Here are the Cleveland Browns, Football Fans of America
By Joe Zevchek
Nov 6, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns fans celebrate after the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Browns won 24-3. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
This was the game Cleveland Browns fans have been waiting to happen for over a decade. A “prove-it” game that they could hang their hat on. They’ve had a couple of “must-wins” earlier this year, and succeeded in beating Pittsburgh at home and then taking care of Oakland to show that the loss to Jacksonville was a fluke. But this was THE big one. Prime time, national audience, battling for a share of first place in the division.
Make no doubt anymore- this is not an improved team who’s finding a way to win some games that they may have blown in the past. This is a GOOD football team.
Boy, did they deliver. I admit-I wasn’t feeling good about this game. Starting with the Bengals’ home unbeaten streak, adding the Browns’ division road losing streak, and mix in all the Browns’ injuries, the evening did not have the recipe for success. Not only did they overcome all the issues, the Browns absolutely dominated this game from the beginning. As soon as Andy Dalton’s pass during the first possession was picked off by Craig Robertson, the momentum swung to the Browns and never went back. Any win would have bought a solid nod of approval from the national audience, but the way the Browns won put the league on notice that they have arrived.
Make no doubt anymore- this is not an improved team who’s finding a way to win some games that they may have blown in the past. This is a GOOD football team. What they lack in talent they are more than making up for in guts and good coaching. Of course, they are still building and have plenty of work to do to improve. But right now, they are truly in playoff contention. It won’t be easy with a lot of strong teams not only in the division, but in the conference as a whole, considering the strong starts by Miami, Buffalo, Kansas City and Houston.
There are likely plenty of fans that worry that this success will be temporary and fleeting, and end up as a repeat of 2007. Of course time and upcoming seasons will be the ultimate judge, but here’s a basic rundown of what 2007 ended up being- the Browns assembled some good offensive talent that managed to stay healthy and made a strong-armed QB look good while avoiding too many critical mistakes for long enough in the season to score a lot of points, all the while playing a soft schedule and covering up for a poor defense. No one from that team has done much of anything of significance since, and Romeo Crennel has proven he is not head-coaching material. In contrast, this team is winning more with less talent, showing a lot more discipline and tenacity, all with smarter coaching and quarterback play.
And most importantly, his philosophy and accountability is changing the culture here.
The biggest credit for this game, and probably the season as a whole, goes to Mike Pettine. It’s safe to say that as of now he HAS to be the leading candidate for the Coach of the Year award. (Editor’s Note: Most would give it to Bruce Arians right now but Pett is right up there.) Doug Marone has done a pretty good job with the Bills, but he’s also had several seasons to right the ship up there. The Browns are not only winning, but beating good teams so far and overcoming a plethora of injuries, all while working with a largely retooled roster in his FIRST year. And most importantly, his philosophy and accountability is changing the culture here.
He’s done well with it so far, but now that they’re riding a high, its essential Pettine keeps the team focused. Joe Haden said after the game that the team is ready for success. That’s easy to say, but nothing has been proven yet. Taking care of a very beatable Houston team at home in 10 days will help to do it.
As always, my nuggets and observations of the game:
-Awesome way for all the Browns’ running backs to pick it up and carry the game. But a note to the rookies-lets holds on to the ball. No fumbles called but getting sloppy on some carries. I’m thinking Isaiah Crowell just put himself back into exile for a bit. Notice he was not seen after his near-fumble in the 3rd quarter.
– This was probably Brian Hoyer’s best game of the year. It doesn’t matter that he didn’t have any touchdowns and threw for under 200 yards. Considering that he was missing his top 3 weapons, he still threw with confidence and cut through the wind very nicely. Bottom line-he did exactly what he needed to do, made zero mistakes (at least none that were glaring) and executed the game plan. I wonder if the Browns may be a little quicker in picking up phone calls from his agent. I’ll have more on this later in the week.
-I’ll officially say it, though there’s plenty of time to be proven wrong: this Browns defense has arrived. They still leave some big holes open in the running game, but the pressure has been consistent, even if not spectacular, and they’re making opportunities for the offense with takeaways. And finally, they held a team to no touchdowns!
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– I ‘m sick of harping on this anymore at this rate, but I hope Ray Farmer feels a bit foolish scoffing at the question about bringing in Josh Cribbs for punt return duties. It may never happen again, but after Jim Leonard fumbled a punt, all options should be considered. For what it’s worth, I’m giving a 75% chance that SOMEONE is brought in for tryouts this next week. 40% chance that it’s Cribbs.
With 7 games left, there’s plenty of time for the Browns to blow this. They may get too full of themselves and lose focus, or the injuries may continue to mount or at least catch up to the team. But so far, the Browns have done enough this year to convince me that they are building something special, and that they are good enough to overcome those issues. I’m preparing myself for football in January, and I think it’s something we should get used to around here.
How are you feeling today about the Cleveland Browns?