CLEVELAND - A second-half offensive surge, combined with consistently rugged defense, enabled the Browns to overcome the Washington Redskins today, 17-13, as Browns evened their record at 2-2 on the season.
The win was far from dominating or pretty. Once more the Browns struggled offensively early in the game, and allowed several long scoring drives when the Redskins played within themselves. Thanks to some tough defense near the end zone, however, the Redskins were able to muster only one touchdown, allowing the Browns to put together a second-half comeback as the offense began clicking.
As has been their habit this season, the Browns struggled in the first half, mounting barely over 100 yards of total offense and leaving the field to boos.That output was nearly doubled in the second half, as the Browns ended up with 280 net yards on the day and overcame their 10-3 halftime deficit.
The Browns have now managed to avoid the end zone during the first 30 minutes for their fourth straight game.
The Redskins, meanwhile, looked somewhat more effective, while not exactly creating any confusion with the 1999 St. Louis Rams. Mixing short passes with effective running by Clinton Portis, savvy veteran QB Mark Brunell was able to guide the Redskins to a field goal in the first quarter and a touchdown in the second, although the Redskins offense was almost as plagued with mistakes as the Browns.
Despite the offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie's desire to put together a ball-control offense focusing on the run, the Browns, meanwhile, were unable to mount an offensive drive of more than five plays the entire first half. Good field position, created by a 15-yard face mask penalty on James Thrash on a kick return, combined with a 25-yard Lee Suggs run to create a touchdown opportunity inside the Redskins 10 with less than three minutes left in the first quarter. The team was unable to capitalize fully, as the drive was cut short due to a Suggs fumble (recovered by TE Steve Heiden) and an incomplete pass in the end zone.
Things turned a bit more the Browns way in the second half, as a rough Michael Myers tackle on Clinton Portis jarred the ball loose and was recovered by LB Andra Davis. The Browns took advantage of the Redskins miscue, with Garcia moving the ball downfield via short passes to the tight end Steve Heiden and fullback Terrelle Davis. On third down, Garcia looked in the face of a Redskins blitz over right tackle Joaquin Gonzalez and tossed a 15-yard pass to Aaron Shea to knot the score at 10-10.
In the fourth quarter, the Browns were able to put together their first sustained drive of the day. Combining solid running by Lee Suggs with long passes to Quincy Morgan and Andre Davis, the Browns were able to move 80 yards in nine plays to take a 17-13 lead. Suggs took over most of the running chores in the second half, although no injury to William Green was apparent or announced in the press box. Butch Davis said during his post-game press conference that he simply "went with the hot hand", and went with Suggs partially because of the "home run threat" the running back possesses.
Suggs effectiveness at following his lead blockers and taking advantage of the holes that were available enabled Jeff Garcia to get a bit more time to find open receivers. Likewise, Garcia's ability to hit Andre Davis and Quincy Morgan with long scoring strikes provided more ground for Suggs to run. When the two come together, even without the services of Kellen Winslow, the Browns offense can be surprisingly effective.
Davis said after the game that he was pleased with the team's opportunistic style of play and felt that Jeff Garcia displayed poise in facing down the Redskins blitz. Davis pointed the finger at the offenses execution as being the difference in the first and second half. Davis also argued that the team was able to adjust to the "different blitz package" that the Redskins employed against the Browns than they had showed previously.
Now, with the team heading to Pittsburgh and its season will very much alive, they will have to figure out how to achieve greater effectiveness in the first half. Pittsburgh is not the place to fall behind the home team.
BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR: Browns fans have often criticized the team's defense for not being aggressive enough with their use of the blitz. Part of the reason for this may be lack of confidence in the team's safeties, but the Browns did go after the QB in one particular situation on Sunday. On a crucial fourth-and-six in the second quarter, safety Earl Little sold out and went after Mark Brunnel. The savvy veteran QB read the play and quickly hit a wide open Lavarneous Coles for a touchdown-enabling first down.
COUNTING TO SIX: The Browns were penalized twice in the first half for lining up six men on the line of scrimmage. One of those occasions was inside their own twenty late in the first half, and another was on a punt. These self-inflicted penalties mount up on a team that isn't able to move the ball effectively, and have to be difficult for the coaching staff to explain.
MIRTH AMIDST THE MUDDLE: Jeff Garcia's ineffectiveness has gone beyond confusing, at least to some members of the media, and all the way to humorous. Twice during the Browns game against the Redskins, laughter was heard in the press box as Jeff Garcia either lost the ball trying to throw it, or attempted to throw a pass by flipping it back-hand style. While a number of press members, this writer included, believed that Garcia was a significant upgrade over the team's previous quarterbacks, the San Francisco import has quickly lost both fans and media members as the Browns have struggled offensively out of the gate.
SPEED-UP INTERRUPTED: The Redskins came out in the no-huddle offense, trying to catch the Browns defense off-guard. It seemed to discombobulate the Redskins more than the Browns, however, as the Redskins first drive self-destructed with two offensive penalties, a false start and an illegal formation.
WELCOME BACK MR. SUGGS: Lee Suggs made an immediate impact on the game when he came in for the first time this season. The Browns running back scampered up the middle for 25 yards on his first carry and helped the Browns move inside the 20 to tie the score. Unfortunately, the grand return was spoiled when Suggs fumbled the ball on the Redskins nine yard line. The ball was recovered by Steve Heiden, but the play stopped the Browns drive, which ultimately yielded a field goal.
RALLY? REALLY? The Browns and omnipresent corporate sponsor MBNA distributed "rally towels" to fans entering the stadium prior to Sunday's game. The white towels were being twirled around by fans, particularly in the first half. The whole towel twirling concept is still mostly associated with the Steelers and their fans, which is admittedly odd for a town where bathing and towel use is still uncommon. The effect was to create twirling white towels which, to this reporter, looked much like Pittsburgh would look during gameday if the there was running water and detergent available to local populace. There's a reason they call them "terrible" towels.
INACTIVES: James Jackson, Gerard Warren, Ryan Tucker, Kirk Chambers, Bo Lacy, Richard Alston, Corey Jackson. Luke McCown was the third quarterback. Unlike previous weeks, the Browns emerged from the game unscathed, as no additional players were injured. The Browns may re-gain the services of Tucker next week.
ONE LAST THOUGHT: Perhaps during the Monday meetings, Butch Davis should, instead of showing game film, should just show the team the halftime performers on Sunday.The Ohio State Marching Band was terrific as always, and were precise despite having to travel overnight. They even know who should line up in what spot. Amazing. Even more stunning, they don't get paychecks, free medical care, or valet service.