EDITOR'S NOTE: Remember the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, where Martin Sheen's Capt. Willard is lying in bed, soaked in a depressed bourbon sweat? He's surrounded by cigarette butts, empty bottles and guns. He's in a shocking state of disheveled, unshaven misery. The blinds are drawn against the harsh light of the cruel world outside. A ceiling fan beats a rhythmic chant reminiscent of helicopter blades. Jim Morrison's haunting voice croons about The End. Your narrator is doing an uncanny, preternatural imitation of that very scene. Enjoy.
"And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." — Nick Carraway, narrator in F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
No one said it would be easy to be a fan of this team.
Catastrophe, calamity, mayhem and mischief are trademarks of the Cleveland Browns.
Our mojo, it would seem, is bad.
Yet we trudge on with a heart full of love and soul brimming with forlorn hope. Sunday after Sunday, we return to the stadium or television for our weekly dose of mind-boggling misfortune.
We're like mud-splattered Great War Tommies waiting to go over the top from dank trenches and into the misty No-Man's Land of shell craters, barbed wire and German machine guns. All that awaits us is certain death, but when the sergeant major blows that whistle, we clambered up and over anyway.
This latest stunner is in a class of its own. Our previous heartbreaks were the result of direct poor play (Brian Sipe's playoff interception, Earnest Byner's fumble), outstanding opponents (John Elway in the '86 AFC title game) or blunders by officials (Warren Moon's 1988 wild card game lateral or 2001's illegal review).
But not this time. Incomprehensible stupidity normally reserved for the Bengals or the French army came home to roost Sunday in Cleveland with the subtle grace of a 300-pound vulture in a rutting bloodlust.
The final minutes of the game were akin to watching stock prices plummet on the ticker while you vainly call your broker's busy cell-phone. The feeling of helplessness was staggering.
The Browns lost because a linebacker threw his helmet and either the field goal kicker or his holder taunted the other team. It's one thing when the Chicago Bears get divine intervention to recover an onsides kick, score on a Hail Mary, then return a deflected pass for an overtime touchdown. That was karma and luck.
Sunday was pure brainless oafishness. We deserve any and all heckling and jibes from friends/family/co-workers. This must be the price we pay for undying loyalty to a lost cause. And in our heart of hearts, we really weren't surprised in the end.
As for Dwayne Rudd and Phil Dawson (or Chris Gardocki), at the very minimum they should forfeit their game checks. And coach Butch Davis should forbid any player from removing his helmet during practice the rest of the season.
Lastly, they should apologize. If it weren't for the fans spending time and money to watch this team, these players would be weaving baskets or digging ditches. They get their millions because of us. And when they disappoint us because of dim-witted mistakes, they should issue a mea culpa. It's what real men would do in the real world.
This team has no right to taunt any opponent. Cleveland hasn't won squat yet. Improved, yes, but earn a post-season berth before talking smack. Better yet, control your emotions and play like a quiet, businesslike professional. Nothing inspires more awe and helpless frustration in an opponent than when a team does its job with class — as if it expects to win — and has nothing to say about it. Be a machine, the sort of football team Paul Brown wielded as an instrument of ruthless, quite destruction.
Conversely, the Chiefs have no reason to be proud or boastful. This victory was not the result of their work. Up to those bizarre final seconds, Kansas City had wasted a four-touchdown performance and been made to look foolish by a back-up quarterback whose last start came in 1997.
One issue continues to vex me: Is it not illegal for an offensive lineman to take the ball from the quarterback? Unless I'm mistaken — which is perfectly possible — offensive linemen are ineligible to receive passes or handoffs. I thought they could only recover fumbles or passes batted by an eligible teammate or touched first by an opponent.
If I'm correct, the Rudd penalty would be offset by a penalty on Kansas City. Please, e-mail me if I'm mistaken on this. Perhaps I missed something on the replay.
Here's my report card:
Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gets the credit for a clever game plan that took advantage of Kansas City's weaknesses. He and quarterbacks coach Carl Smith did a fine job of preparing Kelly Holcomb to start in place of Tim Couch. The overall grade would have been higher, but the staff clearly needs to make sure its players know the rules and don't taunt. The defensive coaches get a failing grade for not having this team prepared to deal with Priest Holmes. It was no secret what Kansas City planned to do Sunday. And they did it anyway.
Holcomb manufactured one of the best passing days in Cleveland history. He hit 27-of-39 passes for 326 yards and three touchdowns. He hit Dennis Northcutt for a 43-yard scoring pass in the second quarter; Andre Davis for a 4-yard TD strike in the third frame; and Quincy Morgan for a 44-yard bomb in the final period. Holcomb showed tactical brilliance by spreading the ball to seven different receivers, including five wideouts. His only mistake was losing a fumble deep in Cleveland territory that led to a Kansas City touchdown. However, it was a freakish play that could have happened to any quarterback. Given the context of the situation, fans could not have asked for a better performance from Holcomb.
RUNNING BACKS: C-
Jamel White was a workhorse in getting 42 yards on 12 carries to offset rookie William Green's 17 yards on eight carries. Perhaps the pathetic performance on the ground was a byproduct of a game plan to throw more than the Chiefs expected. Or not. As long as Couch is out, the offense can't expect Holcomb's passing to carry the day. Green needs to improve his decision making while White merely needs the opportunities. To their credit, the backs were effective enough to force the Chiefs to bite on play fakes, which are the backbone of the offense.
WIDE RECEIVERS: A+
Morgan led the pack with nine grabs for 151 yards and the two scores. While Kevin Johnson was kept out of the end zone, he did show off his passing arm with an accurate, if wobbly, 33-yard toss to Morgan in the second period that put Cleveland up 13-7. Johnson also used his body well to grab eight balls for 96 yards. It's clear that Morgan has developed into a legitimate second threat, and he and Johnson could surpass the old Webster Slaughter/Reggie Langhorne glory days of the late 1980s. Rookie Andre Davis showed nice development in getting open for a touchdown. Northcutt made his only reception count for the score. Andre King, Mark Campbell and White provided Holcomb with sure-handed alternative receivers and kept the Chiefs from pressing too hard on Morgan and Johnson.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
They couldn't make many holes for the backs against a suspect Kansas City defense that featured an ailing defensive line. That's worrisome. An argument could be made that the backs didn't take advantage of the holes they did make, but only film review will settle that debate. More importantly, the line was able to keep the pressure off Holcomb, who was sacked just once. He was allowed time to throw and the line executed play-fake blocking to perfection. The Chiefs seemed to buy everything. Right tackle Ryan Tucker's spra