Sunday, November 7, 2010

Who was that masked man?

OK, who was that team that masqueraded as the Cleveland Browns against the New England Patriots this afternoon at Cleveland Browns Stadium?

They were dressed in Orange and Seal Brown, Check. They had the correct names on the back of their uniforms. Check. But they did something quite out of character. They used CBS like a bully pulpit as no other Browns team has in the last 11 seasons.

In what might some day be considered a transformative day in Browns history, this team dismantled one of the best teams in the National Football League in just about every way imaginable. These Browns didn't just beat the Patriots. They beat them up. They embarrassed them.

The 34-14 victory was so complete and overwhelming, it made one wonder just where this team has been. It also made one wonder whether this is just the beginning of what could be the long-awaited renaissance of pro football in Cleveland.

It is so easy to take this game and run with a euphoric feeling that easily eclipses the one Brown fans felt following the startling New Orleans victory a couple of weeks go. Two straight victories against two of the best teams in the NFL. And with the New York Jets dead ahead next Sunday at CBS, maybe three straight victories against . . .

Wait a minute. Let's not get carried away. Time to slam the brakes on that for the time being.

Upset a team once and some might call it an aberration. Do it twice in a row and you sit up, take notice and start paying attention. No doubt the NFL grapevine right now is rife with talk of what in the world has happened to Cleveland Browns.

The answer to that is quite simple. It's called sound, fundamental, smart, opportunistic and, above all, mistake-free football. It's the kind of football championship teams play. Teams that do not beat themselves generally wind up playing football in January and beyond.

Check the Browns down through the last decade and you'll discover they generally were their own worst enemy. With Murphy's Law strapped tightly around their necks, they self-destructed en route to becoming the laughingstock of the NFL. Poor records and performances were expected and the Browns, for the most part, did not disappoint.

This team seems to be quite different, however, and a lot of the credit has to go to Eric Mangini for not permitting his club to give up on the season even though it lost five of the first six games. He decisively outcoached and outwitted his mentor on the New England sideline today.

It was nice to see him smile in the game's final seconds after looking as though he was having a gastric attack for the first 59 minutes. Maybe the Gatorade shower loosened him up.

The Browns' performance in the last three games coincides with the insertion of Colt McCoy at quarterback. The rookie has played like anything but a rookie as the Browns' offense has stepped up and rescued what had been a defense in desperate search of someone to put points on the board and take off some pressure.

McCoy, whose seemingly unflappable approach to the game is most uncommon in someone so young, was clearly the linchpin against the Patriots as he outplayed Tom Brady. The Cleveland offense hasn't looked this steady since . . . well, I can't remember when.

His infectious approach to the game seems to have invigorated offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, whose heretofore stodgy schemes seem to have disappeared. That touchdown run by Chansi Stuckey that gave the Browns a 17-7 lead late in the second quarter was pure brilliance.

Never saw a wide receiver line up directly behind the right guard, almost hiding and close enough where he could smack the guy in the behind, then take a quick handoff from Joshua Cribbs in the Wildcat and score on a misdirection play from 11 yards out. It sent a message to the Patriots that this was not going to be any ordinary Sunday afternoon in Cleveland.

McCoy's success also seems to have spilled over and affected the creative juices of defensive of coordinator Rob Ryan, whose unorthodox schemes baffled and befuddled Brady all afternoon. Just like the Saints' Drew Brees a couple of weeks back, Brady had all kinds of problems with his pre-snap reads because of all the milling around the Cleveland defense did before the snap.

Rarely did we see as many as three hands on the ground at the snap. Linebackers lined up on the defensive line. Linemen often dropped back into short coverage. Safeties cheated up before dropping back. Brady had no clue whatsoever where the pressure was coming from.

Again, it was reminiscent of Bob Slowik's infamous UFO defense during the inaugural season in 1999. The big difference now is this scheme is much more organized with everyone knowing exactly what to do and where to be at the snap. And it looks as though they're having fun playing it.

Then there's Peyton Hillis, whose 184-yard, two-touchdown afternoon revealed the New England run defense for what it was -- a fraud. What else can you say about the guy, whose pugnacious approach when running with the football has been a pure delight. Where would the team be without him? Rhetorical question.

And to think all it cost the Browns to relocate him from Denver to Cleveland was Brady Quinn, the once and never franchise quarterback. Sure has made General Manager Tom Heckert Jr. look like a genius.

Following the game, Mangini was asked about his starting quarterback against the Jets next Sunday. "Can we really enjoy this moment right here," he said. "We'll talk about it tomorrow and Wednesday and Thursday and Friday."

Nothing wrong with enjoying the moment. But there are going to be plenty of angry fans if McCoy is not under center again against New York. Is there any doubt whatsoever now that he should be taking all the snaps the rest of the season? Barring injury, there is no way Jake Delhomme or Seneca Wallace should start a game from here on out.

McCoy seems to have the knack of making the big play and avoiding mistakes. He threw just one bad pass against the Pats and showed enough escapabaility to complete two crucial third-down passes on rollouts. His greatest asset might be his resourcefulness

And his savvy on a quarterback sneak from his 36-yard line on fourth and a foot midway through the first quarter was outlandishly daring and gutsy. Just when everyone thought he was trying to draw the Patriots offside, he changed the call to a spread formation and picked up three yards after the Patriots reacted to the spread and thinned out the line.

The notion that a player should not lose his starting job to injury is nonsense. Especially when someone like a McCoy comes in and outperforms his predecessors. And especially when it involves the most important position on the team.

Why mess around with what appears to be a plethora of good karma that seems to have enveloped 76 Lou Groza Blvd.? And one of the main reasons for that feeling is the baby-faced kid from Texas.

Enjoy the moment, coach. But don't let it cloud your judgment. You never know. Sticking with McCoy might give you many more enjoyable moments.


  1. boy that mangini sure can coach eh rich?

    oh that's right, you want him fired...

  2. Like I told you, MIke, you wore me down. Go Eric. You're still a very good fan. Don't ever change.

  3. i don't wanna wear you down rich, i want to know why some of you in the media hate eric so bad...or don't think he's the HC to lead this team....

  4. Be patient, Mike. Be patient. I have found that gloating oftentimes comes back and bites you in the behind. Be patient. And don't gloat.

  5. Gloat? about a 3-5 football team? hilarious just kinda make up stuff as you go along

  6. Not about the team, Mike. About the coach.

  7. rich, you should just be happy i read your the look of the number of comments i may be your only reader....

    re eric...he was unfairly crucified from the second he was hired, forgive me if i feel a bit of vindication b/c i see his program starting to come together....however in classic cleveland form, holmgren's ego will get the best of him and fire eric...that's when i'll be done...riddle me this you agree with peter king when he says that if MH wants to coach he should resign and go elsewhere?

  8. If Holmgren is not going to fire Mangini and wants to return to coaching, then yes, he should resign and move on. If he wants to return to the sideline and Cleveland is not in his coaching future, see ya, Mike.

    As for how many people read this blog, I have no idea, but I suspect it's more than just you. You seem to be the only one responding.