Passing Woes Offset Another Good Effort

<BR>Frank Derry takes a look at Sunday's loss to the Cowboys in Dallas. Was the horrible performance a mirage, caused by the crazy Texas heat? Or was the Ravens game the mirage? Frank offers his thoughts on what we know after Week 2...<BR><BR>

Make no mistake, the Browns' players were well aware of the problems that often afflict teams coming off emotional upset victories such as the one they recorded over the Baltimore Ravens in the season-opener.

History shows that often times the team comes out flat in its next outing, having been drained of the adrenalin that helped carry it to the previous victory.

But was that the case in Sunday's disappointing 19-12 loss to the Cowboys? Although some people might disagree, I don't blame the "hangover" factor.

I tend to think place-kicker Phil Dawson, who predicted ahead of time that there would be no letdown, was correct.

"This team is hungry," said Dawson, who produced all of the Browns points against the Cowboys with his four-for-four field goal performance.

Dawson added, "One of the things that I am really excited about is the fact this team didn't seem to get caught up in all of the hoopla which came after the win over the Ravens. I think that is one of the reasons we were able to get over that game very quickly. We realize that every game is a big game."

The problem the Browns had against the Cowboy wasn't the hangover. Instead, the problem was the one that quarterback Jeff Garcia was very concerned about during the pre-season.

The timing of the passing game, at least at this point of the season, is non-existent. Garcia and his primary wide receivers, Quincy Morgan, Andre Davis and Dennis Northcutt, are far from being on the same page.

Remember, both touchdown passes Garcia threw in the win over the Ravens came when Baltimore's defensive backs totally blew the coverages, not because of precise passes by Garcia. 

Against the Cowboys, Davis had three catches, while Morgan and Northcutt had one each, those two receptions gaining a grand total of 18 yards.

The one time Morgan did have a chance to score on a long touchdown pass against the Cowboys, he dropped the ball in the end zone. Another time, he failed to come back for the ball, thus allowing the Cowboys to register one of their three second-half interceptions.

And rookie tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., who was called the best tight end in the history of the NFL by teammate Ross Verba before the No. 1 draft choice out of the University of Miami ever played his first down, was a total non-factor offensively despite being wide open at least three times in the first half. 

Garcia, who often rolled out on his own or because of pressure, never saw Winslow on any of those plays.

Winslow caught just one pass for 11 yards, giving him five receptions for 50 yards in his Hall of Fame-bound career.

Far worse news than the lack of receptions was the injury suffered by Winslow on the onside kickoff attempt in the game's final seconds. If it's as serious as it is being reported, it could prove far more destructive to this team than the loss itself.

So, after two games, the Browns are 1-1 and tied for first place in the AFC North. And the question which remains to be answered is, are the Browns a legitimate title contender? Or was the opening game victory a fluke, registered against a team that came in over-confident?

Defensive lineman Kenard Lang, the AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week One, knows it will take two or three more weeks before the true identity of the team will be established.

"We will get our true identity after the first four or five games," said Lang. "Until that time, you really don't know what your team is going to be able to do. I certainly wouldn't say the first couple of games are a fluke or anything like that, but consistency is what great teams have. That (consistency) is what we need to have and the first four or five games will dictate what type of team we have."

After two weeks, the identity of this team is one that has been consistent both on defense, on special teams and in running the ball. Those are usually the ingredients necessary for a championship-type team. But as proven against the Cowboys, even three good ingredients in a recipe can be spoiled by one rotten one, in this case the passing attack.

Linebacker Andra Davis says the goal of the defense is to be one of the top three in the NFL. "Really, we want to be No. 1, but to be one of the top three would not be too bad," he said. "Last year, we wanted to be one of the top five and we were for quite a while. This year, we want to set our goals higher (than No. 5)."

After the first week, the Browns were the only NFL team to have not allowed a touchdown.

The Cowboys scored twice on Sunday, but taking everything into consideration, it really was not a bad performance defensively. Defensive tackle Gerard Warren left in the first quarter after re-aggravating the pectoral muscle injury that he suffered against the Ravens.

Defensive end Courtney Brown followed him to the locker room later in the first quarter with a sprained left foot. That depleted the depth on the defensive line, which was a key factor because the temperature on the field during the game was 120 degrees.

Even with their normal rotation, the big defensive linemen would have had a tough time staying fresh. Without two key guys, you'd better believe they were dragging by game's end, and yet they still managed to get enough pressure on Vinny Testaverde to contribute to his woes.

Thanks to that pressure, and the fact Testaverde simply had a horrible day, the defensive backs stepped up big time. Robert Griffith, Anthony Henry and Daylon McCutcheon all came up with big second-half interceptions against Testaverde, while Earl Little made a tremendous deflection to deny Keyshawn Johnson his second touchdown reception.

Testaverde's putrid performance was pretty much matched by that of Garcia in the second half. Garcia went the first six quarters of his Browns career without throwing an interception.

But then, for the first time with pressure on him to move the ball through the air, he was intercepted three times over the final two quarters, pretty much matching Testaverde mistake for mistake. The two grizzled veterans looked like rookies playing their first NFL games.

Unfortunately for the Browns, Testaverde had a lot more success – or at least a lot more yardage – through the air. Testaverde passed for 322 yards. Garcia managed a whopping 71.

A few more games like the one Garcia had on Sunday might very well have Browns fans chanting, ``We want Tim."

They certainly don't want to see a repeat of the bad performance by Garcia, one which overshadowed all of the good things done by the rest of the team.

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