The facts, strictly (almost) all facts, about the Cleveland Browns…
1. “They obviously did everything better than we did, every single thing you can measure.” Those are the words of Bill Belichick after Sunday’s game. And before we get into what personal meaning this win might have to Eric Mangini, Brian Daboll, Rob Ryan, Ray Ventrone and others, let’s start by repeating this: The Browns have a two-game win streak, and those two wins have come over the defending Super Bowl champions and the team with the league’s best record. The kind of games we — or, more specifically, the author of this article and many others who claim to know something about the NFL — thought there was no chance they’d win. Now that they have won those games, it’s clear they can beat anybody. The Browns are once again a living, breathing, real NFL team, one with bona fide weapons and well thought out game plans and guys who make plays at opportune times. One with flaws, and questions, and a roster that still has more holes than the rosters of the teams they’re chasing. Whether or not this team can keep winning, that remains to be seen. That makes for good discussion. In this blog post, we’ll stick to the facts. And the fact is the Browns stunk in September but clearly don’t stink in early November. There are eight games left, and all eight matter.
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2. Colt McCoy is an NFL quarterback. Around Northeast Ohio this morning, he’s being hailed as The Answer, The Savior and The Greatest. That’s premature, but McCoy has people excited. Because he’s 2-1 as a starter. Because he has moxie. Because three pretty big stages haven’t been too big for a kid with the kind of presence, feel and accuracy McCoy has shown. Because he can run. And because Browns fans, teased by Tim Couch and Derek Anderson and burned by Jeff Garcia and Brady Quinn, want to believe they have their quarterback. We’ll see, but the way McCoy stepped into throws, stayed calm and delivered the ball on the money through a Patriots defense that was a step behind all day says that he’s a real NFL quarterback. And the meeting this morning in Berea to talk about the starting quarterback for next week’s game with the Jets should go like this: “Is Seneca feeling better? Is Jake feeling better? OK, good. Get Colt in here tonight and feed him the game plan. He’s the guy.”
3. Peyton Hillis is the real deal. Yep, the former fullback the Browns got for Quinn and a late draft pick can book his reservations for Hawaii in February. The book on Hillis is to force him outside, make him run laterally and he’ll struggle to beat you. Well, the Patriots tried. And they didn’t set any sort of edge. And Hillis ran up the middle, ran off tackle and ran outside. When he got outside, he threw stiffarms and jumped over defenders. He’s a 250-pound missile. He’s a weapon in the passing game. And if you can run in this league, you can create an identity and keep even the best defenses honest. Well, the Browns can run. A team that’s built on the principles of being smart, tough and physical has a workhorse back who’s all three.
4. The Browns are the happiest 3-5 team in NFL history. They’ve beaten their in-state rivals, the defending champs and the personal mentor/nemesis of their head coach. They play in a football-crazed city with loyal fans who have been starved for a winner and next Sunday will absolutely deafen Mark Sanchez’s line checks. Mangini has taken an inordinate amount of heat/crap nationally since the day he arrived, admittedly deserved some of it and now looks like the name “Mangenius” is a pretty apt description. The playoffs in 2010 are still little more than a pipe dream, and Colt’s flight now has a layover on Revis Island. But the way Hillis and McCoy and Rob Ryan and Scott Fujita and Ahtyba Rubin are going, everybody involved should be happy. Take it from someone who’s been there: Berea is a downright miserable place to be when the Browns are losing. They’ve been losing for a long time, and three weeks ago they were 1-5 staring three more losses in the eye. The Browns should be happy. They should be confident. Their most popular player, Joshua Cribbs, is still waiting to break one of his signature kick returns but he’s throwing devastating blocks to spring McCoy to the end zone and laying out to make chain-moving catches. People are buying in. There are smiles and high-fives and in an ever-changing, what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league, there absolutely should be.
5. The Browns are very well coached. The way they’ve played in the first half of every game this season is the biggest example of that. The way they’ve been very much in every game but one is another example. The way they executed circles around the Patriots and made Drew Brees look like a rookie are pretty good examples, too. Yes, I have criticized Mangini in the past. But only for his mistakes in the talent acquisition business or his stubborn insistence on keeping players who, in my opinion, wouldn’t make any other roster leaguewide. Well, those players are playing pretty well for this team right now, and that’s all that matters. The defensive schemes are complicated, varied and effective. And nobody covers kicks like these Cleveland Browns. Now that the Browns are running and throwing and defending, those amazing kick-cover guys are giving the Browns a chance to win two of the three phases each Sunday at 1. Yesterday, they dominated three of three phases. You need luck in this game, and good teams sometimes make their own bounces. The Browns are doing that right now. They’re doing that so well that I’m going to pick them to win next week, too, 14-13, with one TD coming on another Chansi Stuckey trick play and the other coming when Cribbs breaks free on a kick return and laterals to Jason Trusnik, who takes it into the end zone. Stuckey, Trusnik and Mangini will ride home happy. If there’s any magic left in these Mangini Browns, Braylon Edwards will not.
And that’s almost, kind of, potentially…strictly the truth.