All is Right with the World

<BR>Browns 20, Ratbirds 3.<BR><BR>That's about all it takes for Doc Gonzo to see some rays of light in the darkness, as he celebrates a win over that most noxious of carrion-munching fowl...<BR><BR>

Pure arrogance turned utter humiliation.

Those are the moments we must cherish in life, when witnessed. They are rare, elusive slivers in time that must be appreciated for their transcendent quality. They may never come again, at least not in such scope and impact.

Sunday's victory over the Ravens was one of those moments. It registered across the football world by upsetting the balance of power and leaving the ranks of professional sports writers and broadcasters red-faced and scrambling for excuses.

Such victories can propel teams into the rarified air of the NFL's elite, if handled properly. We are three days away from discovering if the Cleveland Browns are on that upward journey. A victory in Dallas would go a long way to silencing the remaining critics of what the Browns have put on the field, or at least force them to revise their views.

Before we delve deeper into the metaphysical ramifications of victory over the Cowboys, let's take a moment to savor last Sunday's dismantling of the most overrated team of 2004.

It's no secret I consider Baltimore coach Brian Billick one of the most loathsome creatures on the planet. His Ravens disintegrated from Super Bowl contender to a collection of flophouse winos on a national broadcast last week. Any time Baltimore soils itself on the world stage, the good and humane people of the world take delight. As I've stated many times previously, the Ravens are the physical embodiment of all that's wrong in this world, and their continued existence is proof that our fight against evil is not yet finished. But this week, we can chalk one up for the good guys.

The Cleveland Browns, on the other hand, elevated themselves from a team dismissed from any consideration at all to a squad that will hover just below the radar for national pundits and coaches of upcoming opponents.

The 20-3 victory was not the product of such ethereal concepts like hope, but evidence of tangible, measurable talent -- at least for one week. The Browns executed a superior game plan, called better plays and physically out-played the Ravens on all fronts. It wasn't so much a victory for Cleveland as it was disgraceful emasculation for Baltimore.

The Ravens' collective manhood was tested, and they were found wanting. Sure, they may be superior gamblers, crack dealers, con men and knife artists, but in the arena that mattered most -- the football field -- they failed.

That brings us back to Butch Davis.

The mark of a truly good coach is not mastery of the on-field chess match-ups, but how he handles his team between games. That's especially true in the days following a monumental victory such as we saw last Sunday.

Davis will earn a true measure of respect among other teams and the armchair analysts if he's able to hand the Cowboys a defeat. The game does not carry the emotional weight and pressure of the Baltimore game, for which the team had an entire to off season to prepare. That may make the contest, in the grand scheme of the season, as important as the season opener.

Davis can leave the game plan, play calling, scouting and personnel match-ups to his assistants. What he must ensure is that there is no letdown in Dallas. A team coming off a complete, dramatic and emotional victory is a prime candidate to deliver an uninspired, flat performance a week later. And there is no doubt the Browns played with an emotional intensity unseen in a generation on the field (matched, I'm told, by the fans). That's fills us with promising expectations, and rightly so.

Cleveland, since its 1999 return from banishment, has not strung together a pair of convincing victories.

They came close in 2001, which saw a 27-17 road victory at Baltimore followed by an 18-0 blanking of Cincinnati. But that team had no depth and was the beneficiary of fortunate timing. Neither victory registered significant impact, and the team quickly fell apart by going 1-5 the rest of the season. None of 2002's nine victories were as convincing as what the Browns did to Baltimore on Sunday.

The key to a successful franchise is sustainability on the field. Win on your terms consistently, then you have established something worthwhile. Momentum, like field position, are critical ingredients for a winning season.

What made beating the Ravens so notable was its context: The embarrassment inflicted by Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis in 2003, when he ran for 500 yards against the Browns in two games, and the Ravens' defense pitching a 35-0 shutout in Week 15. That means Sunday's victory sets us up for something wonderful -- if they win in Dallas.

It's too soon to tell if the Browns are for real. They've passed their first major test, but now comes a pop quiz that will have the whole football world watching.

If the Browns soundly beat the Cowboys on Sunday, and avoid catastrophic injuries the rest of the season, I predict they will win the AFC North and advance to the AFC Championship Game. That doesn't ameliorate my comments last week about the inherent weakness of the franchise – Davis still has much to prove as an NFL executive and the first five years back in the league stand as evidence of maladroit bumbling by two regimes. There is no sugar-coating a 26-54 mark.

But Davis' ability to prepare this team for this season is not, this week, in question.

The Browns are 1-0, and all is right with the world.

Former Ohio newspaper reporter and editor Bill Shea writes the Doc Gonzo column for Bernies Insiders each Thursday. Except when he doesn't. He can be reached at E-mails that include pictures of Carmella DeCesare will elicit a faster reply. On second thought, maybe they won't … 

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