Derry: Hello, Goodbye

A look at Sunday's win and how it segues into an off-season that is already "interesting"...

Aloha means hello. It also means good-bye.

Thus, Sunday afternoon's game against the Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns Stadium could have been titled the "Aloha Bowl" for the Browns.

Head coach Romeo Crennel and his team said good-bye and good riddance to 2005, and hello and thank goodness it is now 2006.

The Browns also said hello to the end zone for the first time in 13 quarters dating back to the second quarter of their game against the Bengals on Dec. 13. An 11 yard pass from Charlie Frye to Antonio Bryant, set up by a long kickoff return by Josh Cribbs, finally ended the touchdown drought.

The orange and brown also welcomed their first punt return for a touchdown since Nov. 3, 2002 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dennis Northcutt was the return man both in '02 and on Sunday afternoon.

And the Browns said hello to their first North Division victory since Oct. 17, 2004, having gone 0-5 this year and eight straight division games overall prior to their 20-16 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.

But the Browns also undoubtedly said good-bye to many of their players who will not be back next season. It's almost a certainly that Northcutt is headed elsewhere. Likewise for running backs William Green and Lee Suggs. Left tackle LJ. Shelton? Don't let the door hit you in the rear.

Many others, possibly a dozen or so, will also find new NFL homes or new occupations come next season.

The Browns might also have said good-bye to a couple of coaches. Offensive coordinator Maurice Carthon has been on the hot seat all year. The fact the Detroit Lions have indicated a desire to interview him for their head coaching position could eliminate the need for head coach Romeo Crennel to fire his longtime friend, although Carthon is not considered a favorite to get the Lions' job.

And there are also questions surrounding general manager Phil Savage, whose job status was the subject of debate for nearly 48 hours leading up to the game.

At this point, it is difficult to determine how the Savage saga will play out. There are some who insist Savage will swallow his pride and allow the Browns to take away some of his power when it comes to salary cap management.

Others insist that Savage negotiated long and hard to get that power built into his contract and that he'll resign rather than give up any of his duties.

There's no doubt a decision will have to be made very quickly. If Savage does leave, it could throw the entire scouting system into turmoil, which is obviously something the Browns do not need at this time.

Crennel and his staff will spend the next few weeks breaking down game film, trying to determine what areas need the most help. He has made it very clear that improvement is needed everywhere.

Despite a 6-10 record, which is a two game improvement over a year ago, the straight-talking Crennel knows the current talent level is far below what will eventually be required to make a legitimate run at the Super Bowl.

Defensively, the Browns definitely need a pass rusher and a run stopper. It would be nice to find one person could do both jobs, but those types of defensive linemen are few and far between.

Help at safety should also likely be high on the wish list.

On the positive side, inside linebacker Andra Davis has established himself as a team leader and is now assured of being with the Browns for a long time after signing a four-year contract extension.

Likewise for cornerback Leigh Bodden, who proved a very dependable cornerback while playing in place of veteran Gary Baxter.

Offensively, the first thing Crennel has to do is make a determination on whether Frye is the answer at quarterback. Frye's opportunity to play the final five games undoubtedly will give Crennel a lot more insight into the young man from Akron.

There were times during that stretch when Frye looked over-matched, including the first quarter and a half against the Ravens on Sunday when the Browns were averaging six inches per offensive play and couldn't get so much as a single first down.

Frye's lack of great arm strength was exposed on more than one occasion, as was his inexperience at reading NFL defenses.

But over the final 2 ½ quarters, Frye looked like a seasoned veteran as he used his elusiveness and other intangibles to lead the Browns to the come-from-behind victory.

It'll be a tough call for Crennel because there have definitely been some positives from Frye, but that lack of arm strength is a concern. It has to be remembered that many quarterbacks, including Brian Sipe, didn't possess a gun and yet put together a very solid NFL career.

The Browns also still need help on the offensive line. It's been a recurring situation every year since the Browns returned, but at least now there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

The line was solid enough to lead the way as Reuben Droughns surpassed the 1,200 yard mark in rushing this season, making him the first Browns running back to get more than 1,000 yards in a single season since 1985.

The Browns need to sign Droughns to a multi-year contract. His remaining with Cleveland for years to come is critical if the Browns are to continue making progress. If he doesn't sign an extension, then the Browns will likely either have to bring back Suggs or Green, neither of whom has come close to doing what Droughns has done on the NFL level.

As mentioned earlier, the Browns definitely need an upgrade at left tackle and there also has to be some concern at center, where former first round draft choice Jeff Faine finished the year on injured reserve for the third straight year.

And so, as we say aloha to the 2005 season, there are plenty of question marks surrounding this team both on and off the field, making the next few weeks and months every bit as important as the past five months.

It should be interesting.

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