Browns not ready to be the team we want them to be
It was everything I feared it would be.
This was the one game on the Browns schedule that every fan and media member circled as winnable.
Despite the fact that every year, except one, since the return the Browns have opened the season at home with a loss — opening at home is powerful advantage for most NFL teams. For example through the early games in week one, only Miami won on the road against lowly Buffalo.
Nothing in the NFL is handed to you. While the Vegas odds-makers wisely had the Buccaneers two and half point favorites, if anyone picked Tampa Bay to beat the Browns I wasn’t aware of it.
Browns fans felt entitled to this game and I was afraid maybe the players would be as well. I expected the Browns to lose this game and my worst fears came true.
Throw out the four-game winning streak from the end of last season. Winning in the NFL when you are expected to win is an entirely different animal.
This Browns team still has to learn how to win. It is why, despite the Browns talent being upgraded, I doubt the Browns record will improve much this season.
If somehow Jake Delhomme became a steady influence ... If the Browns young receivers and backs develop into playmakers ... If the infusion of young talent in the secondary allows the pass rush that extra second to get to the quarterback … If, if, if ...
For a few brief moments in the first half, Browns fans were able to dream. The team was looking good.
Delhomme was threading passes. Peyton Hillis was running over people. Jerome Harrison was running past people. The defense was making plays and forcing threes and out.
With a minute and half remaining in the first half, Mike Adams intercepted Josh Freeman averting what looked to be a Tampa Bay scoring drive.
My first thought was that Eric Mangini would run the ball up the middle a few times and head for the locker room with 14-3 lead. No one would have blamed him.
When the Browns instead opened up the offense, I admit I thought it was a good thing. I even said aloud, "Mangini must really believe in his offense."
Belief is a powerful weapon. It can help one rise to a higher level but it can also lead to bad decisions.
Of course a few plays later, Jake Delhomme returned to his gunslinger roots. Under pressure, he forced a throw and just like that the Bucs got new life and the entire storyline of the game was altered.
I don’t blame Mangini at all. The Browns were not that far from Phil Dawson’s range and frankly, Mangini needed to show faith in his quarterback. He was not rewarded.
Jake Delhomme let down his teammates. I am sure he will be the first to say it. Delhomme is a standup guy but his reckless take-chances nature always to seem to find a way out. Carolina fans know this all too well.
Delhomme is a double-edged sword. He is the grizzled veteran the young kids on the team need but at the same time his young team isn’t talented enough to overcome his aggressive mistakes.
The Browns allowed a young Bucs team to stay in the game, and as the game wore on Tampa Bay seized control.
The Browns didn’t take care of the ball, and on the road in the NFL, that proves costly. The result is a loss to a team that will probably end the NFL season with one of the worst records in the league.
The two guys Browns fans love most also did not have great games. While Hillis thrilled Browns fans early with his bowling ball running ability, he fumbled twice. We all love Josh Cribbs for his fearlessness, but it is not smart football to not call a fair catch when an opponent is standing next to you. While only one of those plays became a turnover, it showed the delicate balance between guts and stupidity.
We will see this a lot this season. The Browns will show flashes of what Browns fans want them to be — but the Browns are not quite ready to be that team for four quarters, let alone a weekly basis.
So the opening game was a disappointment and that was nothing new. But I am not ready to say these are the same old Browns. Progress is being made. The talent is better. Many of the mistakes were correctable. The Browns will be much more competitive this season.
It just does not appear that the Browns will able the measure that progress in wins — which of course is where it counts.