Potential Cleveland Browns players acquitted themselves well in Saturday's World Bowl, a 30-24 win by perennial NFL Europe champion Berlin over the Frankfurt Galaxy. The two teams have won the last four World Bowls, with the Berlin Thunder winning three.
While the NFL may crow about the number of outstanding players who have come out of in NFL Europe, the play in the developmental league's championship game looked decidedly amateurish at times. Although the game was played indoors at Germany's high-tech Arena AufSchalke, the two teams managed to make a combined eleven turnovers, including seven fumbles and four interceptions.
Regardless of the miscues, Cleveland Browns involved in the contest came out relatively unscathed and were involved in several memorable plays.
The most significant play was WR Richard Alston's second TD pass of the NFL Europe campaign, as the undrafted free agent signed in 2003 took a hand-off from Berlin QB Rohan Davey and pulled up to throw a 60-yard touchdown strike to WR Chas Gessner. The score put the Thunder ahead 17-10. Berlin eventually took a 30-10 lead, and held on for the six-point victory.
"I told Chas Gessner before the play that it was going to work", Alston said afterwards. "I knew it from the get-go, I was supposed to throw it to the left-side, to another guy, but Chas came through so wide open so I threw it to him and he made a tremendous play."
Alston's touchdown pass continued his perfect string as a passer on gadget plays. During the regular season, Alston as 2-2 passing for 58 yards and a touchdown. Add Saturday's single pass for 60 yards and a touchdown, and Alston finishes both the regular and post-season with a 158.3 QB Rating.
While the other offensive weapons surrounding NFL Europe Offensive MVP Rohan Davey were mistake-prone, Alston was solid. He led all Berlin receivers with five catches for 58 yards, including a 21-yard completion. Alston also made a nice return of a punt in the first half, only to have it called back due to a penalty.
Alston's touchdown pass came several plays after free safety Ricky Sharpe, also a 2003 UDFA re-signed by the team for NFL Europe, picked off a pass intended for Alston. Snaring the pass at his own 45, Sharpe rambled 38 yards downfield to the Berlin 17 before being stopped by Berlin's 245-pound quarterback, Rohan Davey.
Sharpe's play had the potential to be game-changing, as it came early in the third quarter with the score tied 10-10. The Galaxy were unable to capitalize on Sharpe's pick, however, as a field goal attempt turned into a bizarre turnover.
Browns fans watched their team repeatedly victimized by poor run defense in 2003, and their hopes could not have been raised by the performance of the Galaxy defense, which included three Browns starters. Berlin wound up with 180 rushing yards, including a back-breaking 69-yard run by game MVP Eric McCoo. Of the three players, MLB Mason Unck is most involved in stopping the run, and finished the day with a team-leading 9 tackles, including seven solo tackles.
Defensive MVP Corey Jackson was kept in check by Berlin, whose tough offensive line included ex-Browns Ben Claxton and Troy Andrew. The Thunder seemed to game-plan to play away from Jackson's strengths, frequently allowing the quick defensive end to blow up-field while directing the run towards the middle of the Galaxy defensive line. Berlin was effective running up the middle most of the game.
Jackson was unable to add a sack to his total of 9.5 during the regular season, and finished with four tackles (three solo) on the afternoon.