Passan: The Journey Continues

He's back! The ever-opinionated Rich Passan offers his thoughts on the Browns Sunday victory...

Football sure is a funny game.

Take the Browns' victory over the Chicago Bears Sunday at CBS for instance.

For the better part of the first 57 minutes, Trent Dilfer looked uglier than Cinderella's sisters. The Browns' quarterback was high with most of his throws. Only the short passing game seemed to be working.

At times, Dilfer looked confused. At other times, he looked bewildered, totally overmatched. His offensive line gave him time to throw in the first three quarters, but he had trouble finding open receivers.

This was a winnable game. But Dilfer's play emitted an aroma that spelled sure loss.

The Bears, with the exception of one strong drive that put them ahead in the third quarter, slogged in mud on offense most of the game even though Thomas Jones gouged a few holes in the Cleveland defense.

The Browns, who caught a break when a facemask penalty erased an early Bears touchdown and forced a field goal, found that same quagmire and did some wallowing of their own.

The Bears tried to give the game to the Browns, who began drives at their 46 (holding penalties against L.J. Shelton and Joe Andruzzi blunted that one) late in the third quarter and 47 (three and out) early in the fourth.

Less than 11 minutes remained and the offense managed just six points, courtesy of Phil Dawson's right leg. The defense had performed its usual bend-don't break routine, but the offense failed to show.

Just wasn't going to be Dilfer's day, it appeared, and a 1-3 start to the 2005 season seemed inevitable. You had an early warning that a long afternoon was in store when the offense mustered only a field goal after Ray Mickens returned a Mark Bradley fumble to the Chicago 18 in the opening quarter.

Some of you, in between screaming at your television sets and taking sedatives, almost certainly uttered or at the very least had the words Charlie and Frye running through your thoughts the longer Dilfer's futility continued.

Wasn't going to happen. There will be a time and place for the rookie quarterback. This wasn't it.

This game was going to be won or lost by Dilfer.

Romeo Crennel knew this was a winnable game. He was concerned with his offense. He checked with Dilfer to make certain the two were on the same planet. He got in the line's face for its sloppy play in the final quarter.

Then offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon, who must be a staunch Republican, tried something different, but definitely not revolutionary. He actually called for some vertical passes longer than six or seven yards.

And what do you know? The Bears had problems with them.

All of a sudden, the inept Dilfer turned ept. (Of course, there's no such word as ept, but it works here.)

Two touchdown connections with Antonio Bryant – and it's about time he showed up – in a 38-second span took a nail-biter and pounded a couple of nails into the Bears' coffin.

Where in the world was the vertical game all afternoon? Outside of one long seam route throw to Aaron Shea, everything was horizontal. Six yards here, five yards there with an occasional two- and three-yard bomb thrown in just to spice things up.

The Browns averaged 6.6 yards to go on second down. That is unacceptable. When is Carthon going to realize that first down is the most important down of a series? He has got to come up with better, more productive first-down plays.

There's nothing that puts a defense in the hole quicker than a second-and-3 or second-and-2. There are some many more options with second and short.

That is only one area that needs to be addressed if Crennel and the Browns are going to make any significant noise this season.

He and his coaches first must strengthen the red zone offense, tighten the run defense between the 20s, get better field position on kickoffs and take better advantage of turnovers.

Every season, there are defining moments, those slices of time and events that label a team. Dilfer's hookups with Bryant in a game that seemed far out of reach could be one of those moments we look back and label as such.

There are other winnable games coming up. Like the next four against Baltimore, Detroit, Houston and Tennessee.

The game Sunday in Baltimore could very well determine the course this season will take. The Ravens are desperate at 1-3. The Browns normally do not play well in Baltimore (they're 2-4 since returning in 1999). Maybe the Ravens, looking to get healthy against them, will be sanguine.

And Detroit, Houston and Tennessee aren't exactly blowing anyone's drawers off.

The Browns are still a work in progress, but you can see the exponential progress being made. There is still a long way to go, but the journey looks to be a lot more promising than it did on Sept. 11.

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