First and 10: Some positives to an 0-2 team
1) There are times when I look back and think I might have been too hard on a team. Sunday seemed like a game the Browns could have won -- had they had a secondary. But perhaps in the weariness of watching the Browns lose -- Josh Cribbs phrased it “losing and sucking” on Twitter -- the half-empty side took over. So let’s go to the half-full side: That was as good an offensive one-two performance by two guys since the Derek Anderson-Jamal Lewis days. Brandon Weeden and Trent Richardson erased a bunch of concerns with the way they played. Weeden stood in strong against the rush, at times until the last second, and completed throws that haven’t been completed in a few years by a Browns quarterback. He was as good in game two as he was bad in game one. And Trent Richardson provided a jolt of energy. He showed quickness and elusiveness he lacked in the opener, and toughness expected of him when he was drafted. It was still a loss, but it was a loss that truly had “progress.”
2) Richardson’s 32-yard touchdown jaunt was the longest scoring run by a Browns back since Peyton Hillis had a 35-yarder in 2010. Since 2000, the Browns have had 10 scoring runs of 30 yards or longer (by Dennis Northcutt, William Green, Lee Suggs, Reugen Droughns, Jamal Lewis, Jerome Harrison, Hillis and Richardson). Jacksonville and Philadelphia lead the league in that category (rushing touchdowns of 30 yards or more since 2000), both with 24. The Browns total of 10 ties for 25th. This may interest only me, but it’s how I roll. And it shows what Richardson can give an offense that has lacked a dependable, big-time playmaker for quite some time.
3) Does the play of Weeden and Richardson put every mind at ease that the plan can work? No, not totally. But it sure moves things closer. Richardson showed natural instincts that can’t be taught. Weeden needs to follow that game with another good game or two. But what the duo did was revive hope, the hope that they are the right guys. Imagine if the Browns had opened with the Bengals and played the exact same game and lost. There would have been pool parties with inflatable ducks and whales all over Northeast Ohio. The impression and perception would have changed completely. Instead of bad stories about a 5.1 rating and a back not ready to run, the stories and talk would have been about the optimism the two generated, even if it was a loss. But the Browns opened the way they did and delayed the positive vibe a week.
4) Richardson rocked the big glasses postgame Sunday, by the way. The ones that NBA guys wear. The Clark Kent look, with the black frames. Again, this is simply how I roll.
5) For my money, Joe Thomas is taking one for the team. Thomas was nowhere near his usual self in Cincinnati, and that game happened after he appeared on the injury report with a knee. He was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and looked limited on Sunday. After the game, Thomas merely said he needed an excuse to miss practice, but when an All-Pro like him moves the way he did it looks like something is amiss. Thomas may be fighting through, but knee issues are tough for left tackles.
6) There was some other … let’s see … interesting … that’s the word … interesting … information put out by the Browns about Sheldon Brown in the last week, too. Brown, you may recall, left the opener in the second quarter after taking a shot to the shoulder. In a rare moment of candor, coach Pat Shurmur said on Monday after the opener that Brown had a stinger. Wednesday and Thursday Brown was listed as “full participation in practice” on the weekly injury report, which the league mandates and which the league states has to be accurate. On Friday, the day players are listed as out, questionable or probable, Brown was listed as probable. On Sunday, he did not start, played one play to keep a streak alive and then was not on the field the rest of the game. Sunday after the game, Shurmur said Brown was “fine” and the team decided to play Buster Skrine. Monday, Shurmur said Brown was “limited throughout the week” and said “(Brown) was banged up through the week last week.” Not according to the official team injury report he wasn’t.
7) The secondary issues won’t go away if Brown returns against Buffalo. Joe Haden is not Deion Sanders, but he is the best the Browns have. And taking him away leaves holes at other spots, holes that are being filled with rookies. There’s no sense beating Haden up for his suspension, but it is exacting a heavy price.
8) End of game clock management always seems to confound NFL folks. Taking a knee sometimes is better than scoring, and sometimes scoring fast and surrendering yards and points is better than continuing a drive. Sunday in Cincinnati the Browns were down 10 when they got the ball with 2:03 left. Some nice plays by Weeden got them to the Bengals 21 with 1:14 left. At that point, Shurmur had a decision: Continue to try for the touchdown, or go for the field goal. One or the other seemed logical, but not both. Because two factors were at play: The Browns needed two scores, and they needed to recover an onside kick with enough time left to get a second score. An immediate field goal from the 21 -- does anyone think Phil Dawson misses? -- would have the Browns needing a touchdown to tie, if they recover the onside kick. The good thing: A minute is an eternity in the NFL, so they would have had time had they recovered the kick. Shurmur, though, chose to keep driving for the touchdown. Which is OK, except it used time. And it used a lot of time because every pass was short. On first down from the 11, an incompletion stopped the clock, on second down a pass to Josh Cribbs gained four, on third down another short pass was incomplete. By this time there was just 24 seconds left, and Shurmur kicked the field goal. Which means the Browns needed to recover the onside kick and then drive 50-some yards for a touchdown with probably 19 or 20 seconds left and no timeouts, a virtual impossibility. Me, I either kick the field goal with 1:14 left and hope to recover the onside kick with enough time to score, or I use the clock but throw in the end zone four times from the 11. Four times. Into the end zone. Because with a touchdown the Browns would only need 20 yards to get Dawson in makeable range. Running time and not getting a TD kept faint hopes alive, but that’s about all it did. Yes, it’s easy to say this after the game, but games are won, lost or tied on some of these decisions. Coaches stay in their office until three in the morning watching tape. You’d think they’d have a reasonable strategy for an end-of-the-game situation like this.
9) Shurmur was asked on Monday if an 0-3 start might hurt the playoff chances. He said all the right things about having to beat Buffalo on Sunday, but let’s be honest: The playoffs are a dim hope in a dimming horizon. Yes, anything can happen, but since 1990, 184 teams started 0-2. Twelve percent of them (22) made the playoffs (Naturally, one was Pittsburgh, which made the playoffs in 2002 after turning to Tommy Maddox and beat the Browns). And the New York Times further reports that since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002, only 11 of the 72 that started the season 0-2 would have made the playoffs with two more wins. Which means a team starts 0-2 for a reason: It’s not very good. Let’s be generous and say 9-7 makes the playoffs. The Browns would have to finish 9-5. Left on the schedule are two games against Baltimore and Pittsburgh and games against the Giants, Bengals, Chargers, Cowboys and Broncos. That’s nine tough games. If the Browns won all the other five games -- against Buffalo, Indianapolis, Oakland, Kansas City and Washington -- they would have go to 4-5 in the tough nine. Is. Not. Happening.
10) Shawn Lauvao did a class thing in the loss to Cincinnati. When Bengals defensive lineman Jamaal Anderson pulled up with what appears to be a season-ending injury, Lauvao did not keep blocking. Instead, he noticed the seriousness of the non-contact injury and let up, to the point of making sure Anderson got to the ground gently. This is called respect for the other guy.
For a bonus 11 and 12 (shameless self-promotion coming) on Greg Little and posturing, check the blog here.