Red Right 88

Cleveland sports fan and sports writer

Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

quit my job decided to drive west

Monday, October 18, 2010

McCoy bright spot on gloomy day

Like most, I braced myself for the worst: A talented and mean Pittsburgh defense fired up to play at home.

So when that goon James Harrison did what goons do and knocked Josh Cribbs and Mohammad Massaquoi out of the game with dirty helmet-to-helmet hits, I was more than prepared for an ugly performance from the Browns offense.

A wet-behind-his-ears Colt McCoy making his first NFL start looked around the Browns huddle and he didn’t find many weapons at his disposal.

The Steeler defense was sure to key on the human wrecking ball Peyton Hillis who was valiantly playing through pain.

Other than Joe Jurevicius’ spirit possessing the body of Evan Moore, McCoy was left with a receiving core of Brian “The Invisible Man” Robiskie, Chansi “Stone Hands” Stuckey and Ben “Gator Arms” Watson.

I was not a fan of drafting McCoy in the third round. I was not convinced he was anything more than Brady Quinn 2.0.

The kid won me over.

It did not take long for McCoy to get his jersey dirty. The Browns offensive line in the first half looked like a chain-link fence trying to hold back a tsunami. McCoy was on his back after every passing play.

With Cribbs out, the Browns’ game plan was put into the shredder. No one would have blamed McCoy for panicking. No one would have blamed him for failing.

Instead McCoy showed something that has been missing in this endless parade of young Browns quarterbacks since the parade — moxie.

McCoy showed leadership. He threw strong accurate passes. In the second half, the Steelers knew McCoy had to throw the ball.

The offensive line played a little better and McCoy stood tall threading passes into tight spaces.

I’m not saying McCoy is the answer. But you have to admire how the kid handled his first big test.

McCoy completed 23 of 33 passes for 281 yards. He had a touchdown and two interceptions — neither as ugly as the ones veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace threw in the first two games of the season.

McCoy’s throw to Evan Moore down the sideline in the fourth quarter was a thing of beauty.

It was the type of throw that in a lost 1-5 season that makes you consider letting the kid keep the keys to the offense even if Delhomme or Wallace gets healthy.

No matter how hard he was hit, McCoy dusted himself off and went right back to the fire.

You have to believe that McCoy won over the locker room with his performance. Something Brady Quinn was never able to accomplish.

During the fourth quarter I was frustrated — frustrated because the Browns seemed so close.

At the start of the game, a blowout seemed inevitable. But while a win was never likely the Browns held their own against a team ranked No. 1 in many power polls.

Before Stuckey’s bone-headed fumbled punt, the Browns were close enough to at least daydream of a lucky bounce leading to a stolen victory.

Despite the losses, I like this Browns team.

There is a serious talent gap and few players who need a kick in the butt (looking at you Eric Wright) but overall this team plays like I want a Browns team to play. They are tough and disciplined.

I think Eric Mangini and his staff is doing a great job. Brian Daboll rightfully takes a lot of abuse, but after losing Cribbs I thought he opened up the playbook just enough to protect McCoy yet let him be an NFL quarterback.

This Browns team is not that far away. Other than a lack of wins, I like what I am seeing. This is not an embarrassing 1-5 team with no future. The Browns are getting closer.

While that is not satisfying now, count me in on the Holmgren-Heckert-Mangini Kool-Aid. There is a light at the end of this decade-long tunnel of darkness.

I really believe that.

Could be all downhill from here

As sad as it sounds, I think we witnessed the apex of the Browns 2010 season.

You can measure the Browns relevance by my blood pressure. In the first half of the Browns game against the Falcons, the women and children needed to be hidden.

It has been a long time since my television took such abuse. Bad football teams are not worth getting upset over. But in the first half — for the first time in a while — you could call the Browns prescription strength beta-blocker worthy.

There was tough defensive football. Helmet rattling hits, strong coverage and good pressure.

There was a real identity on offense. As Peyton Hillis demanded the full attention of the defense, Seneca Wallace could pick and choose to find young open wide receivers.

Special teams continued to prove to be one of the best units in the NFL. For the second straight week, a field goal was blocked. The Falcons were giving up field position to avoid Josh Cribbs.

This was a Browns team to be proud of and one worth getting riled up about. Each play was intense. Any small mistake from the home team led to an explosion of expletives. Every good play had me ready to hit someone.

The Browns had me fully engaged. A corner had been turned; the Browns were once again a real NFL team.

And then …

I can’t really be that upset about what turned out to be a Browns loss. There was a reason Jake Delhomme did not start the game at quarterback. The NFL is hard enough to play in on two good ankles. You can’t beat an NFL defense with one leg. I am not going to boo an injured guy for gutting it out.

The Browns were in the game in the fourth quarter and both their quarterback and running back could barely walk. When Wallace went down, I am not sure what choice the Browns had. Colt McCoy is not ready for prime time and I love Josh Cribbs as much as anyone but the man is not an NFL quarterback.

As fans it is easy to say, “run the Flash for the rest of the game,” but you can’t expect Eric Mangini to look at his players in the eye in the locker room by running a gimmick instead of trusting a veteran quarterback who is a leader in the locker room.

I feel bad for Delhomme. He has always been a fighter. Undrafted after playing at Southwestern Louisiana, at one point he was a backup to NFL Europe behind a former grocery bag boy named Kurt Warner.

He deserves better than to limp out of the game this way.

Delhomme fought and scratched his way to a starting position in the NFL. He led the Carolina Panthers to Super Bowl XXXVIII and then an appearance in the 2005 NFC title game. His career was threatened by Tommy John surgery but he bounced back to the lead the Panthers to the playoffs in 2008. But on his 34th birthday he threw five interceptions against Arizona.

That bad mojo followed him into the 2009 season. It was a disaster. This was supposed to be his chance at redemption. It is easy to daydream at how different this Browns season could have gone if he hadn’t hurt his ankle on that interception return against Tampa Bay.

And as thrilling as Hillis has been, a human body can only take so much abuse. The man will forever have my undying respect but he is never going to last a full season at this pace.

I am proud of the Browns but without a healthy quarterback or running back, this 2010 season is about to get ugly. Up next on the schedule are four legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

The truth is I will always be a Browns fan no matter what happens but despite the losses, I actually like this team. That hasn’t been true for a while. However I get the feeling that Sunday’s blocked field goal is going to be the high water mark of the season.

Another double-digit loss season is on the way. I have confidence in the Browns coaching staff so I don’t think this Browns team will quit. They will win just enough games to fall out the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.

And you know the saying about luck.