Two stories collided on this late September Sunday afternoon, resulting in the death of a monkey; the monkey on our back. A monkey that has become more of an ape. Actually, the ape had become the size of King Kong.
The first story, the only one thought to be emerging this day, was that the Browns looked to be reviving the Fudd Era. That's Fudd as in Elmer Fudd, or former head coach Chris Palmer.
So much of the play against the Titans mirrored games from our first two years:
The Browns offense looks impressive on their opening drive, then disappears.
Opponents adjust and come roaring back with plenty of unanswered points, and the Browns don't.
Defense keeps opponents' drives alive with silly penalties.
Suicide by turnover.
Offensive line is completely manhandled, so the offense plays scared. It's 3rd and 1 and Couch is in the shotgun.
An over-reliance on KJ has Couch commit cardinal sin of forcing a pass deep in our own territory resulting in disastrous interception return for a TD.
misses on a 2nd quarter field goal when the Browns desperately need a score to turn the momentum. In fairness to Phil Dawson , this was a 52 yarder. His 2nd Quarter attempts under similar conditions against teams like Dawson and the Giants two years ago were from around 40-42 yards. Tennessee
The team's intensity on both sides was vintage 2000: no fire, no attack, and a willingness to let the other team take it to them.
Constantly losing the battle of field position. Punt returner consistently fielding punts inside the 15.
20-yard kickoff returns with not a speck of daylight and breakdowns on punt return defense.
A woeful offense. Down by 7 before the half, we quickly make it 14, then can't make up for it with plenty of time left on the clock.
A defense that could keep the opposition in check on first and second down, but not get pressure on the quarterback in an obvious passing down.
A Bengals-like penchant for getting something started on the offense, then shooting ourselves in the foot.
Did I mention intensity? Last year's defense could rally after a turnover deep in their own end and keep it to just a field goal. Sunday's defense just grumbled and gave up the touchdown. And despite Northcutt's punt return, rest of team didn't play with the fire you'd expect with a major turning point. It's not a shift in big "mo" if you don't act like it happened.
It all looked oh-so-typical of a Palmer team and game, even if we did benefit from one atypical special teams score. The defense had improved from its first two games and was keeping
William Green fumbles. Kong breaks those chains of "chrome steel" like they were charm bracelets.
Anthony Henry intercepts, only the ref rules he never had possession. Kong stomps on the press corps and those infernal flash bulbs.
William Green fumbles again. Kong reaches into a window to grab who it thinks is Ann It isn't, and he tosses the poor woman to the crowd below in the ultimate mosh pit dive.
Northcutt practically hands the Titans a touchdown. Kong flicks Jack Driscoll aside and grabs Ann.
Dwayne Rudd picks up a fumble and races down inside the 10. Only the refs blew the whistle. Kong is climbing the
"Calling all cars, Kong is on the loose! He has Ann Darrow. That is all."
But then the second story popped up out of nowhere. The Browns didn't follow Fudd form. The script would have called for an exhausted defense to let Eddie George pile up 60 yards in a 12 play, 80 yard drive that takes 7 minutes off the clock. Final: 35-14.
Instead, the Browns call for the aerial attack.
Down 28-14 and over halfway through into the fourth quarter, the Browns "took what the defense gave them (my vote for Overworked Sports Cliché of 2002)." They didn't look all that artful in the process, but they flew down the field fast enough. And just when you thought the drive would stall around the 12, Couch hit Andre
The biplanes took off and were heading for midtown.
At 28-21, it looked as if we would at least make the final score more respectable. But there was only left on the clock and we had no more timeouts. We'd have to go through the motions of an onside kick, something at which the Browns have rarely been successful.
And damn if the Browns didn't come up with a beauty of an onside kick. The biplanes circled to come in gunning for the big ape.
It's not uncommon for a player to make a costly mistake only to redeem himself later with a winning play. The opposite is also not uncommon: a great play followed later by bonehead miscue that puts a game out of reach. But Northcutt pulled a hat trick of momentous plays. He follows up a great play… with a disaster (an incredibly "stupid on so many levels" attempt at a fair catch)… and then makes ANOTHER great play. Northcutt recovers the onside kick… or did he?
Play is up for review. Oh yea, Browns fans know the score on that one, and they pick up their beer bottles ready to throw them at something.
And then the call: no conclusive evidence to overrule. Kong is disoriented, confused. Suddenly, the big ape is clutching his stomach from machine gun fire!
Defiant, Kong is now waving his fist, roaring at Browns fans that this is only happening so that we can come even closer only to lose in an even more heartbreaking manner.
The team has plenty of time, but the Browns run their usual offense to script, which is to say they run it badly. Couch is chased out of the pocket, and virtually any other qb this side of Dan Marino would have shaken free to roll out and look for a receiver. But no, Couch gets tripped up by Carter, who had been beating Roger Chanoine all day like a rented mule.
No! Kong just grabbed a biplane and tossed it down the side of the building!
The clock is ticking. Mark
Kong rears its ugly head. We have 3rd and 5, but a first down is immaterial. There's little time left and no timeouts. We can't afford a sack or a short pass. We can't even afford a first down because we might not have time to get off another play. Couch throws it to Northcutt, who catches it around the 5 with a defender bearing down on him. Shades of Fudd and 5 yard slants on 3rd and 10!
But something inexplicable happens. Northcutt spins back inside and fakes the defender out of his cleats in a move taken out of the Eric Metcalf's Big Book of Defensive Humiliation. He scampers in.
How many players have a great play followed by a disaster, then TWO more great plays to compensate?
Close-up: Pilot and blazing machine guns.
Wide Shot: Kong lunges for the biplane that's just out of his reach, then clutches his chest. Blood is pouring from the wounds. He puts Ann Darrow down on the ledge below.
Overtime: The visitors get to call it. Heads? "Heads it is."
More machine gun fire. Kong is losing too much blood.
Long pass play to Davis, but is he in bounds? It looks so close. Surely this is where Kong kills off his tormentors, and we end up having to punt.
The officials' replay yields no conclusive proof. More machine gun fire. Kong is too bloody and exhausted to even reach for the biplanes anymore.
A few nifty runs by Jamel White. He has some room. He doesn't fumble. We're well within range. It's 3rd down. Let's not wait.
Close-up: pilot coming in for the kill.
It isn't Max Steiner, but Dawson firing those twin machine guns. Kong lists to one side hams it up for the camera, puts a paw to his head ("Oh, the ignominy!"), then falls over the side, hitting various levels on the way down like Homer Simpson ("D'oh!!! Ohhh!!! Ahhh!!! D'oh!!").
The ape that grew out of control from the Hail Mary in the Bears game and Bottlegate against Jacksonville, the ape that grew to be King Kong after "The Helmet," finally died.
The Browns by all rights should have lost the game. They beat themselves more often than self-flagellating monks. And when it was all over but the shouting, when people walked out of the bars in the Flats yelling that "Game's over, thanks to that idiot Northcutt," the Browns found a way to win one they had no business winning.
As Green buried himself in what will hopefully be the worst game of his professional career, I'm think about how he's mirrored Northcutt early career: holdout, banged up, the harder he presses, the worse it gets, and the monkey gets bigger.
Perhaps William Green needs to sit on the bench for a while.
But if the Browns can get King Kong off their back, and if Couch can get the monkey off his back, and if Northcutt can get that ape off his back, then perhaps young rookie Green will find the inspiration to do the same.
After all, history does not have to repeat.