Monday, October 15, 2012

Monday leftovers

Lost in the euphoria of the Browns’ victory over Cincinnati Sunday was a comment made by Montario Hardesty that bears close scrutiny.

“We got our stadium back today,” said the Cleveland running back, who filled in admirably when Trent Richardson went down with a rib injury. “It was great. The crowd was going crazy. Now we have to build on that feeling.”

Hardesty got one thing right. Yes, the club has to build on the feeling, but he doesn’t take into consideration just why the 67,000 in attendance reacted as they did.

This is Hardesty’s third season with the Browns, meaning he has witnessed, one way or the other, the behavior of a Cleveland crowd in 19 games during that time. Injuries have limited his participation, so he hasn’t attended all those games.

What he fails to understand is the frustration of Browns fans down through the years since 1999 at the ineptitude of the team, especially at home. They are used to seeing their team lose.

The Browns are 38-69 in 107 home games at Cleveland Browns Stadium for a winning percentage of .355. So much for home-field advantage. And in the 13-plus seasons since the return in 1999, the Browns have had only one winning season.

That was in 2007 when they dropped the opening game of the season to Pittsburgh, then ran off seven straight victories and fell just short of the playoffs. Now that was a truly euphoric season except for the abrupt ending. Since that season, the Browns are 11-24 at CBS.

They came close to a winning home season in 2001 and 2005 when they split the eight games. Other than that, it’s been mostly 2-6 and 3-5. The last three seasons have been a consistent 3-5.

One game like Sunday’s against the Bengals does not mean or insure the Browns got their stadium back. What it means is that on one Sunday in mid-October, the fans reacted as they did because not only were they overjoyed, they were surprised almost beyond belief.

They paid good money and were rewarded with the kind performance they have longed for since CBS opened in 1999. Games like that don’t come along very often on the lakefront, but when they do, reactions like Sunday’s occur.

Players quite often allow themselves to get caught up in the euphoria of such a victory. But when they allow themselves to closely examine the situation, they can’t help but notice that winning is the ultimate aphrodisiac to the fans.

Winning at CBS is such a rarity, it’s almost as the fans don’t quite know how to react when the scoreboard reveals the Browns have scored more points than their opponent on that day when zeroes adorn the scoreboard.

We’ll know a whole lot better by late afternoon on Nov. 25 whether Hardesty’s brag holds any legitimacy. By then, the Browns will have played home games against San Diego, Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

If they can hold serve at CBS against those teams, then we can look back on what Hardesty proclaimed Sunday and say, “Well done.” Until then, however, we remain skeptical.
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The last time the Browns scored at least 21 points in a quarter, as they did in the fourth quarter of the Cincinnati victory, they lost the game. They put up 24 points in the first quarter in Detroit against the Lions, then went on to lose the game, 38-37, on Nov. 22, 2009.

That was the game, you recall, that rookie Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford hit tight end Brandon Pettigrew with a one-yard scoring pass on an untimed play. The previous play, a Hail Mary by Stafford, resulted in a pass interference call on Cleveland defensive back Hank Poteat in the end zone with no time left in regulation.

Since a game cannot end on a defensive penalty unless it is declined, the Lions were awarded the ball on the one-yard line. Stafford injured his non-throwing shoulder on the play and was taken off the field. Daunte Culpepper took his place, but never ran a play.

That’s because Browns coach Eric Mangini called a timeout to make certain he had the right personnel on the field. Then he inexplicably called another timeout. This allowed Stafford to lobby Jim Schwartz to go back into the game. The Lions coach complied and the rest is history.

Stafford completed his fifth touchdown pass of the afternoon to Pettigrew, stealing yet another victory from the Browns. Ironically, it was arguably the best day of Cleveland quarterback Brady Quinn’s career. He threw for 304 yards and four scoring passes.
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For someone as tall as Brandon Weeden, it’s somewhat of a concern to see four of his passes either knocked down or tipped at or near the line of scrimmage. One of them wound up as his only interception of the day.

At nearly 6-4, there is no reason anyone should be getting a hand on his passes. It is obvious he’s going to have to adjust his release point or else this could become a nagging problem.

Most of the tips or deflections have come when he backpedals after setting up under center. When in the shotgun, the ball comes out of his hand quicker because defensive linemen have farther to travel to get to him. It should not be too difficult an adjustment for him.
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Notebook: Did anyone notice the Browns held the Bengals to just 76 yards on the ground Sunday? Either the Bengals’ offensive line is worse than I thought, or the Browns’ defensive line is maturing rapidly. Rookie defensive tackles Billy Winn and John Hughes didn’t generate much of a pass rush, but the holes for Bengals running backs were non-existent. . . . Very quietly, rookie offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz is having a solid season. The big guy from California still needs to work on his run blocking, but his pass pro is a lot better than I thought it would be. . . . John Greco did a nice jobs filling in for flu-ridden Jason Pinkston at left guard. When Pinkston returns, it might not be a bad idea to let Greco take over for Shawn Lauvao at right guard. . . . Don’t look now, but Phil Dawson is perfect on his 12 field-goal attempts this season. Pay the man. . . . Owen Marecic might be an adequate blocking back, but the Browns should remove all pass plays involving the fullback from the playbook. Two more drops Sunday. . . . Joshua Cribbs looked like his old self on his 61-yard punt return and 44-yard kickoff return. He’s getting close to breaking one. . . . Now that we know Josh Gordon can stretch the field and Weeden can find him, let’s see if he can be relied on with the short and intermediate routes as well.

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