EDITOR'S NOTE: Last week, your narrator turned combat correspondent to regale you with lusty tales from the front … the paintball front, that is. A dozen of Kid Gonzo's co-workers -- along with a sprinkling of various thugs, criminals, derelicts and Lions fans -- took to splattering each other little balls of paint. Which do hurt like hell, by the way. Thanks to his vast military knowledge, superior intellect and cat-like reflexes, the Gonz was able to lead his team directly to overwhelming defeat in record time. Naturally, the French army immediately issued a statement claiming to have been defeated more quickly on several occasions since 1871. Figures. Anyway, he talks Browns football, too.
ST. CLAIR TWP., Mich. -- The paint inside paintballs isn't tasty.
I know this now because I was shot not once, but twice in less than 20 minutes right in my pie hole. Of course, I was wearing an approved paintball mask and goggles, but the paint splatter from the balls' impact drove right through the little holes in the mask and into my mouth.
Yech. The least they could do is flavor the stuff.
I spent last Sunday morning with about a dozen of my coworkers at a paintball field not far from where we work. How often does one get the chance to shoot one's boss and underlings -- and not go to prison?
It was the first time for all of us. And it showed. Any notion of even rudimentary military discipline or skill went out the window the second the game started. Folks just ran around blasting away.
By the time we moved the games from the obstacle course to the woods, some common sense was sinking in, the sort that keeps professional soldiers for getting killed. Like keep your head down and down engage in colorful, Rambo-style charges. Those charges are impressively loud, but they're colorful because you get colored in paint.
Those of us too old and broken down to be Rambo slunk around, picking off the younger ones. It was interesting to see people begin to grasp simple tactics and warfare skills. Certainly, the lethal modern battlefield is a far different animal, but some of the same rules apply. Obviously, paint doesn't kill, but the objective is the same: Don't get shot. Because he who isn't shot wins.
Bullets kill, but paintballs do sting like a bastard. I took one at close range on the elbow that was a doozy.
The field at which we played rented paintball guns (or, to the PC crowd of pansies, "markers"). Naturally, I bought myself a gun before coming out, a Tippmann Model 98 Custom. I've since upgraded the barrel to gain more range. No more shots on the elbow for me. If I can nail ‘em before they are within their range, I win and can home to drink beers without welts every Sunday.
That's important because I know I have mental welts in store for me when 1 p.m. rolls around.
The Browns can always deliver more pain in three hours than an entire barrage of paintballs.
Let's cut to the chase. We're in trouble. Back-to-back defeats have illustrated for us all that's wrong with the team, exposing every weakness from the front office to the field.
The season is in mortal danger of slipping from disappointment to disaster.
Yet again, we're staring into the abyss. All it will take is a gentle nudge to send this team plummeting to pathetic depths. There's no question of playoffs now. It's about saving some shred of respect.
And respect is quickly fading, as well.
The franchise running back appears to be an alcoholic dope fiend while all the king's men and horses desperately labor to put the two glass quarterbacks together again.
The offensive line? Cleveland doesn't have one at this point. It has a collection of players with a little game experience, but not a line. And whew, did it show at New England. Bill Devilchick merely loaded the line of scrimmage with eight defenders, and that did the trick. No blocking. The Browns failed to protect the passer, getting Tim Couch hurt in the process, and failing to open holes for back-up runner James Jackson.
If there's a glimmer of optimism, the Browns' defense was unyielding in the red zone against New England. Once the team learns to play run defense EVERY down, this could be one of the NFL's elite defenses. Proper tackling is still a critical concern for all the players, but Andra Davis has shown he's the real deal. Ben Taylor had something like 17 tackles against the Pats, but I seem to recall those were mostly from behind several yards downfield. He did have a nice takedown behind the line of scrimmage inside the 20.
Another bright spot was Jackson. I've said from the start he's a solid NFL running back. He's quick and seems to have matured mentally on the field. Against the Patriots, with a non-line in front of him, he grinded out nearly 80 yards on his own. The only natural holes the lined opened for him came when they fell on each other and accidentally blocked someone.
And Green? He pays back the team that took a chance on him by allegedly boozing it up then hopping into his SUV full of ganja and driving wildly all over town with a flat tire. Critics were wary of Cleveland's selection of Green last year, pointing to this sort of nonsense from his college days. The Browns assured everyone Green was past all that college-boy silliness.
The Browns lie. Sometimes to us, sometimes to the league, but more worrisome, to themselves. Do they honestly believe some of the gibberish they spew? Or are they completely delusional? Where was the mention of Green's injury before Sunday? Or Holcomb's torn tendons? What about that drivel about how well some defenders played while Baltimore's Jamal Lewis ran past them for 295 yards?
Win a friggin' game. If these multimillionaire players can't motivate themselves to play well enough to win at home, dump them. Fire the coaches. Enough of the goddamned garbage from Policy and the rest of his henchmen. Shut yer ignorant pie hole until we start seeing victories at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
This is maddening. Cleveland's players have a swagger and attitude they haven't earned. The playoff run last year? Clearly a fluke built on the bad luck of others. The players, especially on defense, need to cut the swagger crap. They have far lest to boast about, ability-wise, than even Cincinnati -- a team above them in the standings and the eyes of their NFL peers.
