FEAR AND LOATHING: A Clockwork Orange and Brown

From The Halls of Kandahar To The Shores of Lake Erie … The Talibengals Return To Normalcy … Where The Water Buffalo Roam … Aesculus Glabra 26, Gulo Gulo Luscus 20

"The Marines have landed, and we now own a piece of Afghanistan." - U.S. Gen. James Mattis, task force commander

WADHAMS, Mich. - The good news this weekend just kept snowballing into one immense, blissful ball of orgiastic joy.

The glad tidings, however, are not universal. The mood in Kandahar, Cincinnati and Ann Arbor must be heavy.
Kandahar is the remote southern city and province in Afghanistan that's home to the zealots of the criminally stupid Taliban. Black-turbaned Afghan extremists, all the rage just a few short years ago among the more fashionable Kabul intelligentsia, are quickly discovering that their choice of acquaintances - Osama bin Laden and his cronies - was not the wisest selection.

After all, there's little worse feeling than being immoral fanatics bent on waging holy war against the United States, then waking up to find a battalion of U.S. Marines camped outside your door.

With the Taliban holed up in Kandahar, the Marines deployed Sunday afternoon to an airstrip a few miles outside the city. The signal is clear: We're coming, and there's nothing you can do about it. With any luck, the move means the war is near its end, and perhaps for once the old expression of having "the boys home by Christmas" will come true.

In my remote corner of Michigan, the welcome news of Marines on the Taliban's doorstep capped off a weekend already made glorious by the Cleveland Browns and Ohio State Buckeyes dispatching old foes. It appears the Taliban will shortly join the Cincinnati Bengals and University of Michigan Wolverines in abject humiliation.

The atmosphere in Ann Arbor is likely as dark as that in Kandahar. The almighty Wolverines suffered a grievous defeat at the hands of an Ohio State team that was expected to cooperate by rolling over and dying.

Ah, but John Cooper is no more. Consider his ghost exorcised.

New Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, looking staid and dapper on the sidelines in his crisp cardigan, employed some traditional Buckeye tactics - run, run again, then run some more - in a systematic defeat of No. 10 Michigan at Ann Arbor on Saturday. The victory should breathe new life into the Ohio State ethos that sagged under Cooper.

Lastly, the mood in Cincinnati has to be sullen. A promising start by the local pro football team has yet again dissolved into a nightmarish string of embarrassing losses.

Ain't it grand?

The Cleveland Browns sit in third place in the AFC Central Division with a 6-4 record, thanks in no small part to Cincinnati's blundering and clumsy efforts Sunday. An 18-0 victory over the Bengals has the Browns in playoff contention. In fact, if the playoffs started today, Cleveland would qualify for an AFC Wildcard position.

Who woulda thunk it?

Admittedly, the streaky Jon Kitna made me nervous. The expensive new Cincinnati quarterback can be difficult to slow when he's hot. Fortunately, he was cold and off-target Sunday. His inept efforts at running the Bengal offense earned him a trip to the bench.

Cincinnati's choice of quarterback replacements had to be heartening to Butch Davis and his staff: Scott Mitchell and Akili Smith. Both eventually played, and both played especially poorly. In fact, the lumbering Mitchell nearly completed as many passes to the Browns (3) as to his own receivers (4). Good stuff.

More impressive is that Cleveland's defense had more interception return yards (118) than Cincinnati pass catchers had in net receiving (107).

That, gentle reader, is a certain indicator that you suck.

Two years ago, Rams defense tackle D'marco Farr called Mitchell, then the Ravens' starting quarterback, a "big water buffalo."

It's an accurate portrayal. Mitchell weighs in at a sleek 240 lbs according to the Bengals' media guide. Horsecrap. He's a fat slob, easily 260 naked on the scales before breakfast.

Bengals coach Dick LeBeau knows Mitchell is a lumbering turd, yet on 4th-and-goal inside the 5-yard line, Cincinnati calls a quarterback bootleg to the left side. Not only is that dim-witted because Mitchell moves at the speed of evolution, but he's a southpaw, so he'd have to throw across his body on the short side of the field. Courtney Brown and Dwayne Rudd had little trouble snuffing out the boneheaded play and sacking Mitchell for a 9-yard loss.

Yikes. Thanks, Dick. See ya next year. Keep up the fine work.

Of course, Cleveland's offense didn't exactly bring Cincinnati to its knees. The running game somehow managed to grind out 78 yards on the ground, but it was a laborious task ugly to all that witnessed it. The running back-by-committee of James Jackson, Jamel White and Ben Gay needs to adjourn.

At best, the offense is inconsistent. It can't sustain more than a couple of long drives per game.

Imagine what Tim Couch could do with a merely average offensive line and a running game that improved to just mediocre. Sure, Couch makes his share of mistakes, but it's hard to put too much blame on what is essentially a second-year quarterback playing in an offense with a single playmaker in Kevin Johnson.

Having superstars on offense, it must be pointed out, certainly doesn't guarantee anything. Cincinnati's Corey Dillon amassed just 63 yards on 20 carries Sunday. Dillon is being wasted. He's the new Barry Sanders - immense talent, no playoffs.

The Browns, meanwhile, control their own destiny. A victory Sunday over visiting Tennessee would leave Cleveland at 7-4, and that's tantalizingly close to a playoff berth.

But let's not jump ahead of ourselves. The Browns and Buckeyes won critical games, and so far, no one's been arrested.

Some weekends, all is right with the world.

NOTES: I wake up each morning expecting to read that the Taliban has evacuated Shaker Heights and the Northern Alliance has liberated Elyria. … Until Sunday, the Browns had recorded 13 home and 13 road shutouts. … I get the Fantasy Football Moron of the Week Award after I benched Kevin Johnson for Randy Moss. … Sunday's victory was the third game in a row the Browns have denied an opponent any points inside the 5-yard line. Last week, the defense stifled Baltimore on 4th down in the first half. Against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, backup defensive end Tyrone Rogers forced Kordell Stewart to fumble inside the pylon as he tried to score. … The Browns have 25 interceptions through 10 games. The team record for a season is 32, set in 1968. Cornerback Ben Davis led the team that year with 8 thefts. … Sunday's hero might have been tight end Aaron Shea. When Cincinnati punt returner T.J. Houshmandzadeh took the ball 86 yards on the first play of the fourth quarter, it was Shea who raced 60 yards to drag him down at the 5-yard line. The defense stiffened on the ensuing goal line series, preserving not only the shutout, but squelching any hint of a Bengal rally (is there such a thing?). … For those of you wondering, Aesculus Glabra is the scientific name of the Ohio buckeye nut and Gulo Gulo Luscus is the scientific name of the North American wolverine.

Doc Gonzo is a former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor. He now lives in a remote part of Michigan's Thumb, safe from knaves, fools and Ratbirds. He can be reached at docgonzo19@aol.com.

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