OK, OK, I know. One game. Slow your roll, as the kids say (I think.) A little more than a decade ago, Pettine was coaching high school football and now he’s leading the Browns. No way, you say. Pettine’s tenure, like the previous coaching disasters that have blown through this city since 1999, will surely end poorly for him and this team in the near future.
Maybe not. Here’s why.
First, let’s focus on that turnaround against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opening loss. Yes, it was ultimately another opening day loss by the Browns, but you can’t deny how different the team played that second half. Whatever was said at halftime lit a fire under this team that carried over into the home opening win over the New Orleans Saints last Sunday.
Second, there was the first-quarter fourth down attempt by the Browns last Sunday. On the team’s second possession, the Browns faced a fourth and 1 at the Saints’ 5-yard-line. There was no score. The game was early. How often, in this situation, did we see Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur and/or Rob Chudzinski kick the field goal?
Too damn often.
Pettine asked his team to get him a single yard. The team responded. One play later the Browns were in the end zone with a 7-0, not 3-0, lead.
Third, and final point, was when the Browns took possession with 2:46 left to play in the game at their own 4-yard-line and needed to go a LONG way just to attempt a field goal. The Browns had all three timeouts.
Don’t let this fact escape you. This was very important to the Browns winning.
With all three time outs more plays were available to this offense that allowed them to march down the field. Again, too often in past regimens we saw precious second-half timeouts getting burned left and right. Having those timeouts toward the end of the game is a big positive toward an organized coaching staff that has the right players in the right positions.
Look, I’m not saying after two games Mike Pettine is the reincarnation of Paul Brown. The handling of Manziel vs. Hoyer left a lot to be desired. Yet for a coach who is not far removed from the Friday night lights and admittedly not the Browns’ first choice, he is surpassing expectations early on.
Most importantly, the Browns are 1-1 and enter a winnable game at home against the Baltimore Ravens.
The types of things you saw last Sunday against the Saints will work against the Ravens. Run the football. Don’t turn the ball over (Brian Hoyer has zero interceptions despite a handful of questionable throws). Get after the quarterback.
Since about 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7, the Cleveland Browns have been trending upward. Momentum is a tired cliché that sportswriters like to lean on as a story-angle crutch. There is no denying we haven’t seen anything close to the performance of the team from the first half of the Steelers game. The Browns are playing good, entertaining football.
Next week is already the team’s bye week. We’ve already heard the reports Josh Gordon is expected back in November. The Browns have a chance to go to 2-1 with games against the Jaguars (Oct. 19), Raiders (Oct. 26) and Buccaneers (Nov. 2) on the horizon following the bye week.
Go ahead, Browns fans. Get excited and don’t worry, this coach won’t let it get to this team’s head.
He’s too good of a football coach.