The Browns are rapidly approaching pathetic, and I harbor grave doubts about Butch Davis' ability to salvage this wretched season. My guess is the players are divided and unhappy, and Davis has no idea how to patch it all back together.
Does the team merely need the week off to heal? The wounds run deeper than sprains and bruises. Cleveland's psyche is battered, and I question the franchise management's ability to field a winner. The roster is completely second-tier talent, players that would be back-ups on most other teams. How many Browns free agents are starting for other teams now? None come to mind. And none on the current roster are a threat to make the Pro Bowl. They all seem a step too slow mentally or physically. Talented, sure, but not as talented as most other teams.
The Browns were constructed poorly in 1999 and 2000, which is no fault of Davis, but he seems to have plateaued in his ability to improve the squad. For all the hype about Cleveland having the best overall receiving corps in the NFL, none of them can consistently get open against a high school Cover-2 defense. That would be more of a problem if the quarterback wasn't already sacked, but since the line can't block anyone …
The quarterbacks? Couch can't be faulted too much for Sunday's loss. The Pats were in the backfield instantly. Devilchick, if I can say anything nice about him, can make a defense work with whatever he's given. I'm sure New England threw every stunt and coverage trick in the book at Cleveland. That's a sign of two things: Cleveland couldn't overcome the smoke/mirrors and the Pats are desperate. When you have to resort to a schemes to win, opponents will eventually figure out whatever weakness you're masking and exploit it. Devilchick did the same thing in Cleveland, and rode it to the playoffs in 1994. The Steelers knew he was scheming on defense, and rolled over them.
Last Sunday, Couch and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians should have gone to the 3-step passing game Sunday. I've never seen the Browns' playbook, so I don't know how much of that is in there, but clearly not enough. If the receivers are as talented as everyone believes, one of them should have been able to get open. And why didn't Cleveland speak the field and force the Pats to get all those guys out of the box? It worked for two seasons against Pittsburgh, so why not against a New England team that was ailing?
Then there's Holcomb. Clearly, the team takes it up a notch when he's in there, or defenses switch schemes. But even everyone's favorites starter-backup-starter-backup couldn't deliver more than a single trip across midfield. Wasn't really his fault. Sunday was a game of field position, and New England kept the Browns pinned deep. Holcomb is brittle and has trouble with pressure, so he, too, was doomed. And both quarterbacks missed open receivers deep. Neither seems to have deep touch. Holcomb misfired on a streaking Dennis Northcutt, who'd got behind the defense on the final drive. Holcomb hits that, the Browns win.
The football gods still have no love for Cleveland. They know the only show in town in LeBron, who had nine assists in his rookie debut Wednesday. How quickly can he be fitted for some shoulder pads?
Is there hope? Certainly. I pray I'm dead wrong and Davis and Co. use the bye week to craft a miracle turnaround. But Cleveland plays Kansas City on the road next week. Who out there thinks the Browns have a hope in hell? Sure, the beat the Steelers and 49ers on the road … but look at how well those teams are playing.
In the end, the Browns are a better team than five years ago, but they've not shown they can move into the elite. Clearly, they've been out-coached. Baltimore is going to win the division with a rookie quarterback with average skills and a defense that plays above its ability. That's coaching and a little luck.
Cleveland, meanwhile, muddles around, occasionally knocking off a contender, then delivers a truly magnificent shitburger in the form of losing to a winless Chargers team. It nearly leaves one speechless. Fans just know the Browns will lose games like that, especially at home. We've almost come to accept being the fans of the team every bad team looks forward to playing. Me, I've got tickets to the Arizona game. Who will win? There won't be a surprised bone in my body to see the Cards' Jeff Blake and Marcel Shipp leave with a victory. Hell, I can almost see Davis in the post game press conference, shaking his head and saying, "We've got to find a way to win these games at home …"
Gee, Butch, really? How about scoring more points that the other team? How about Carmen opening the wallet and spending some money on quality free agents for once, perhaps a lineman that can actually block. Or several. And maybe some defenders that can recall the pee-wee football fundamentals of tackling.
What was is the immortal John McKay said while guiding hapless Tampa Bay through its first season?
"We made up for not blocking by not tackling."
A brilliant statement that captured the Bucs' futility in a sentence. And it's a statement that's more and more applicable to the 2003 Cleveland Browns.
Former Ohio newspaper editor and reporter Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernie's Insiders. He now lives in fear for his life after criticizing former Army Gen. Barry McCaffery in a recent edition of "American Journalism Review." You can read the letter to the editor at www.ajr.org/Article.asp?id=3439. However, it would now seem more likely that Carmen Policy will send Bruno and Vinny to finish him off for the screed above. Before his untimely end, you can reach Shea at email@example.com.