By midway through the first quarter, the question wasn't whether the Browns
would win the game against
It wasn't how many touchdowns or field goals Charlie Frye and the Browns'
offense would score. Nor was it how many first downs the
Instead, the only question that apparently had yet to be answered was whether
the Browns would set a record for fewest net yards in a game. The current team
mark of 26, registered Dec. 12, 2004 at
By the end of the second drive the Browns were a minus 18 yards and counting.
But then a funny thing happened on their way to loss No. 3 to start the '06 season.
Veteran Willie McGinest, who began the game riding a stationary bike on the
Browns' sideline, showed up in the Ravens' backfield and planted quarterback
Steve McNair. It wasn't a memorable Joe `
McGinest had been forced to defend himself earlier in the week when a reporter questioned him about his desire to play for the Browns. McGinest, who had missed the first two games due to injury, was lived as he defended himself.
He said, "If I didn't want to be here, I wouldn't be here. I wouldn't have signed here.
"Second of all, I'm not a quitter. I don't care what our record is. Anybody who knows me knows that I hate not playing, and regardless of the situation, I want to be out there. It's a dumb question."
Motivated by McGinest's effort, the Browns' offense suddenly came to life. Frye and Company didn't score on their first series after McGinest's sack, due in part to the brain cramp suffered by Kellen Winslow Jr., who was charged with taunting after making a nice 11-yard, first down catch.
But on the very first play of their next drive, Frye laid in a perfect 58 yard bomb to Braylon Edwards, who made the catch around the 10 and then sprinted in for the first touchdown allowed by the Ravens this season. Amazingly, the Browns led 7-3 midway through the second quarter.
Believe it or not, we had a good old fashioned barnburner. It was David vs. Goliath in every sense of the word.
David, playing without four starters, pulled out the slingshot one more time before halftime as Frye executed the two minute offense to perfection. He capped the drive with a one yard touchdown run, his third in as many games. It's the first time a Browns quarterback has done that since Otto Graham scored in three straight games in 1954.
When the Browns, leading 14-3, ran off the field at intermission, the fans gave them such a loud ovation that you would have sworn that they had just won the Super Bowl.
From there on out, it was just a question of whether the Browns were going to be able to hold on. And until the closing seconds, it appeared they would. But that's when ex-Brown Matt Stover, one of the most dependable and clutch kickers in NFL history, stepped up and kicked a game-winning 52-yard field goal with 20 seconds to play, giving rhe Ravens a 15-14 victory.
One big reason why the Browns could have, probably even should have won, was because twice in the final six minutes, Winslow came up with critical catches on third-and-long plays, showing why he needs to be on the field on all third down plays.
But then an ill-advised pass by Frye to Edwards in the end zone was picked off by Chris McAlister with less than four minutes to play. Frye, who was sacked seven times, should have eaten the ball, which would have allowed the Browns a golden opportunity to get at least a field goal, plus run more time off the clock.
In the long run, for the Browns to put themselves in position to win was quite remarkable.
It was a sight to behold for a team that the first two weeks of the season didn't look capable of beating their way out of a wet paper bag.
What the difference this game?
Was it a subtle change in offensive philosophy? Was it something Winslow said early in the week when he questioned being removed on third down plays? Was it the fact Braylon Edwards went back to the basics when it comes to catching a football? Was it a slight adjustment of the defensive ends wherein they played a bit tighter? Or was it the fact one of the team's true leaders, Willie McGinest, had his loyalty questioned by the media?
Quite possibly it was a combination of all of the above, but I truly have to believe it was weighed more heavily toward McGinest.
McGinest had a solid game, as did fellow veteran Ted Washington, who had by far his best game as a Brown. They certainly needed to step up because the defense was forced to play without defensive end Orpheus Roye and cornerback Gary Baxter, both of whom were sidelined with injuries.
In the end, it was another loss, a loss that might very well hurt more than the first two because this was indeed a winnable game. But it's a game to build upon. It's a game in which the Cleveland Browns showed they are capable of playing with one of the best teams in the NFL.
Unfortunately, in the end David ran out of ammunition for his slingshot.