Little Things Lead to Big Win

Over the past several years, it's unlikely that anyone has spoken to more Browns fans than Rich Passan. As host of local WKNR's post-game show -not to mention years of experience writing for the Plain Dealer - Rich has gotten to know Browns fans and the local sports scene intimately. We're pleased that Rich has decided to join Bernie's Insiders to provide post-game analysis each Tuesday through the season. Here is Rich's take on the Browns big win on Sunday...

It's amazing what a Browns victory on Sunday can do to one's life.

Mondays after a victory are wonderful. The sun is out. Even on a cloudy day. The bounce in the step is decidedly more pronounced. The smile comes a lot easier. Everyone is your friend.

For at least a day or two.

That morning coffee that never really hits the spot? Tastes decent after the Browns win, doesn't it?

Nothing can go wrong in your day. And even if it does, so what. The Browns won. The psyche can handle all adversity.

And so it goes in the afterglow of the Browns' stunning 20-3 victory over the Baltimore Ravens Sunday at Browns Stadium. In an I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing surreal three hours, the 2004 edition of the Browns have set the bar for the season.

What they did for 60 minutes against one of the best teams in the National Football League will make it that much more difficult to explain if they come even close to duplicating what happened last season.

What they did against the Ravens should prove to them that last season is so far in the past, it's ancient history. Their in-your-face manhandling of the Ravens in all three phases of the game – OK, it took the offense almost three quarters to jump-start itself – was startling. And revealing.

It revealed that this team has a swagger. Not a noticeably wild one. But one that can be spotted by the look of determination on the faces of the players.

No, gyrating wildly on the field after making a routine play is not swagger. It gets a crowd pumped up, yes, but it's stupid.

A small fist pump here. A determined step there. The Browns brought it to the Stadium in huge units against the Ravens.

Determination can lift an athlete well beyond his normal capabilities.

For the offensive lineman, the block can be sustained a half second longer to enable the quarterback to make the clutch throw. The running back sees the holes quicker, hits them quicker.

The defensive lineman sees that almost imperceptible flick of a finger by the center at the snap and beats his man off the ball. Keeps his linebackers clean.

Adrenalin can make an athlete do wonderful things, rise above his normal talent level. Such as cornerback Anthony Henry making a one-handed interception to blunt the Ravens' only legitimate touchdown drive in the fourth quarter.

Little things count a lot in winning. For example, quarterback Jeff Garcia's touchdown pass to wide receiver Quincy Morgan late in the third quarter that gave the Browns the lead for good.

It did more than snap a 3-3 tie. It did infinitely more.

It sent a message to the other players, a message that Garcia was going to do things for this team that haven't been done since the Browns were reborn in 1999. After five years, this team finally has a quarterback it can rely on.

Why? Simple.

Garcia plays with his head as well as with his arm. He is shrewd, calculating, dissecting. And once he gets a modicum of support from his offensive line, you'll get a much better idea of why coach Butch Davis couldn't wait to get him here.

Last season, that pass to Morgan would not have been completed with Tim Couch or Kelly Holcomb at quarterback. It would have resulted in an interception.

Morgan saw Ravens safety Ed Reed jump the route he was running – a deep slant – and broke it off. Garcia spotted it, bought more time in the pocket, adjusted and hit a wide-open Morgan for a 46-yard touchdown strike.

Couch and Holcomb do not have the pocket presence a veteran like Garcia owns. You would think after all these years that they would. It's the great separator, one of the little things.

Little things like field position. For most of the game Sunday, the Ravens started drives deep in their end of the field. Credit punter Derrick Frost for that. The rookie, time and again, pinned the Ravens deep in negative territory.

Long fields can frustrate an offense, especially an offense that relies so heavily on the running game. And the Ravens' running game was frustrated even more by the Browns' defense.

The little things. Like playing a 4-4-3 alignment on running downs. Brilliant move by defensive coordinator Dave Campo.

And solid, fundamental, wrap-them-up-and-bring-them-down tackling. By the book. So refreshing to see.

Jamal Lewis, the Baltimore flamethrower who burned the Browns for an incredible 500 yards in two games last season, never got untracked. He tried. Oh how he tried. But everything on the highway to 200 yards was shut down. One-way traffic only and that traffic was headed toward Lewis.

The cutback lanes he relies on so much to gain most of his yards were plugged by at least two Browns. No sir. Not this day.

Stop Lewis and you stop the Ravens. And stop him they did.

The fact the Browns had placed a bull's-eye on Lewis didn't hurt. He had severely bruised their egos. They were the laughingstocks of the National Football League for the last eight months. Retribution can be so satisfying.

It was a great way to begin the season. Knock off the team everyone believes will win the AFC North. Set the tone for the season. Send a message to the rest of the NFL.

But reality has a way of balancing the scales of emotion. Yes, it's a high Cleveland and Browns fans are on this morning. Will be that way until the game in Dallas Sunday comes into focus Wednesday.

The naysayers point out the Ravens were without All-World offensive left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who would have made a big difference. Maybe. We'll never know. What we do know is the Ravens were not the better team Sunday.

The naysayers also will say this is only one game. An indisputable fact. But it's one game that wound up on the left side of the ledger and is something on which to build.

Nothing wrong with that.

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