On the road and with their top three cornerbacks sidelined, the only chance the Browns had to beat the Carolina Panthers on Sunday afternoon at soggy Bank of America Stadium was to play a perfect football game.
Perfect as in no fumbles, no interceptions and no critical penalties.
That's no small task for a team that came into the game with a minus-6 on the takeaway-giveaway stat chart.
When that number grew to seven in the first period, you knew it was going to be a long day. Dennis Northcutt let a short pass from Charlie Frye bounce off his hands into the waiting arms of defensive back Richard Marshall, who promptly turned it into a 30 yard touchdown.
Suddenly, the Browns' 3-0 lead had evaporated and the Panthers were up 7-3. A second-quarter 17-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme to Keyshawn Johnson made it 14-3 and the Panthers were on their way to a 20-12 victory.
For Frye, it was his ninth interception of the season in just four games. He added a 10th in the fourth quarter. But the one to Northcutt and at least two others this season certainly were not his fault. You can't ask a quarterback to do anything more than give his receivers a reasonable opportunity to catch the ball.
Northcutt doesn't make a lot of mistakes. And he's definitely one of the more dangerous punt return men in the game today. It's tough to come down too hard on him for Sunday's mistake, but in a game where every mistake was critical, a turnover that results in a touchdown is deadly.
There were, however, some individual performances definitely worth mentioning, including:
DAVE ZASTUDIL: The veteran punter, who was signed as a free agent this past off-season, is rapidly turning into the most valuable player on the team. He has had great length and height on his punts throughout the season, including Sunday afternoon when he averaged 47.1 yards on seven punts with three inside the 20. Zastudil is the first punter brought in who has a chance to make Browns fans forget about old reliable Chris Gardocki, who was allowed to walk away as a free agent by Butch Davis.
BRIAN RUSSELL: In a defensive backfield filled with inexperience due to injuries to Leigh Bodden, Gary Baxter an Daylon McCutcheon, Russell has stepped up and taken charge. He is every bit as valuable in the defensive backfield as Frye is to the offense.
BRODNEY POOL: The Browns' backup safety was given the task of defending Johnson. Even though Johnson caught one touchdown pass, Pool did a respectable job considering he was out of position.
DAVEN HOLLY: The more you see of Holly, the more you realize he doesn't lack confidence. His assignment Sunday afternoon was to cover Pro Bowl wide receiver Steve Smith and he did a respectable job, thanks in part to an unusual case of dropsy for Smith. Holly is proving he deserves some playing time even when Baxter and Bodden return, maybe even in more than just nickel and dime situations.
JOSHUA CRIBBS: I always admired the way Dino Hall returned kickoffs. Likewise for Walter "The Flea" Roberts. But taking nothing away from them or even Glen Young, Keith Wright or anyone else who has handled those duties over the past 40 years, I think Cribbs is the most exciting and explosive kick return man I have seen wear a Browns uniform. Cribbs has come within an eyelash of going all the way at least three times the past two weeks. He also came very lose to returning a punt for a touchdown against the Panthers when he repaled injured Northcutt (ribs) in that role.
CHARLIE FRYE: It probably won't be long before Frye is given the nickname
"The Gambler." He has never met play that he didn't think he could turn into a
positive, even when he's running for his life from quarterback killers like
So, the Browns enter their bye week at 1-4, good for last place in the rugged
AFC North. Hopefully, by the time the team returns to action Oct. 22 at home
Unfortunately, two weeks will not be enough time for All Pro center LeCharles Bentley to get healthy. It's the offensive line that needs the most help, but the SOS (save our season) likely won't be answered until the off-season when the team can once again dip into the draft and free agent market to try and acquire upgrades which are sorely needed.
As a Browns fan, you'd like to think head coach Romeo Crennel could reach into his bag of tricks and magically turn things around over the final 11 weeks.
But the reality of the matter is that the best the Browns can likely hope for is to prove a spoiler against the legitimate playoff contenders they will face every week through Dec. 17.
Included are games against the aforementioned Broncos, Jets, Chargers, Falcons, Steelers (twice), Bengals, Chiefs and Ravens.
Unless there is a miracle transformation on the offensive line, the Browns, quite frankly, will be hard-pressed to match last year's 6-10 record.