Derry: Bah! Humbug!

Frank tries to show some Christmas Cheer amidst Saturday afternoon's debacle...

The good news was the Cleveland Browns players and coaches were going to be able to spend Christmas Eve at home with their loved ones on Saturday night. They were going to get to roast their chestnuts on an open fire, knowing that Santa was on his way.

The bad news was they spent Saturday afternoon at sold out Cleveland Browns Stadium doing battle with their hated ones, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And in this next-to-last game of the 2005 regular season, it was the Browns who not only got their chestnuts roasted, but the rest of their body parts "Frye-d" as well.

In fact, the 41-0 blowout delivered by those Scrooges from Pittsburgh was comparable to a 5-year-old kid getting a stocking full of coal. (I speak from experience.)

Bah humbug!

Hey, Bill Cowher's boys could have had the decency to show a little mercy, but it's obvious this one-time Browns player and assistant coach didn't leave his heart in Cleveland.

I mean, come on, it was Christmas Eve. Cowher's Grinches should have been in the giving mood. They could have gift-wrapped a couple of touchdowns via interceptions and fumbles. Or they could have missed a couple of tackles on those numerous kickoff returns, allowing Josh Cribbs to break free for a 90-yard return.

But, no! They acted like they had a playoff berth or something on the line.

Unfortunately, on the day Charlie Frye made his debut in this heated rivalry, the Steelers did indeed have some extra incentive. A loss to the Browns could have put a serious crimp in their quest to make the NFL's post-season party as a wild card team.

Now, with their 10th win of the season, the Steelers are sitting pretty. A victory over Detroit in their finale next weekend will guarantee yet another post-season appearance for Pittspuke.

The Browns, meanwhile, had a chance to win their second straight game and sixth of the season. Not exactly a landmark achievement, but a major improvement over a year ago when the team won just four games.

But from the opening whistle until the final gun, there was never a glimmer of hope for the Browns. Pittsburgh's defense did a perfect imitation of the Steeler Curtain defense from years gone by. Memories of Mean Joe Green, Jack Lambert, Jack Ham, Mel Blount and company dashed through my head throughout the game.

Frye, when not being sacked, was either missing his receivers or having balls dropped. Or he was fumbling the ball himself, something he did four times. Frye finished at 20-for-39 for 183 yards.

It was one of the most pitiful passing attacks seen in a long time. It even made the woeful effort put on earlier this season at Browns Stadium by Miami's Sage Rosenfels look respectable.

If Santa comes down the chimney into Frye's house tonight carrying a sack, Charlie will probably have visions of Joey Porter dancing in his head. Frye, who was sacked three times by Porter and eight times in all, had more pressure on him Saturday afternoon than good old St. Nick had while putting the finishing touches on his sleigh full of goodies.

Rather than talking about the inept air game, I'd like to tell you about the Browns' running game. I'd like to, but that's impossible to do. The Browns had no running game. Reuben Droughns, who carried the rushing attack for the majority of the year, continues his late-season slump.

Over the first 10 games, he averaged 4.5 yards per carry. Over the past five games, his yards per carry average has dipped to right about 3.3.

For the game, the Browns ran 19 times for 55 yards, a 2.9 average.

What do you get when you combine a total absence of a running game with a non-existent passing attack? An offensive performance that produces eggnog, baby. Or at least an egg on the scoreboard.

The Browns had a total of one first half first down, that the result of an excellent catch and run by Droughns, who took the ball all the way down to the Steelers' 34. Two plays later, the Browns were facing a third-and-26. The Browns had as much chance of converting from that distance as Santa has of winning a Mr. Universe contest.

On a day when it was vital for the defense to step up and play a good game, just the opposite happened. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had his way in the first half, going 10-of-15 for 193 yards as the Steelers built up a 20-0 halftime lead.

By the second half, it was obvious the Browns' defense either was worn out or had given up. Early in the third quarter, Willie Parker ran 80 yards straight up the gut through a hole big enough for Santa to pull his sleigh.

Adding insult to injury, former Browns wide receiver Quincy Morgan made a beautiful diving catch in the end zone from little-used quarterback Charlie Batch midway through the fourth quarter as the Steelers, with backups on the field, went up 41-0.

By that time, about the only people still in the stands were the thousands of Steeler fans who had made their way up the turnpike. I swear for that many people dressed in yellow and black to show up in Cleveland, they must have been giving out free Iron City beer in the parking lot.

Despite the putrid performance, this is not the time to start calling for the head of head coach Romeo Crennel, or to start chanting, "Derek, Derek". (For those of who don't know, Derek Anderson is the Browns' third-string quarterback.)

Now is the time to think about all of the positives that have happened this year.

And so I'm offering this simple phrase,
To Browns fans from one to ninety-two,
Although the team has come a long, long ways,
The number of talented players is far too few.

Merry Christmas.


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