Passan: Beware of Acute Carthonitis

Jeff Davidson was rolling right along as the Browns new OC until he got a nasty case of the Carthons. At least that's the diagnosis of Dr. Passan, OBR specialist in Rantology...

I could have sworn that Jeff Davidson suffered a mild Carthon about three-quarters of the way through the Browns' victory over the New York Jets Sunday.

You know what a Carthon is. It's the nasty little condition that causes one to make unusual calls as offensive coordinator of the Browns.

It's that minuscule malady that forces one to take leave of his senses and travel completely out of character when you least expect it.

Davidson was sailing along quite well, thank you, in his debut as the Browns' offensive coordinator following Maurice Carthon's resignation (we'll resist a chuckle here).  The offense was sharp, the plays were run with a crispness that hadn't been seen all season and the rested defense smothered the Jets' offense.

There was a bounce to the offense's step. They attacked. They played with attitude. Every successful play acted as a springboard to the next play.

And then it happened with no warning. A sudden attack of Carthonitis, an inflammation of a Carthon.

With 3:35 left in the third quarter, shortly after the Jets' Justin Miller showed the Browns' Joshua Cribbs how to run back kickoffs all the way with his third of the season to cut the Cleveland lead in half at 20-10, Davidson changed character.

The score gave the Jets, who had been badly outplayed to that point, a sense of momentum. Just a sense, mind you. It also appeared to give Davidson, who had called a nearly flawless game until that point, momentary brain cramps.

After the Browns had run the ball as never before this season, Davidson converted to that new religion, Carthonism. Instead of continuing to jam the ball down the Jets' throats, he decided to surprise the visitors and throw the ball.

It wasn't broken, but Davidson decided to fix it anyway.

One short completion and two huge sacks of Charlie Frye later, that Jets' sliver of momentum took on a whole new life. And they fed off that momentum the rest of the game.

In the National Football League, never give the opposition anything remotely resembling momentum. It's a feeling that's very hard to stop.

As it turned out, the Jets began to believe, after being tossed around by the Browns for the better part of three quarters, that they had a shot at winning this game, or at the very least tying it and forcing overtime.  

They ratcheted up the defensive intensity with a variety of blitzes from all directions. Clearly, the Cleveland offense played on its heels the rest of the game.

All of a sudden, what looked like a romp turned Browns nation into a cardiac care unit. All of a sudden, the Browns backpedaled.

After converting six of their first nine third-downs, they succeeded just once in their last eight attempts.

Up to that point, Davidson looked like the anti-Carthon.  Everything went well as the Browns built a 20-3 lead in surprisingly easy fashion, although they squandered an opportunity to put the game out of reach in the third quarter following a Kamerion Wimbley fumble recovery at the Jets' 9.

Reuben Droughns gouged out sizable chunks of yardage against the porous Jets run defense, which made Cleveland's run defense look like one of the league's best.

The offensive line, patchwork for the most part, played as though it had been together all season.

Kevin Shaffer, Joe Andruzzi (and then Lennie Friedman), Hank Fraley, Cosey Coleman and Kelly Butler opened holes that Droughns had searched longingly for all season and kept Frye clean. It was as though they were playing for their new coordinator.

Even when Frye interrupted the flow with another of his terrible throws late in the second quarter, the defense, playing more opportunistically than ever, picked up the resurgent offense and stopped the Jets.

Davidson cleverly mixed up his plays. A stretch play here, a trap play there, third-down conversions that sustained drives and kept the defense rested. Kellen Winslow Jr. caught seven passes and was a third-down fixture. Just about everything worked.

Never mind that the special teams finally had a forgettable game. After playing well all season, consider this a mulligan.

There was no indication the human Carthon was in the vicinity of Cleveland Browns Stadium. No way could he have performed a Vulcan mind meld with Davidson in absentia and turned the game into a thriller with some unusual play calling.

But it certainly makes one wonder after what happened in the third quarter.

Why didn't Davidson stick with the run, try to take time off the clock and continue to keep the defense rested? The smooth-running offense was never the same after that third-quarter series.

It sputtered the rest of the way and needed oxygen at the finish line. Basically, Davidson turned the game over to the defense.

At the end, when the Browns hung on for dear life as countless fans wondered how they would blow this one, Davidson correctly stayed with the ground game. He had taken his Carthonitis medication and made the right decision.

Who knows? Maybe all that was the causal factor in referee Mike Carey's decision to side with the official who ruled that Chris Baker was out of bounds after his sensational catch in the Cleveland end zone in the final minute of the game. Replays showed Baker most likely would have come down in bounds if not sent airborne by Brodney Pool.

A break finally went the Browns' way.

As it turned out, Davidson took valuable time off the clock, leaving the Jets in a desperate situation. Throwing the ball with a few minutes to go, especially with the unpredictability of Frye, would have been incorrect.

Sometimes, lessons are learned the hard way. Perhaps, this was one of those times for Davidson, who shows promise as a neophyte.

It was a good start except for that one notable exception. It's something on which to build.

Let's see what happens this Sunday in San Diego, where the Chargers play defense the way it's meant to be played. We'll get a better read then on the Davidson brand of offensive football.

But he better take his Carthonitis medication along just in case.


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