Derry: Difference Makers

The long-time Browns writer examines why the Browns lost Sunday, but also focuses on their progress to date. More objective football analysis that you'll only get here at Bernie's Insiders!

The Browns' wide receivers went into Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts hoping to be difference-makers.

They were.

Unfortunately, it was for all the wrong reasons.

Rather than being touchdown-makers, they were touchdown-takers, twice wiping out potential scores with key mistakes. Two other times, they short-circuited drives with numbskull blunders.

It all added up to a 13-6 Colts victory, a game which, if you believe in moral victories, certainly goes down in that column for the Browns, who are now 1-2 in the real W-L column.

In the first half, Frisman Jackson was guilty of an illegal block on what would have been an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown by Dennis Northcutt, the second time this season he had a long return wiped out by a penalty.

The second potential score came late in the game when Antonio Bryant dropped a pass in the end zone after getting hit hard. It was a tough play, but one that could have been made.

Adding insult to injury, Bryant and fellow wide receiver Braylon Edwards were both called for taunting penalties by Jeff Triplett and his crew in the first half to thwart potential touchdown drives. Triplett, whose group did their usual horrible job, could easily have called off-setting penalties on Bryant's penalty, but elected to only flag the visiting team.

Head coach Romeo Crennel was understandably upset about the mistakes made by his team.

"We had a touchdown called back and it was one touchdown game," he said. "We had our chances, but we had mistakes that cost us the game."

And Crennel didn't want to hear anything about moral victories. "We came here to win the game and we didn't win," Crennel said matter-of-factly.

Nonetheless, those of us who really never gave the rebuilding Browns even a remote chance of knocking off one of the NFL's best teams, could find some solace in the way the team played.

Even though the Browns were not able to follow up the previous week's victory over the Packers with a second straight win, there was progress made in a lot of areas. And overall, the team probably played a better game against the Colts than they did the Packers.

The ever-improving defense allowed the high-octane Colts offense just one touchdown. As usual, Crennel came up with a game plan that pretty much kept Peyton Manning in check most of the day. It was a bend-but-don't-break attack which allowed Manning to complete a lot of short passes, but nothing real long.

One time he did try to go deep, cornerback Daylon McCutcheon had followed the game plan to perfection and stayed behind Marvin Harrison. He then out-battled the Pro Bowl wide receiver for the ball. It was McCuthcheon's second pick in as many weeks.

Crennel, who had a 6-0 record against Manning over the past four years as the Patriots' defensive coordinator, obviously has Manning's number.

Unfortunately, he didn't have an offense that was capable of putting points on the board the way New England's has been over the year.

Give the Colts some credit. No longer are they a team that relies strictly upon outscoring the opposition. In three games this year, the undefeated Colts have allowed 16 points. That's not 16 points per game, folks, which would have been the case in past years. Rather, that is 16 points total. An average of 5.1 per game.

So the Browns go into their bye week with one win. If not for the mistakes made against the Bengals and Colts, it could have been better. But by the same token, it could have been worse.

A lot of people, including this columnist, truly thought the Browns would be 0-3 at the break.

So 1-2 is not all that bad considering the two teams that beat them are a combined 6-0, having outscored their opponents by a whopping 135-44 margin.

As mentioned earlier, the Browns have made progress in virtually every area.

Defensively, the 3-4 that was installed this year has been pretty successful for the not part. Every week the Browns seem to get a little bit better against the rush, which is vital to any success the team might eventually achieve this year.

Offensively, Trent Dilfer has been far better than expected. He has taken over the controls and seems to be totally in charge. It's the first time for the new-era Browns that a quarterback has actually shown that quality.

The offensive line, for the most part, has been solid. The Colts ended the two-game sack shutout streak by getting to Dilfer four times in the first half of Sunday's game. In the second half he got hit quite often as he was throwing, but avoided any further sacks. There were a couple of times when it appeared the Colts had some late hits on him, but Triplett had a blind eye and never threw his flag.

You still have to wonder how much faith Crennel has in his line's ability to play power ball. Either that or he is laying the groundwork for his developing the reputation of being the most unpredictable coach in the NFL.

Just when you think it's a sure-fire run situation, Crennel and offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon will go to the air. It happened in the opener when they tried a flea-flicker on third-and-1 deep in the Bengals' territory.

It happened again late in the game against the Packers when in a situation that begged for running plays to take time off the clock, Crennel had Dilfer come out firing away.

And there were a couple of instances Sunday when Crennel again had his team forego the run to take to the air. On three occasions when the Browns faced third-and-one, Dilfer attempted to pass. He had one completion for a first down, one incompletion and one sack.

Crennel also went against the norm when, with less than a minute to play in the first half and his team bottled up around its own 10, Crennel had Dilfer go to the air and risked stopping the clock. Even though the Browns didn't score, by racking up two first downs, it kept Manning off the field at a time of the game when he is most dangerous.

I hope Browns fans aren't disappointed by the 1-2 record. I know I'm not.

As mentioned several times earlier, this season isn't about wins and losses, but rather about week-by-week improvement.

Thus far it has been mission accomplished.

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