Sunday, October 12, 2014

Seeing is believing

It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, and the way it does, the sweet taste of victory becomes that much sweeter.

What the Browns did to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday at home falls under the category of a good, old-fashioned whupping. It was a beatdown the likes of which Browns fans have hungered for way too many years.

The 31-10 final in no way indicates how much the Browns owned this game and moved to 3-2 in the process. They embarrassed the Steelers in the final three quarters in a way the Steelers are not accustomed to.

Browns Nation enjoyed every second of it. It was only one game, but the amount of damage inflicted in the final 45 minutes in some small way made up for the club’s dismal performances against Pittsburgh in the past. A lot of demons were excised.

If this was a statement game, then the Browns punctuated it with a truckload of exclamation points. It was an unfair fight after the first quarter with the Browns playing bully to the Steelers’ 98-pound weakling.

It counted for only one victory in the standings, but oh, what a victory. At the same time, it sounded a clarion call to the rest of the National Football League that the dark clouds that have hovered over Cleveland are beginning to dissipate.

The Factory of Sadness was the Factory of Pure, Unadulterated Joy Sunday. You can bet that feeling will linger a few extra days longer this week, mostly because it was the dreaded Steelers.

For the first time this season, the Browns did not have to come back from an early deficit. No last-second game-winning field goals by the opposition to ruin a good effort.

No, this one was decided early and decisively with the Browns, trailing by three after a quarter, putting 31 unanswered points on the board, 21 in the second quarter, before the Steelers scored their only touchdown with 2½ minutes left in the game.

No wondering if the Browns were going to blow this one and if they were, how they were going to do it. No reaching for the nitro tablets or indigestion meds. This was a smooth ride for the game’s last 45 minutes.

It was as though the Browns were playing an April Fool’s joke on the fans in the first 15 minutes. The offense ran six plays for minus-8 yards and a couple of punts. After going three and out on their first possession, the Pittsburgh offense ran 18 plays (15 runs, three passes) from scrimmage for 81 yards.  

Many of those 81 yards came after contact with Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount shedding tacklers along the way as though they were not there. The Cleveland defense looked hopeless.

But the best the Steelers could get out of all that was a Shaun Suisham field goal. A bad hold by punter Brad Wing on a second field-goal attempt seemed innocent enough considering the way the Browns were playing.

Then, just like that, it turned. Everything turned. It was a though a switch was thrown. The defense started shutting down Ben Roethlisberger and the offense. And the offense began executing pretty much the way it has all season, moving the ball with comparative ease.

Just fooling, the Browns seemed to be saying to the fans. This is what you really came to watch. Sit back. Please enjoy. And they did.

The Steelers, who punted seven times in 13 possessions, owned the ball for 13 minutes and 23 seconds on their first three possessions and came away with just the field goal. It turned out to be a sign of things to come.

The Browns turned the second quarter, their demon quarter this season (outscored, 55-16, in those 15 minutes) into a Pittsburgh nightmare. The offense scored touchdowns on three consecutive possessions and the defense started making plays.

On their third possession of the game, the Browns marched 68 yards in five plays, taking only 1:51 off  the clock, Isaiah Crowell blasting five yards off right tackle for the score. They key play was a beautifully conceived and executed 42-yard pass from Brian Hoyer to Jordan Cameron.

It should have been a touchdown on the misdirection, roll left and throwback right to the wide-open Cameron at the Pittsburgh 25, but it was slightly underthrown. Crowell finished the job on the next play  as the Browns went no-huddle.

Following a poor Pittsburgh punt, Hoyer and Cameron struck again on a play fake, the quarterback hitting his tight end in stride to compete a 51-yard scoring play just two minutes after Crowell scored. A great block in pass protection by tight end Gary Barnidge from the backside saved the play.

The offense was now on a roll, playing with a confidence that hasn’t been seen on that side of the ball since the 2007 season when Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards played pitch and catch and Jamal Lewis ran wild.

The defense took the cue, forcing a four-and-out, and the Cleveland offense crafted an 11-play, 85-yard scoring drive that burned 5:07 off the clock, Ben Tate capping the drive with an 8-yard cutback run. He scored again in the fourth quarter on a 1-yard dive following a Buster Skrine interception.

Three straight second-quarter touchdowns in just 19 plays covering 213 yards and just a little more than eight minutes is the kind of production one normally associates with a smooth-running offense. Not Cleveland’s. Until now.

The Browns are averaging a shade less than 27 points a game and have scored at least 21 points in all five games. And the defense came up with its best effort of the season.

There was no second-half comeback for the Steelers on this day. A late touchdown pass by Roethlisberger, who fell to 18-2 against the Browns, made the final more respectable if you consider a 31-10 drubbing more respectable.

The manner in which this victory was achieved is the surprising factor here. It was a shocking display of the kind of football for which Browns Nation has longingly yearned. It was enough to make those fans blink just to make certain their eyes were not deceiving them.

Were those really the Cleveland Browns? Were those really the Pittsburgh Steelers? Are you sure they didn’t switch uniforms while we weren’t looking?

We’ll know a lot more next Sunday when the Browns travel down to Jacksonville to meet the winless Jaguars, who surrender 31 points a game.

Danger, Will Robinson, danger.

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