Sunday, December 12, 2010

What a revoltin' development

How inept were the Browns on offense Sunday against the Buffalo Bills? The 2-10 coming-into-the-game Buffalo Bills? The worst-in-the-National Football League-against-the-run Buffalo Bills? The embarrassingly-bad Buffalo Bills?

Let's start with nine first downs all afternoon. That's right, NINE. And one was by penalty. Now throw in 187 yards of total offense, sprinkle in a measly 23 minutes and 50 seconds of possession, add a dash of a paltry 46 plays from scrimmage on offense and, just for good measure, conclude with never crossing midfield in five second-half possessions.

Inept enough for you? No? How about five fumbles, a crucial interception from Captain Interception himself, Jake Delhomme, and three turnovers in the 13-6 loss? The Browns create six turnovers against Jacksonville and lose. They gift the Bills with three turnovers and . . . lose.

Hmmmm. What's wrong with this picture?

Any more inept a performance and you would have thought you were watching a bad college football team. No, make that a bad Division III football team.

And no, it's not just one game. It's not just a blip on the radar. An aberration. This kind of game has been coming for weeks now.

In snapping a deceiving two-game winning streak, the Browns on this afternoon wound up as the embarrassed team, sinking to a season low. They didn't play any better or worse -- well, maybe a little worse on offense -- than they did in victories over Carolina or Miami the last two weeks, except that luck played a major role in them.

The impact of this loss also could have a far reaching effect on the job status of coach Eric Mangini, whose emotional roller-coaster of a season has taken a severe hit. Losing to Buffalo, especially in this manner, cannot sit well with President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert Jr.

If these two gentlemen are not seething over this loss, then something is terribly wrong (again) with the Browns' front office. There is no excuse for this kind of performance. None. Not even the cold, drizzly Buffalo weather can be used as an excuse. The 5-7 Browns should have handily defeated the woeful Bills.

Instead, they played an awful game. Anyone who denies this needs to either visit his ophthalmologist immediately or buy a book about football and learn something about the game.

The defense played well enough to win except for some sloppy tackling -- shocking!! -- in the latter stages when it was obvious the Bills were going to stay on the ground and run out the clock. No, the offense takes sole responsibility for this loss.

The Browns clearly were ill-prepared when they owned the ball. The play calling lacked imagination and creativity. Howdy Doody could have called a better game than Brian Daboll, whose tenure as the club's offensive coordinator should end somewhere around 5 p.m. on Jan. 2, an hour after the regular season concludes.

They kept running the same dive play with Peyton Hills over and over again. On their initial possession of the game, Daboll called Hillis' number on three straight dive plays after the Browns reached the Buffalo 5. They gained four yards. It was as though the Bills knew exactly what was coming. The Browns had to settle for a Phil Dawson field goal.

Where was the play fake to Hillis and Delhomme looking for a wide open Ben Watson in the end zone as the Bills bite on the play fake? Where was the quick fade to Mo Massaquoi? Or a spread formation to loosen up the Buffalo defense? Where was the creativity?

Hard to believe this is the same team that defeated the New Orleans Saints and New England Patriots what seemed like a half season ago and played the New York Jets tough enough to extend them to overtime before losing. In three consecutive games, the Browns looked like a team on the verge of becoming consistently competitive. Those teams today are a combined 30-9.

The new and improved Browns even had national pundits taking a more serious look at them. Hey, maybe this new Browns team is legit, they wrote. Let's pay more attention to them.

After this game, however, forget it. You can bet that kind of attention is going to disappear. Once again, the Browns slink back below the radar and out of the consciousness of NFL fans.

Perhaps it's a coincidence, but the Cleveland quarterback in those three games was Colt McCoy. Because if isn't just happenstance, the rookie's sore high ankle sprain can't heal quickly enough if Mangini has any hopes of saving his job.

It was thought at the beginning of the season that the coach was on a short leash. He needed to wind up better than his 5-11 debut in Cleveland last season to get at least a third year. A victory over the Bills with 2-10 Cincinnati coming up next Sunday gave optimistic Mangini supporters hope. A 7-7 record heading into the final two weeks back home against Baltimore and Pittsburgh looked promising.

If those supporters now don't have at least a shred of doubt in their minds about their guy after watching the Browns out-inept the Bills, then blind faith has found a new path.

For a while Sunday, it looked as though luck again was riding shotgun with the Cleveland offense. During their second series in the third quarter, the Browns fumbled three times and, amazingly, recovered all three. It was a most bizarre possession that covered nine plays, gained a net 24 yards and earned two first downs, one on an illegal contact call.

There was no reason whatsoever for Cleveland to take the Bills lightly. But it sure looked that way, especially in the second half with the game there to be taken. And the Browns, specifically Delhomme and the overrated offensive line, simply blew it.

There is no excuse for only 58 yards of offense on five possessions in the final 30 minutes. No excuse for just 23 plays. And definitely no excuse for a pathetic three first downs.

According to what we've been told, Delhomme was brought here for his leadership abilities. Right now, those abilities are leading the Browns -- and Mangini -- toward a season-ending disaster. The season concludes with games against their three AFC North buddies, two of whom own 18 victories between them.

If those buds help the Browns close out the season on a bitter note, Mangini might not be able to talk his way back to Berea for next season. And Sunday's loss in Buffalo might very well be the catalyst for his departure.

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