Is One Touchdown Enough?

Bernie's Insiders columnist Frank Derry looks back at Friday night's pre-season finale against the Bears and forward to Sunday's match-up with Baltimore. Will one long touchdown pass be enough to spark the Browns offense? Or will Jamal and Ray Lewis have their way with the Browns on Sunday?

At first, it looked like Butch Davis's and Jeff Garcia's worst nightmare...  an offense that was so inept that it couldn't even run a play without a penalty, or a dropped pass or a fumble.

If this was a professional football team, then I'm a candidate for Miss America. (Hey, I might have the legs for it, but the tummy...  and a few other parts... might do me in!)

In the early stages of the exhibition game against the Bears, the Browns' offense looked as effective as an umbrella in a hurricane...  as useful as a slingshot against a polar bear...  as solid as cotton candy.

But then a funny thing happened as Garcia neared completion of his evening's work late in the first quarter. The mistakes stopped, or were at least minimized. The pass protection improved. Andre Davis got open deep on a go-route and Garcia hit him with a perfect spiral.


The way Andre Davis and fellow wide receiver Quincy Morgan celebrated, you would have thought the Browns had just won the Super Bowl. (They got an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for their end zone antics and Morgan got a verbal lashing from Butch Davis.)

But this was no Super Bowl. This was just a meaningless touchdown in a meaningless preseason game. Or was it? Maybe this was a very significant touchdown in a meaningless exhibition game. Maybe, just maybe, this was the start of something big!

When the Browns' 2004 season officially kicks off next Sunday at home against the Ravens, that one play might do more to build the confidence of the offense than anything that had transpired in the previous three games or at any point during training camp workout sessions.

Hey, let's face it. Garcia's lack of playing time in the exhibition games with his fellow first-teamers might be downplayed by head coach Davis. But admit it or not, Davis has to be concerned, especially when you start the season against the team favored to win the AFC North.

Davis has a way of downplaying important matters with a straight face. Remember all those weeks a year ago when Davis insisted the Tim Couch-Kelly Holcomb quarterback fiasco wasn't a disruption. In reality, it was undoubtedly a major contributing factor to the team's woeful 5-11 season.

The lack of preseason playing time for newcomer Garcia, a coaching move which he has openly questioned, had the makings of being a huge problem, especially when you saw how totally inept the offense was the first couple of series.

Making it even worse was the fact that the offense that was being run was one which should highlight the passing game...  one running back, one tight end, three wide receivers, and, at times, no huddle. It was the quick-strike, two-minute alignment we are likely to see quite often this year in passing situations. And at the end of halves.

If not for that one touchdown pass, then this seemingly meaningless exhibition game could have been a devastating mental blow to the offensive players, many of whom undoubtedly agreed with Garcia regarding the lack of playing time and the lack of production the previous three weeks.

Now, at least it would seem, the offense has something to build upon...  and none too soon.

If the Browns are to have any chance of winning the AFC North, they have to win their home games against division foes. And when that division foe also happens to be the preseason favorite, it becomes even more important.

Come Sunday, the Browns need to hope the Ravens arrive a bit overconfident. Maybe all of their attention that will be given Deion Sanders's return to football will take their minds off trying to beat the Browns.

Maybe the Browns can capitalize on Sanders' rustiness.

Do I think that will happen?  Not in a month of Sundays. (Or in a month of banana splits, for that matter.)

The Ravens have at least two huge advantages. First off, running back Jamal Lewis has shown the ability to tear apart this Browns defense. Granted, this year's run defense should be better, but probably won't be as strong to begin the year as it will be later in the year after having played together for a number of games.

Secondly, the Ravens' run defense, headed by All-World linebacker Ray Lewis, has the ability to stop virtually any running game. And, let's face it. Long preseason touchdown pass to Andre Davis or not, the Browns' passing game is not yet ready for Prime Time.

It might be by the time the team have their rematch on Dec. 21. By then, we will know a whole lot more about Garcia and his ability to adjust to this offense than we do now.

The only thing that appears certain about the offense at this point is that the Browns' running game should be a whole lot better this year. Hopefully, the hamstring injury suffered by mammoth right guard Kelvin Garmon in the final exhibition game won't prove to be too serious.

The team already has enough problems with the left side of the line, where there really hasn't been a definite answer for the left guard question.

The Browns' offensive line, in general, will draw a great deal of attention come Sunday. As will the previously mentioned return of Sanders.

But what might be most interesting is how the Ravens choose to handle Kellen Winslow, Jr. Will Winslow lose his temper if he gets knocked around by the Ravens' linebackers? Will he be able to control his emotions if Ray Lewis tries a cheap shot?

Or will Winslow be able to antagonize the Ravens by using his incredible skills to score a touchdown or two in his first-ever NFL game?

The games within the game. They are often as fun to watch as the actual game itself.

It should make or a very interesting afternoon the shore of Lake Erie.

Unfortunately, from this corner, it is very unlikely the Browns will be able to prevail.

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