First and Ten – How to follow up after a win

1) Well … it didn’t take long. It was about 12:30 or so on Monday that the first one of “those” questions came in, this time via Twitter. It’s a fair question. Any question is fair, really. But it’s fair because it’s a fan question and fans never give up hope, which is what makes them fans. This one read: “do you not agree that browns are ‘in it’ 2 games behind everyone and 10 left. No sure losses rest of way.” OK then. By “in it,” presumably that means in the hunt for the playoffs, or the division. Let me be blunt with some math. The Browns are 1-5. They have 10 games left. To even sniff the playoffs, and writing those words at this point in time more or less makes one giggle, the Browns would have to finish 8-2. Meaning win eight of 10. With the following teams on the schedule: Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore, San Diego, Denver, Dallas and Washington. Oh … and Kansas City too. If the Browns go 8-2 against that schedule the rest of the season, well then they’ve really eaten their Wheaties. Because as good as it was to win that first game, it does not mean they suddenly are ‘in’ anything, other than last place in the AFC North.
2) This is not meant to be negative about the win. That was a good win with contributions from many people. But let’s see if the Browns can beat Indianapolis on Sunday before discussing whether they are ‘in’ anything other than a 1-5 pickle. As D’Qwell Jackson told reporters in the locker room on Monday, the way the team responds to the win will reveal much about its mental character.
3) Now … that win sure does release a lot of pressure. It’s like pushing the button and hearing the “ssssst” as it’s released. Doesn’t matter that anyone says that it didn’t … it definitely did.
4) Joe Haden said the win was like winning the Super Bowl. Which is an apt comparison, except he’s never won a Super Bowl so it’d be tough for him to know how that feels. That being said, we get the idea.
5) Josh Gordon may be proving me wrong. Quickly. In training camp and early in the season there were times he looked lost. I thought he was a long-term project. But the past two games, there’s no arguing with his results. Touchdowns of 71, 62 and 20 yards. The last one when he stuck out one hand and caught a deep pass with one hand, then cradled the ball into his forearm. Those long passes mean he’s averaging 22.8 yards per catch. He only has 12 catches, though, which ties him for 128th in the league — with Ramses Barden and Chaz Schilens and others (look it up). Gordon has a ways to go — and once teams realize it’s not a good idea to have a linebacker chase him up the middle of the field out of the slot it might be tougher to make those long catches. But he’s sure showing more at this point of the season than I thought he would.
6) Brandon Weeden has thrown too many interceptions, but he has some things that the Browns have lacked recently at the position. The most obvious is the ability to throw the long pass. Weeden looks great doing that. His arm strength is far superior to … ummm … other recent starting quarterbacks (emphasis on the plural). He also has a moxie about him, because when he finds a rhythm things seem to click and go fast. The Giants game was not good, but the Bengals game was. After seven three-play possessions in a row, Weeden got “unwound” by hitting Greg Little (of all people) for 13. From there it was to Jordan Cameron for 15, Gordon for 14 and three handoffs to Montario Hardesty for a touchdown. In the fourth quarter he found Gordon for 14, and Cameron for 23 before he threw a touchdown to Ben Watson. Weeden’s rating and numbers will be affected for half the season by that brutal opener, but since then he’s fared pretty well, with 1,401 yards passing, seven TDs and six interceptions. His rating since the first game: 80.1, which would place him 24th in the league, ahead of Matt Stafford. Weeden turned 29 on Sunday, so he best get things together sooner rather than later, but indications are that he may turn out OK.
7) Little things mean so much in games. And you never know what missed play or missed tackle or missed catch will matter. In the first quarter of Sunday’s game, Cincinnati led 7-0 and the Browns had third down on their 16. Weeden threw to Josh Cooper, and Leon Hall was in position to make a basic tackle and stop Cooper short of the first. Cooper would have made the catch, but Hall had an easy, fundamental tackle and the Browns punt. Instead of going for the easy play, though, Hall gambled and cut in front of Cooper. Weeden’s pass was too well thrown, so Hall missed the tip, Cooper caught the ball and the Browns got a first down. Four plays later the game was tied when Weeden found Gordon for the long touchdown. Imagine if the Browns punt and Cincinnati turns that kick into good field position and another score. How would momentum have changed (just like momentum would have changed had Jermaine Gresham caught a short throw on the Bengals previous third down … a short throw that was targeted for a big play)? Moral of the story: You never know what play will be the one that matters.
8) A.J. Green is a great player. Here’s why he’s also a great teammate: Andy Dalton’s first interception was a ball thrown too hard toward Green that went off Green’s hands and into those of Joe Haden. Green said the interception was his fault: “I should have knocked it down,” he said. “I was trying to make a play, but I put Andy in a bad position.” No excuses, no complaint about interference on the play (Green had a case). Instead Green took respossibility for a turnover that was not his fault. The Bengals have to love this guy.
9) I’m still trying to figure out what the Bengals were doing on that third-and-1 play that resulted in the big pass to Cameron for 23 yards. Let’s take a look at the photos (again courtesy of NFL.com’s game highlights online.
The Browns lined up with an extra lineman at tight end, in this case Oniel Cousins. He was used in that role all day — a new role for him (in the old days this would be called a new “wrinkle”). This would prove important. The Bengals had a four-man front, with a linebacker also at the line.
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Weeden playfakes, and the entire Browns offensive line burrows left.
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Cameron fell down early, but the Bengals seem to be a mess at this point. They’ve got two guys pushed well to the left, one guy wallowing around in the middle of the field and another headed to the right of the Browns formation. Weeden initially seems to be looking downfield, perhaps because Cameron fell.
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The Bengals are rushing four, but the Browns line has done such a good job that two linemen are looking for someone to block. Note the two Bengals linebackers at the bottom of the screen sort of standing around doing nothing as Weeden surveys the field.
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By the time Weeden throws, Joe Thomas, John Greco and Shawn Lauvao are looking for someone to block. The three guys making token pass rush effort for Cincinnati are being handled by two linemen and a back, the much maligned Owen Marecic. And three Bengals are in no-man’s land between the 20 and 25, not deep enough for coverage, and not rushing the passer.
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The result: A 23-yard completion and one of the biggest Browns pass plays of the season.
10) There was one major thing missing in the letter Roger Goodell sent Scott Fujita last week. The words: “I’m” and “sorry.” Part of Goodell’s letter contained an admission that Fujita never — as Fujita always claimed — pledged money for a “bounty” pool in New Orleans. Instead, Fujita had a pool for big plays. The commissioner decided that Fujita still should be suspended a game, which seems downright silly. Instead of simply saying he erred, Goodell ranted and raved in a tone Fujita described as “condescending.” What was missing was a simple apology to Fujita, for dragging his name through the dirt and linking him to something pretty despicable when Fujita never was associated in the first place. While the league was sullying a man’s name, that man was working endlessly to help his friend who had been diagnosed with ALS. In doing that, the league put out some information about Fujita that did not reflect well on him, and put people reporting in the position of repeating it — including me. Goodell might not apologize, though he should. But I will, and I do. Because Fujita deserved better.
For the rest of the story, head here to the blog. And please, drive carefully.