Sunday, September 12, 2010

Gonna be a long season

My goodness. The Browns can't even beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The 3-and-13-last-season Bucs. The bottom-of-the-barrel Bucs, whose approach to the game of offensive football is so conservative, it makes even Sarah Palin proud.

When the 2010 National Football League schedule was released and showed the Cleveland season opener in Tampa, Browns fans uttered a collective sigh. Finally, they thought, the NFL schedule makers felt just sorry enough for the club and gave them a patsy to kick off the season.

All indicators pointed toward a Cleveland victory Sunday: An anemic Bucs offense, a defense that surrendered 400 points last season, and a quarterback in Cleveland's Jake Delhomme who has had marvelous success over the years against Tampa. No way could the Bucs win this one.

Only one problem. Bad teams find a way to lose games. One way is to let another bad team hang around and hang around while you self destruct.

Bearing that in mind, the Browns are a bad team. Even after one game, it's not difficult to point out the blemishes.

Let's start with the offense, which actually looked halfway decent throughout much of the first half. Unfortunately, the rules book mandates the game must last at least 60 minutes. Playing well for 30 minutes doesn't cut it.

Delhomme actually was sharp in the opening 30 minutes until he unwisely decided to throw a sidearm pass while heading toward the ground with 30 seconds left. Turned what could have been a 17-3 lead into just a 14-10 margin and enabled the Bucs.

Shades of Derek Anderson, Tim Couch and Brady Quinn. When will Cleveland quarterbacks stop passing brain gas?

Other bright spots: Tight end Evan Moore and running back Peyton Hillis (for the first half only). The Browns should involve Moore much more into the game plan. He's a big target and hard to bring down. Besides, he's not really a tight end. He's more of a big wide receiver in the mold of Joe Jurevicius.

Hillis, when he managed to hang onto the ball, proved a tough runner. His two fumbles, however, almost assuredly paved a path toward coach Eric Mangini's doghouse. Hillis never again ran from scrimmage after losing the second bobble deep in Tampa Bay territory on the first series of the second half.

From that point on, the Cleveland offense resembled the stodgy, backward-thinking, mind-numbingly boring offense that led to just one victory in the first 12 games last season. Seven series, 25 plays, four 3-and-outs, an embarrassing two first downs, Delhomme's second pick and 60 puny yards from scrimmage later, the Browns trudged off the field with a 17-14 loss.

That's because the offense, which fell into waltz mode (1-2-3-kick), basically left it up to the defense to win this one. And it nearly worked. The Tampa Bay offense never seriously threatened until midway through the fourth quarter.

Too bad cornerback Joe Haden was the victim when Michael Spurlock hauled in a 34-yard touchdown strike with 6:45 left in the game. The Browns' top draft pick had played a solid game until that point.

At the two-minute mark of the second half with the Browns trailing by just three, I jotted down the following: Let's see what this team is made of. Who's going to step up and make a play?

The answer: No one. That's because the club's only playmakers on offense are a special teamer (Joshua Cribbs) and an offensive tackle (Joe Thomas). Tough to win games with such a serious lack of talent.

If the Browns play this way on offense next Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs in the home opener, it won't be pretty on the lakefront. And you can bet Chiefs defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel -- y'all remember him, don'tcha? -- will have a few new wrinkles to put on display.

That short leash that stretched from club President Mike Holmgren to Mangini got tugged big time Sunday. Holmgren is a big fan of offensive football. What he saw against the Buccaneers was far from it.

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