Trent Dilfer's two successive strikes to Antonio Bryant in the fourth quarter sent Browns fans home happy, an example of a savvy veteran rescuing his team from their least inspiring performance of the year.
The two passes, nearly identical, were lightning striking twice.
They were two successive bolts from the blue that allowed the Browns to continue to thumb their noses at pre-season prognostications that had the team going 2-14 or only slightly better.
The Browns at 1-3 might have started to look like the version that national pundits expected. At 2-2, they're looking like a team that will continue to have meaningful games well into the season.
Coming into the fourth quarter, the Browns had not been able to score a touchdown since the fourth quarter of the Packers game, making it nearly three weeks (including the bye) since the Browns had scored a touchdown.
Somehow, though, the Browns inability to score against the Bears defense was even more disheartening than the three-point performance against Dwight Freeney and the Colts. After thrilling Browns fans with their performance against Green Bay, the Browns quarterback had been unable to throw the ball downfield effectively all day.
But then Antonio Bryant, lined up on the left side, ran straight forward about ten yards, then cut further left at about a 30 degree angle. He pulled away from single coverage into the corner of the end zone where Dilfer was able to feed him the ball over his shoulder.
A couple of minutes later, they did it again. Neither time was a Bears safety anywhere close to the play, just Bryant, Dilfer, and a single cornerback trying to stop them.
Boom, touchdown! Then again, boom, touchdown!
Out of the blue, and into the win column.
A miserable day and an unhappy trudge back to the parking lot suddenly turns joyful.
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Prior to the game, on the Sunday morning radio show I do with Jason Jones and Randy Brown on SportsTalkNetwork, I expressed two ways I thought the Browns offense was predictable. One was in Dilfer's tendency to roll out to his right, but the one of greater concern was tied to the Browns conservative game plan.
The Browns have thrived on passes of fifteen yards or less, with Dilfer's yardage stats being the beneficiary mostly of long runs after catch. Dilfer has rarely gone downfield, a tendency which I felt would allow safeties to creep up and help stop the Browns running attack. I told Jason and Randy that I wanted to see Dilfer go downfield at least once early on so that the Bears knew the threat existed.
What I had in mind, of course, was the notion of Dilfer going downfield to a streaking Antonio Bryant or Dennis Northcutt, perhaps throwing too long or slightly out of bounds, but sending a clear message.
Instead, Dilfer's first long pass of the day was thrown to a spot where Rueben Droughns was supposed to be on the south side of the west endzone. Droughns, who had to loop out of the way of the pass rush, wasn't even close to the spot, but Charles Tillman was ready and waiting.
Later in the second quarter, Dilfer threw passes out-of-bounds at least twice on longer pass run attempts. Late in the third quarter, Dilfer again targeted Antonio Bryant on a long pass, and again overthrew his receiver.
It appeared that, following the two picks, Dilfer started being a bit less confident with his throws, throwing the ball away from defenders rather than to his receivers.
I was concerned earlier this week with Dilfer's solution to the team's red zone problems was to suggest that he'll "trust his receivers" to pull in difficult throws. This, to me, sort of read like Dilfer planned on forcing throws to covered receivers to make things happen.
As the fourth quarter reached the halfway point, I was worried about Dilfer's ability to throw the ball downfield. It appeared that the deficiencies in Dilfer's game which had him labeled as an average quarterback were proving themselves out.
And then, boom, touchdown! Boom, touchdown! We can put those dark thoughts away until next week.
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CUTBACK HEAVEN- The Bears saw something in the first half that they were able to exploit against the Browns in the second half. Following a first half when running back Thomas Jones was kept to fifty yards, the Bears running back started running away form Browns DE Orpheus Roye and to his left frequently. Jones was given several large holes to run through between DE Alvin McKinley and NT Jason Fisk, and would cut back frequently.
Jones' success cutting back for big gains is an indicator that the Browns linebackers were over-pursuing and not showing the sort of discipline needed by Crennel's defense.
The Bears running back scorched the Browns for 73 yards in the third quarter, a rate of production that rivals the huge games given up by Browns defenses to Jamal Lewis and LaDanian Tomlinson back in 2003.
In the fourth quarter, the Bears made the mistake of bringing rookie Cedric Benson in spell Jones. Benson fumbled, providing the Browns with an opportunity, and Jones shortly thereafter hurt his knee and left the game.
It's something I hope the team works on prior to facing Jamal Lewis next week, and put that momentary 2003 flashback to rest for good.
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A NEEDED RETURN – Aaron Shea adds a valuable dimension to the Browns offense as a solid pass-catching tight end who performs well when he team needs yards. For the second straight year, Shea is a valuable, if sometimes overlooked, part of the offense.
After missing the first three games of the season due to an injury suffered in pre-season, Shea came back today to catch six passes for 65 yards. His numbers could have been better if Shea had not been overthrown a couple of times.
As a good guy who was considered to be a likely cut heading into the 2004 training camp, it's great to see Aaron Shea back on the field, making catches and helping the Browns to a victory. Hopefully, we'll get to see that twelve more times this year.
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GREEN MEANS GO? – I join fans in our chat room in expressed confusion about why Williams Green was given so many opportunities to perform against the Bears while Lee Suggs remained on the sidelines.
After watching him for a couple of years, I've become convinced that Green becomes a tentative runner once the whistle blows for the regular season. Green, who would become so nervous that he was ill on the sidelines during the early days of his career. His performance indicates that something is wrong when he first starts running in the regular season. He starts slow every year, and this year does not perform effectively in a role substituting for Reuben Droughns
Green seems to overthink, and become tentative when hitting the line, or perhaps shows that he's pressing by a tendency to try to run through tacklers rather than avoid them. Whatever the cause, and whatever the reason, Green simply isn't effective until he's had a large number of carries.
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GET WELL CASEY – I was sorry to hear this afternoon that WTAM's sideline reporter Casey Coleman was not in the stadium because of illness which required him to be hospitalized.
I wandered into Berea last year for my first time in my role as a fill-in when none of our guys is able to be in camp. I was kind of nervous, and remember having a pleasant conversation with Casey as we were walking out of the indoor practice facility one day. Casey is a guy who comes from a storied broadcasting family, and was once the play-by-play announcer for the Browns. He's gone about as far in sports radio covering this team as anyone could hope to go, but still took the time to talk to a journalistic noob.
Get well, Casey