Now that was enjoyable
Take it easy, Browns fans. Easy with the euphoria. What you witnessed Sunday at home was your Sunday heroes knocking off a very, very bad football team.
My did the Browns ever look good. It was also very much of a case of the 49ers looking so bad they made the Browns look good.
Well, you wonder, aren’t the Browns bad, too? Yes, of course, but not that bad. What you saw Sunday was maybe the worst team in the National Football League that did not represent the city of Cleveland.
Taking nothing away from their ridiculously easy 24-10 victory over the awful 49ers, the Browns played the kind of game you wont see again the rest of this season.
Check that. Considering the last three opponents on the 2015 schedule, you very well might see that kind of game with the Browns on the receiving end. More on that later.
The Cleveland offensive line, finally, was sharp against the 49ers throughout the game as the offense produced 500 total yards, 230 of them on the ground with Isaiah Crowell galloping for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns and Duke Johnson Jr. chipping in with 78.
With Johnny Manziel confidently guiding the attack and looking more comfortable with every series, Cleveland moved the ball easily on offense, owning the ball for nearly 38 minutes. That enabled the defense to tee off on poor 49ers quarterback Blaine Gabbert.
Gabbert dropped back to throw 40 times and managed to get off only 28. That’s because the frustrated Cleveland pass rush, which entered the game with only 17 sacks and had been considered missing in action since their seven-sack effort against Marcus Mariota in game two, put on a pass rushing clinic against the brutal San Francisco offensive line.
Down went Gabbert nine times, the most sacks for a Browns team since 1993 when the original team (the one now playing in Baltimore) dropped New Orleans Saints quarterback Wade Wilson nine times. Bill Belichick coached that team and his defensive coordinator was Nick Saban.
(For you stats geeks, the club record remains at 11 sacks by the 1984 Browns against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Steve Bartkowski. Sam Rutigliano coached that team and the DC was Marty Schottenheimer.)
Gabbert, who also scrambled for positive yardage on three occasions, was dropped 12 more times after delivering a pass and hurried 17 other times. The relentless Cleveland defense never gave him a chance to deliver a clean ball until the latter stages of the game when defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil went into prevent mode.
Seven players combined for the nine sacks with Armonty Bryant and rookie Nate Orchard each racking up a pair. The manner in which the Browns absolutely manhandled the San Francisco offense and defense allowed them to generally have everything under control to the point where the end result was never in doubt.
They looked, in clearly a comparative sense, like one of the elite teams in the NFL, winning just about every battle in the trenches all afternoon. It was the kind of performance Browns fans are not used to.
If it hadn’t been for the uniforms, you’d have sworn the 49ers played like the sad-sack Browns on both sides of the ball. And the Browns played up to the lofty standards of two other AFC North rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers, as they snapped a couple of ugly losing streaks.
The victory shattered a seven-game losing streak that produced some of the worst football in franchise history and snapped an 11-game losing streak in December games that dates back to exactly four years ago to the day.
One has to wonder just how the Niners entered the game with a 4-8 record, including 2-2 in the last four. Their offense with Gabbert at the helm was, at best, awful. The defense was even worse.
Seven of the 49ers’ 11 possessions ended in a Bradley Pinion punt and two perished on downs. Their deepest penetration in the first half was Cleveland’s 26 and ended in a 44-yard Phil Dawson field goal. Until their scoring drive in the final minutes, their deepest penetration into Cleveland territory in the second half was the 43.
The Browns owned just a 10-3 halftime lead despite holding San Francisco to only 48 total yards in the first half and did almost everything correctly except get into the end zone more frequently.
It seemed as though they caught just about every break in this one. For example, when Manziel was about to be sacked for a safety by Corey Lemonier late in the second quarter, the blitzing linebacker grabbed his facemask, nullifying the safety and prolonging the possession.
And just when it appeared a long Cleveland drive had stalled when Manziel threw an incompletion on a third-and-goal at the San Francisco 6 midway through the fourth quarter, Niners cornerback Marcus Cromartie was flagged for holding.
Crowell, who hasn’t run this well since can’t remember when, scored the second of his two touchdowns from three yards out two plays later to cap a nine-play, 91-yard drive and bump the score to 24-3.
The only negatives in an afternoon filled with positives from just about every angle were a Johnson fumble, a Manziel interception and a special teams lapse that allowed a 36-yard punt return by Bruce Ellington that set up Dawson’s field goal.
Johnson’s bobble was recovered by San Francisco near midfield late in the first quarter, but the defense blunted it five plays later with the first of Orchard’s two sacks on a fourth-and-1 at the Cleveland 30.
The Manziel pick was a result of committing the cardinal sin of never throwing late over the middle. That’s exactly what the Cleveland quarterback did late in the second quarter, throwing against his body while scrambling left. San Francisco safety Jaquiski Tartt cut in front of intended receiver Brian Hartline for an easy interception. But again, the Cleveland transition defense forced a Pinion punt.
Manziel, 21 of 31 for 270 yards, recovered nicely in the second half, teaming with tight end Gary Barnidge for his lone touchdown throw from two yards in the final seconds of the third quarter. The eight-play, 78-yard drive featured connections of 34 yards to Hartline and 21 yards to Barnidge.
It was a fun game to watch from beginning to end. Not once did Cleveland fans have to wonder how the Browns would blow this one. So little went wrong, however, fans naturally wonder why the Browns cant play this like this more often. The answer to that one is easy. San Francisco is not on their schedule often enough.
So enjoy it, Browns fans. This very well might be the last time you feel this euphoric following a Cleveland victory this season with the likes of Seattle (away), Kansas City (away) and Pittsburgh dead ahead.