In the course of a National Football League season, there are 16 games. Sixteen diamonds. Sixteen pearls. Sixteen chances to win.
Each game must be treated as special. Sunday, the Browns rudely treated one of those games against the Cowboys in Dallas. They knocked it all over Texas Stadium. So, too, did the Cowboys in as homely a football game as you're going to see in a long time.
The films of this one should be kept and shown to students of the game as a primer on how not to play the game on offense. With the exception of the Cowboys' opening drive of the game, this one smelled worse than three-day-old garbage.
The scoreboard said Dallas won, 19-12. Now if the scoreboard had Cleveland with the 19 points, Browns fans today would haul out that old saw "winning ugly" and move on. Pretty much like Cowboys fans are doing.
There was no excuse for what went on in Dallas. The Browns were coming off an emotional victory over Baltimore in the season-opener and appeared to have the proper mind-set for the Cowboys, who were hammered in their season-opener.
But for some reason, they were not prepared. Especially on offense, the area most fans were concerned about in the exhibition season.
The Browns got away with a meager offense against Baltimore because the defense and special teams were superb and the Ravens did not have a quarterback who could threaten them. The Cowboys did. And that was the difference.
Vinny Testaverde, who tried his best to give the game away in the second half by throwing three interceptions, was clutch when he needed to be. The Browns' defense kept getting the ball back for the offense. The fact they didn't quit is a testimonial to their resolve.
But who was quarterbacking that pathetic Cleveland offense? Looked an awful lot like Tim Couch. A little on the small side, but he sure had Couch-like form. Overthrowing receivers all day. Missing wide open targets. Throwing into coverage.
Didn't the Browns release Couch?
It was Jeff Garcia??!! The guy who went to three Pro Bowls? The guy who was supposed to be the anti-Couch? The guy who takes up 11 pages of the Browns'media guide with his wonderful exploits in the NFL? That Jeff Garcia?
Nah. Couldn't be. That Jeff Garcia would never have a game like that. That Garcia would never wind up with a quarterback rating of 0.0. Zero point zero. Zip. Zilch. Aught.
Following the game, Garcia talked about being "just a little bit off." He talked about not being able to find a rhythm. He should have been wearing headphones on the bench between series listening to Britney Spears or Michael Jackson. They've got plenty of rhythm and would have been happy to share some of it.
But you can't dump this one solely in the lap of Garcia. The coaching left a lot to be desired.
Offensively, coordinator Terry Robiskie's game plan was uneven. On the first series, he opened up with a screen pass to William Green, a Green no gainer up the middle and a six-yard pass to Dennis Northcutt – incredibly his only catch of the day -- on a third-and-seven. Three and out.
On the second series, we got a glimpse into the kind of a day Garcia would have when he badly missed Quincy Morgan, who had run a stop-and-go and was wide open. What should have been a 60-yard touchdown pass and a 7-7 game became the beginning of Garcia's nightmarish afternoon.
Robiskie followed that with another bomb, this one to Northcutt. An overthrow.
What was Robiskie trying to do? Play it close to the vest or play bomber squadron commander and strafe a Dallas secondary that gave up five Daunte Culpepper TD passes the week before? Pick one. It went like that all day.
The defense was clearly the best unit, even though the tackling was not as crisp as last week. But early on, they gave Testaverde enough time to establish a passing rhythm. Vinny is a rhythm quarterback. Throw him off that rhythm and he makes mistakes. They did that in the second half, but the offense did not cooperate.
To their credit, the defense did not quit. They kept getting the ball back for Garcia. But confidence waned. Even coach Butch Davis lost faith in Garcia. How else would one explain his decision to kick the last of Phil Dawson's four field goals early in the fourth quarter with the Browns down, 17-9? Sooner or later, the Browns would have to score a touchdown.
Cornerback Anthony Henry had picked off the first of Testaverde's three interceptions and returned it to the Dallas 22. On the final play of the third quarter, the ball was at the 11.
What happened next goes to the core of the problem. On the first play of the fourth quarter – the first play! – Garcia huddled up his team and called a timeout. A timeout!!!!! With 15 minutes left on the game clock. What in the world is going on here?
No excuse for that. None. Less than none. That's bad coaching.
Then Garcia came out and ran a rollout option right. He hesitated before pulling the ball in and running to the five. Had he not hesitated, there was a chance he could have scored. After a poor third-down pass to Morgan on a quick slant, Davis pulled the plug on his quarterback.
There was more bad coaching. With less than six minutes left in the second quarter, the Browns' defense stopped the Cowboys at the Dallas 36. A third-down seven-yard pass to Antonio Bryant left the Cowboys a chain link short of a first down. One teeny tiny chain link shy of at least another three downs.
I turned to my wife and said, "If ever there was a time to fake a punt, this would be it." Now if I thought that, why didn't the Browns' coaches? Thirty-four yards later, upback Dexter Coakley was brought down after a fake punt. It led to a field goal. That's the way it went all afternoon.
And now the Browns will face the New York Giants in Joisey next Sunday at 1-1 with a banged-up team.
In Cosellian fashion . . . Down goes Courtney Brown (out for the season). OK, who had two games in the how-many-games-into-the-season-will-Courtney-Brown-last pool? Down goes Gerard Warren (2-4 weeks). Down goes Ryan Tucker (minimum two weeks). Down goes Kellen Winslow Jr. (8-10 weeks). Down goes Daylon McCutcheon (day-to-day). Down goes Paul Zukauskas (day-to-day).
Calling Hawkeye Pierce.
Last week's victory was supposed to set the tone for the rest of the season. It appears the Browns are tone deaf.
The loss to the Cowboys leaves us with one question: Are we about the see Team Enigma for the second year in a row?