First and Ten: Wave the white flags!
1) Somebody somewhere had to sign off on the latest promotion at Browns Stadium, which has the home team giving away inflatable flags sponsored by Ticketmaster, which are white. Yes, that’s correct. The home team has a sponsor/partner giving away white flags for a Browns-Steelers game. This is almost too rich for words. Asking fans to wave white inflatable flags (with the Browns helmet) for a game against the Steelers, the team that has owned the Browns the past 13 years, and has won 16 of 17. White flags. Inflatable ones. For the record, the promotion is Ticketmaster’s, the Browns know how it looks and … well … it’s just another part of the saga.
2) Seriously. White. Flags. Maybe we found the real Thanksgiving turkeys.
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3) Maybe Mike Holmgren’s visit with Jerry Jones on the field prior to the Browns loss on Sunday was an innocent greeting between two friends. But it sure has folks around the league buzzing, and those who thought it was a casual conversation were buzzing just as much as those who saw bigger conspiracy theories. If nothing else, the timing made it odd. Shortly after word broke that Holmgren would be seriously interested in coaching the Cowboys if there were an opening, and on the same day there was a report that Holmgren would leave retirement to coach only for the Cowboys, he spends time chatting up the Cowboys owner on the sidelines. With new Browns owner Jimmy Haslam in close view, Holmgren chatted with the guy he reportedly would be willing to work for in the future. Here again, only in Cleveland.
4) Word is that Haslam did not have a pleased expression on his face as Holmgren chatted with Jones, and that there is a feeling within the team that this might hasten Holmgren’s departure. Some in the league would be surprised if he’s in Cleveland in December. Too, there are also rumors that Holmgren would be willing to coach the Browns if Joe Banner and Haslam decided to make a move. Holmgren can’t and won’t address this issue because the guy he picked is coaching the Browns. But if he wants to coach again, it would make sense for Holmgren to step down from the front office to coach in Cleveland. He knows the system, knows the players and knows the media. It would almost be seamless. And it might have been possible a month ago, but now that Haslam and Banner have been around Holmgren and seen this dance with Dallas, the feeling is there’s no way it will happen. Does any of this stuff happen with other teams?
5) As for Shurmur, it’s to the point that you almost feel bad for him, not that he wants any pity. But nobody works harder, cares more or is more dedicated to trying to win. It’s just not happening. In fact, it almost seems guaranteed that no matter what Shurmur tries it won’t work. And he’ll be taken to task because of it. Now, not everything that does not work is a result of bad luck. A fade on fourth-and-1 is a questionable call, or questionable decision by the quarterback. And some of the sideline issues could be smoother. But no matter what the man tries on fourth-and-1 or third-and-1, it seems destined to fail. Shurmur won’t give up, or quit, but it almost gets to a point where you wonder if it’s meant to happen for him.
6) One might surmise that if the Browns lose Sunday to the Steelers at home with Pittsburgh playing its third-string quarterback, then that might be the low point of the past two seasons. If one surmised that, one would probably be correct.
7) Dick Jauron and the NFL have a difference in opinion. Jauron said he watched replays of T.J. Ward’s hit on Kevin Ogletree in Dallas on Sunday and did not see any contact to Ogletree’s head. That’s odd given Ogletree wound up with a concussion. The league fined Ward $25,000 for his hit, which it called to the head. Ward was not happy, and Jauron said: “I’m not sure there is another way to coach it than how we’re coaching it.” Which is to say play as hard and as fast as you can, and never hit a guy in the head. Jauron agreed that if anyone hits an opponent in the head, he should be penalized and fined. But what’s clear this week is there’s an entire new standard with the way the league is judging these hits. When a guy like Ed Reed is threatened with suspension, something is going on in New York. Clearly. Ed Reed is not dirty, yet he almost was suspended. Ward’s hit was bang-bang, as fast as it goes. Looking at Ward’s play, it almost looks impossible for him to avoid the hit. But the league took 25 large from his wallet (he makes $31,764 per week). A year ago Cincinnati’s Reggie Nelson was penalized in consecutive weeks for hits to the head. I thought both calls were weak, until someone pointed out all he had to do was change his aiming point. The league does not want defensive backs aiming for the shoulders or higher. It clearly feels players are athletic enough to change the aiming point. Eventually the point will get through. It might affect the way guys play, but that’s kind of the point. The league does not want guys playing that way anymore.
8) There’s also this factor about Ward: His reputation precedes him. Ward makes no secret he’s a big hitter. His Twitter handle is Boss Ward. He lit up Jordan Shipley of Cincinnati as a rookie, and was fined $15,000. He’s actually missed tackles and plays because he wants the highlight hit rather than the fundamental play. He’s been better this season, but in Dallas he got caught between defending a pass in a tight area and being aggressive. But it almost seems like he’s going to get the flag because of his reputation. Ward has played better this season than he ever has. But his hit resulted in Ogletree and Browns corner Buster Skrine getting concussions. It was scary. And going for the big hit as opposed to the play implies a lack of respect for the guy on the other end of the hit, a guy whose life could be changed by the one wrong, big hit.
9) Shurmur said this about this weekend’s game and Steelers linebacker James Harrison: “He’s had an impact against the Browns.” Why yes, he certainly has.
10) For whatever it’s worth, the Steelers have 16 guys on their roster 30 or older. Many of them are the team’s lifeblood — Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, guys like that. The Browns have seven guys older than 30, and two are tight ends (Ben Watson and Alex Smith) and two are kickers. The Steelers are an aging team, but they are a group that can draw on their experience to overcome the loss of two quarterbacks; the only reason they didn’t beat the Ravens with Byron Leftwich trying to throw was they gave up a punt return. The Browns don’t have those experienced guys. Which could be one reason they go through all these excruciating losses.
And a bonus 11) For those who might have missed it, Browns vice president Bryan Wiedmeier sat down with me this week and talked about the challenges ahead as he deals with the reality of a very aggressive form of brain cancer. Wiedmeier had a tumor removed from his brain in late October, and now faces chemotherapy and radiation as he fights a serious, serious challenge. His attitude, though, is simply amazing. I recommend the story because of the insights and inspiration of one man. The story is here. It is a true profile in courage.