A Browns win that feels like a loss
For the first time in three weeks, the Browns won a football game. Yet, it still felt like a loss.
The Carolina Panthers, the team with the worst record in the NFL, rolled into town with a rookie quarterback, Jimmy Clausen, that missed last week’s game with a concussion.
The Browns did their best to lose the game, but won thanks mostly to Panthers kicker John Kasay missing two makeable field goals and the Panthers self-destructing with stupid penalties to extend Browns’ drives.
Once again on a final drive, Browns defenders forgot how to tackle and Clausen put his team in position to win the game. Honestly, the Browns lost the game but Kasay gift-wrapped it back into the win column.
A loss would have been devastating and perhaps all the goodwill Eric Mangini and his team had built this year with the fans would have vanished. Sure the Browns won, but it doesn’t completely mask my disappointment in how the team played.
The game started full of promise. On the Browns’ first four possessions, we caught a glimpse of what the Browns brain trust was thinking when they signed Jake Delhomme to be the starting quarterback in the offseason. The offense looked crisp as the Browns marched up and down the field. Facing the team he once led to the Super Bowl, Delhomme found a way to get the Browns young receivers into the flow. Invisible man Brian Robiskie was a real contributor as he caught seven passes after entering the game with only nine catches in the season and only 16 in his so far ill-fated NFL career. Delhomme was able to use the entire field and that opened up running lanes for Peyton Hillis. The bruising running back from Arkansas scored on three of the Browns first four possessions. The Browns were poised to score on the another possession as well, but Evan Moore was stripped of the ball inside the 5-yard line after catching a pass for what would have been a first down.
But then with the Browns seemingly in command with a 21-7 lead, the dark side of Jake Delhomme came out. As his former team and its fans can attest, there are two sides to Delhomme. He is a nice charming guy. He is a leader in the locker room and on the field. He can still make plays as evidenced by the Browns first four drives of the game. But his dark side is sometimes he just can’t help himself. He thinks he can make every play and that confidence gets him in trouble. It started slowly. Early in the game on one play all Delhomme had to do was throw the ball out of bounds but instead inexplicability Delhomme just tossed it forward. It could have been a disaster instead it was just a dumb grounding penalty.
Late in the half, after Carolina had crept within eight with a pair of field goals, conservative wisdom said the Browns should just run the ball up the middle grind out the clock and a take a lead into halftime. But armed with three timeouts, aggressive wisdom said go get some more points. Mangini let Delhomme try and it almost blew up in his face. Faced with a strong Carolina pass rush, Delhomme just couldn’t help himself. Rather than throw the ball away, he tried to force things. He was stripped of the ball and but fortunately a teammate fell on it.
At halftime, Hillis had 70 yards rushing on only 10 carries. So to start the second half, Delhomme came out gunslinging. His first pass was an interception but the Panthers failed to capitalize because Kasay missed a field goal.
After one Hillis rush, Delhomme went back to the air and Captain Munnerlyn, yes that is his real name, had an easy pick-six. Just like that, the Panthers were back into the game, down 21-20.
One of the reasons fans have attached themselves to Colt McCoy as the quarterback of the future is that despite his youth, McCoy plays smart football. Like all rookies, he makes mistakes but his mistakes haven’t been fatal ones. Delhomme is a veteran quarterback that takes too many chances. When the Browns found themselves down 23-21 with less than seven minutes to play, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll showed his trust in Delhomme opting to pass than run. Delhomme drove the Browns down the field but every time he dropped back to pass, I, and I imagine Browns fans everywhere, held their breathe. But Delhomme got the Browns in field-goal range and the points somehow held up.
Delhomme is a capable quarterback. We saw that in the first half. But it is hard for a player to change his stripes. The Browns aim to be a running football team. They want to pound on and punish defenses, and they need a quarterback that plays it smart. Not passive but intelligently aggressive. McCoy with his accuracy looks to be that kind of quarterback. He has surprised me with his moxie and ability to lead. The keys to the offense should be his once he heals. Delhomme’s dark side confirmed that.