseason he had in which he completed a scorching 80 percent of his throws with no interceptions, but I can’t say that it was entirely unexpected. After all, the guy’s been known to throw an interception or five in the recent past, so you could kind of sense that Delhomme was due after not throwing one to the other team all preseason. Plus, it’s not like he was playing particularly well up to that point, either. From the start, Delhomme appeared to be struggling out of the gates reading the coverage schemes by the Bucs and a lot of his throws seemed to be off target and- as the announcer said – “dangerous”. Even the TD pass should have been broken up, if not intercepted.
Without a doubt, then, Delhomme’s first interception was the ultimate welcome back to reality moment for fans like myself who were jaded by his impressive preseason performance.
Just like there’s two sides to every story, there’s two sides to Delhomme the quarterback, and for all intents and purposes, we knew that going into the season. In the preseason, we were teased by the good Jake, the grizzled veteran that ‘s accurate and knows where to go with the football (at least against the vanilla defenses that define preseason football) . On Sunday when it counted, we saw bad Jake, the guy who turned the ball over an awful lot during his last year or so with the Carolina Panthers.
Considering that Tampa is one of the softer defenses the Browns will face all season, this shaky, two interception performance by Delhomme certainly is a cause for concern heading into Week 2. Still, it was only one game, and one bad game doesn’t constitute a bad season.
Besides, why Delhomme attempted 37 passes in the first place is beyond me. Going into the game, I was thoroughly expecting to see more of what fueled the Browns four game winning streak to end last season and saved Eric Mangini’s job, which meant a heavy emphasis on the ground game. Inexplicably, though, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll felt it was in the offense’s best interests for Delhomme to put the ball in the air 37 times and give last year’s late season hero, running back Jerome Harrison, only nine carries. I just don’t comprehend the logic behind Daboll’s pass/run ratio , but I do know that this is not a winning formula for the Browns in the future.
All in all, this loss was pretty hard to take. The defense played well enough to win, but some crucial turnovers and a questionable game plan prevented that from happening. Hopefully, this was just a mulligan by Delhomme and Daboll, and next week the Browns rededicate themselves to the running game, and maybe, just for the hell of it, give Harrison more than 9 carries in the home opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.
Now some other things that I failed to mention but wanted to throw out there:
- The more Shaun Rogers plays, the better the Browns defense will be. He seemed to get a strong push against the Bucs’ offensive line and still demands a double team. Better yet, he appears to be motivated.
- Even though rookie corner Joe Haden got beat by TB wide receiver Michael Spurlock on what was essentially the game winning touchdown pass, he and fellow rookie safety T.J. Ward made promising debuts in the Browns’ secondary. Aside from the TD pass, Haden made a couple of nice plays on the ball and seems to be getting more and more comfortable. Same goes for Ward, who posted 11 tackles, caused a fumble, and generated some pressure from the secondary.
- Hell, even Mike Adams and Abe Elam made some plays in the secondary. Adams had an interception and made a couple of nice plays in coverage. Elam, for once, made a play near the line of scrimmage.
- I thought defensive coordinator Rob Ryan did a decent job of creating pressure with what he has to work with. That Marcus Bernard (2 sacks) just finds the quarterback, doesn’t he?
- Outside linebacker Matt Roth did a decent job of getting off blocks and finding the ball carrier a few times.
- Why is John St. Clair still the Browns starting right tackle? From what I saw out of Tony Pashos this preseason, I’m kind of shocked that St. Clair is considered the best option.
- Floyd “Porkchop” Womack played well.
- More Wildcat, please!
- And once again…WHY did Jerome Harrison only carry the ball 9 times? He broke one long run, and it seemed like he would have eventually busted another one if he had gotten more carries. The Bucs linebackers were very aggressive and loved to attack the line. If Harrison’s able to get to the second level, he’s gone. It’s almost as if God has a grudge against this guy. I just don’t know how to explain it.
Topics: Abe Elam, Brian Daboll, Carolina Panthers, Cleveland Browns, Eric Mangini, Jake Delhomme, Jerome Harrison, Joe Haden, John St. Clair, Josh Freeman, Kansas City Chiefs, Marcus Bernard, Matt Roth, Michael Spurlock, Mike Adams, Mike Williams, Peyton Hillis, Rob Ryan, Shaun Rogers, T.J. Ward, Tampa Bay Buccaneeers, Tony Pashos