Sunday, October 28, 2012

From Sadness to Gladness

Does the following sound familiar to Browns fans?

Your team scored seven points Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. After scoring on the first possession of the game, they owned the ball nine more times. And punted nine times.

That was the sum total of what the Browns had to offer on offense all afternoon. After Trent Richardson galloped 26 yards to score the Browns’ only touchdown of the afternoon, the scoring cupboard was bare.

Nine subsequent possessions yielded 48 plays, which gained a net total of 157 yards during the very windy and very wet afternoon inside Cleveland Browns Stadium.

When the Browns score seven points in a game, chances are extremely high that they lose that game. That’s just the way it’s been for this team ever since the return in 1999.

And when Reggie Hodges punts on nine consecutive possessions, no matter the weather conditions, it’s not incorrect to expect the Browns to come out on the wrong end of the final score. Again.

It’s part of the DNA of a Browns fan. They can’t help themselves. They have come to expect disappointments. Those disappointments come in all different shapes and sizes and emotions. But they still keep on coming.

Oh, and one more item before we move on.

The Browns did have one more possession. They ran the last two plays of the game from the victory formation. Yep, the kneel-down formation teams run in the final moments of game when they have the lead and the opponent is out of timeouts.

As improbable as that sounds, the Browns somehow, some way, managed to eke out a 7-6 victory over the Chargers, but not without several cardiac moments down the stretch.

Before we get to those moments, we bring you two highlights that now allow Chargers fans to know exactly how Browns fans feel when victory literally slips through their fingers.

Nine minutes left in the third quarter and the Browns playing conservatively on defense. Ball is at the San Diego 49-yard line, third and 9.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers drops back and throws a perfect pass right down the middle to wide receiver Robert Meachem who splits two Cleveland defensive backs . . . and drops the ball at the 20-yard line with nothing but green in front him.

Normally, that happens to the Browns. Isn’t that right, Josh Gordon?

Now, let’s move to midway in the fourth quarter. The Browns are pinned deep in their end by a Mike Scifres punt. Second and 6 after a Chris Ogbonnaya four-yard run from the three. For whatever reason, the Browns don’t line up soon enough to run a play and coach Pat Shurmur, clearly perturbed, calls a timeout.

On second-and 6, Brandon Weeden attempts to dump off a pass to tight end Alex Smith in the right flat, but San Diego linebacker Melvin Ingram gets a hand on it at the line of scrimmage it and deflects into the air at the 5-yard line.

Chargers safety Atari Bigby latches onto the ball . . . and drops it. Five yards from giving the San Diego a 13-7 lead and he drops it.

Again, that normally happens to the Browns.

Fate? Maybe? There are times when certain events are meant to happen.

The residue of hard work? Maybe.

As it turned out, the Browns, who failed to run a play in the red zone all afternoon, converted the third down, taking precious time off the clock, and moved the ball to the San Diego 46 before Hodges’ final punt.

Add it all up and there is only one word you can use to aptly explain what took place in these two scenarios.

The Browns were lucky. But when the final score is entered into the record books, no one will be able to tell whether luck played a part in the outcome. That’s the beauty of the final score. It stands alone and means only one thing.

But like most close Browns games, this one did not come without its moments of trepidation and flat out fear. It came down to the Chargers' final possession. Doesn’t it always seem that way?

Much like they did in the final moments of the first half when they played The Price Is Right defense and invited the Chargers to come on down by playing the dreaded prevent (the victory) defense, they allowed the Chargers to march from their 12-yard line to the Cleveland 45 in five plays.

Here we go again, chanted a good deal of Browns Nation. Another heartbreaking loss in the Factory of Sadness on the way.

Nick Novak, who had kicked two earlier field goals for the Chargers, warmed up on the sideline as Browns fans nervously chewed their fingernails down to the quick or what was left of it. All the Chargers had to do was get to the Cleveland 30 in order to give Novak a decent shot at a game-winning field goal.

Browns fans braced themselves for the inevitable. It had happened far too often to think otherwise.

Rivers, inconsistent all afternoon, failed to connect with tight end Dante Rosario and running back Ryan Mathews on the first two downs. He went right back to Rosario on third down, but the Browns all but mugged him. No flag.

Take a deep breath and please pass the nitro tablet.

OK, fourth down and ball game. Here we go.

Uh, no we don’t. Not yet. Norv Turner calls his final timeout. The Chargers coach sure knows how to ratchet up the suspense.

More time to worry. More time to wonder just how the Chargers are going to pull this one out. Surely, All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates, who had been targeted just four times and caught just two passes, is going to be the primary target. Where’s that nitro tablet?

OK, here we go. Fourth and ball game.

Rivers drops back, has the time to throw despite a furious Cleveland pass rush, and finds Malcolm Floyd open deep enough down the middle to give the Chargers a first down.

Just before the spiral reaches Floyd, cornerback Buster Skrine stretches his hand as far as it could go in front of Floyd and flicks the ball away harmlessly.

Ball game. Time for the victory formation.

It is said that winning teams win because they know how to close out games. And losing teams lose because they do not. But on this afternoon, the hard-luck Browns found the right variety of luck to win.

On this afternoon, the Factory of Sadness was turned into the Factory of Gladness.

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