Saturday night in Cleveland, Ohio had an eerie feel to it, as the Browns were self-destructing against the Detroit Lions.
Numerous penalties, missed assignments, questionable play at the quarterback position, and poor-route running all played a part in the Browns being on the short end of a 23-0 score late in the third quarter.
Over the course of the past two weeks, the race at the quarterback position had not been one at all. Charlie Frye was easily ahead on all the scorecards, and Derek Anderson had been staggered more times than a club-fighter mixing it up with a World Champion. On this night, it was Anderson who withstood the haymakers, though his performance did not leave him unscathed.
Outside of his fumble on a blown offensive line assignment and an interception when a receiver ran a poor route, Anderson did not play poorly, although he could have been much more productive.
Anderson showed a little more consistency than he has in past weeks, completing a perfectly-thrown out pattern and nice slant route to receiver Braylon Edwards in the first quarter. Following a rough start to the evening, Anderson did not benefit from the lack of organization of his offensive unit while on the field. A delay of game penalty and a false start called on guard Seth McKinney hampered an 11-play drive, which resulted in an Anderson interception.
The Charlie Frye of this evening was no different than the player who was under center for the Browns much of the 2006 season. Balls floated off his hand at times, or he would overthrow a wide open receiver by four yards. Frye's inability to gain consistency and grasp the moment has to be a huge disappointment to the organization. Last night, Frye left the door open for criticism, and placed an emphasis on the lack of stability the Browns have at quarterback.
Brady Quinn didn't just get in the spotlight. The spotlight was put on him by the team's veterans inability to build confidence.
Following months of preparation and weeks of practice, the Browns were hopeful that Frye would seal the deal and grasp the starting role, at least until rookie Brady Quinn was ready to assume the duties. Realistically, the Browns are no closer today to naming their starting quarterback, based on the latest efforts from the two players often mentioned as the candidates.
In as much as the quarterback debate should have been resolved on this night, a new fire burns and it may be one the team may be better off letting it explode.
The third and fourth quarterbacks on the roster, Ken Dorsey and Brady Quinn played extremely well against the Lions. Granted, the Lions were not at full strength when either player was on the field. Granted, the Lions had their second and third team defense on the field. Granted, the Lions did not aggressively attack the Browns offense with authority, as they had done earlier in the game.
But, this game was not about statistics. It was fully about the command and decision making process of the two quarterbacks on the roster who were supposedly not in the hunt for the starting job. It takes solid leadership ability to lead a group of players entrenched on the lowest end of the depth chart and get them to excel.
Dorsey and Quinn both provided this quality on Saturday night. They exceeded expectations and turned in excellent performances.
Claims that Dorsey and Quinn simply took advantage of a Detroit defense which was not aggressive will be heard frequently in the post-game analysis. While there's merit to this argument, the truth must be acknowledged that both quarterbacks made the correct reads against the Detroit defense. Neither turned the ball over, and both took what was available on the field. The coverage and blitz packages had to be read, the throws had to be made, and the skill to lead and manage the game had to be shown.
Knocks regarding Dorsey's questionable arm strength will continue following his latest performance, but all Dorsey did was throw the ball accurately and put the offense in a position to score. The Browns got their first offensive touchdown of the preseasonwhile he was running the offense in the fourth quarter.
After the lengthy preamble, the show-stopper was the rookie from Notre Dame. Upon entering the game with just over nine minutes remaining, Quinn led the Browns on scoring drives of 63 and 92 yards, both resulting in touchdown passes.
As impressive as the statistical performance of the rookie was, his demeanor on the field and sense of leadership are qualities the Cleveland Browns have lacked at the quarterback position for several seasons.
Taking advantage of the open middle of the field, Quinn checked down to his secondary receivers often and very quickly. Despite the Lions taking away the sidelines, Quinn was able to move the team into scoring position by working the underneath routes, while slipping in an occasional out or slant pattern into the set.
Making the correct reads and throwing the ball accurately were critical in the success of the rookie signal-caller in his first pre-season action. It was the awareness Quinn displayed that may eventually separate him from the pack in Cleveland.
Heading into the game against the Lions, the Browns' were hopeful the results would enable them to name a starting quarterback. Following this contest, the decision may have gotten significantly tougher.
The Cleveland front office and coaching staff could not have scripted a worse scenario for themselves, as now the reality now is that Ken Dorsey and Brady Quinn have earned a shot at the grand prize with their strong practice and game performances.
For now, the seat which has been reserved strictly for Frye and Anderson should remain empty.