Derry: Think the Unthinkable

Today's game harkened back to another 14 years ago, but the team reacted very differently, according to OBR columnist Frank Derry...

Think back to 1993.

When the Cleveland Browns released starting quarterback Bernie Kosar following a loss to the Denver Broncos, the offense responded the following week by playing one of its worst games in memory in a 22-5 loss at Seattle. The Browns, with third-stringer Todd Philcox at the helm, looked and acted like a beaten team even before they took the field.

Fast forward to 2007.

The Browns, after just one game, trade starting quarterback Charlie Frye. They have their quarterback of the future, Brady Quinn, waiting in the wings, but opt instead to go with Derek Anderson, who had a miserable preseason and a shaky outing as Frye's relief pitcher in the regular-season opener against the Steelers.

Some people, including this writer, feared the same thing would happen Sunday afternoon against the Bengals that took place 14 years ago when the team traveled to the Great Northwest without their leader.

Instead, to their credit, the Browns' offense turned in the most incredible performance ever by the home team at new Cleveland Browns Stadium. The 51-45 victory over downstate rival Cincinnati, which had gotten off to a 1-0 start by beating Baltimore in the opener, was absolutely stunning.

Anderson finished with a franchise record-tying five touchdown passes; Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr., made several remarkable catches; veteran Jamal Lewis ran like he did a couple of years ago while in his prime with the Ravens;  and the offensive line, which couldn't do anything right in the opener against the Steelers, not only gave Anderson great protection, but also opened some gaping holes for Lewis, who finished with 215 yards on 28 carries, including a 66-yard touchdown run.

Who'd have thunk it?

Certainly not this corner.

After a week of turmoil brought on by the drubbing at the hands of the Steelers, the subsequent trade of Frye to the Seahawks and numerous calls for Quinn to be handed the No. 1 job, the Cincinnati game seemed to be playing second, third or fourth fiddle in the minds of most fans.

Fortunately for the Browns, head coach Romeo Crennel, who was heavily criticized for the team's apparent lack of preparation for the Steelers game, did a masterful job of keeping the offense pointed in the right direction.

Anderson, after misfiring on his first five passes, went 20-for-33- for 328 yards. Edwards caught eight of Anderson's offerings for 146 yards and two touchdowns; Winslow added five for 100 yards and one touchdown; and Jurevicius chipped in with four receptions and two touchdowns.

The fact that the only apparent change to the offense in Week Two was the insertion of Anderson at quarterback makes you wonder if indeed Frye was a bigger part of the problem against the Steelers than we ever imagined.

The dropped snap by the fill-in punter on the first series certainly created a rocky start for the Browns against Pittsburgh, but Frye did absolutely nothing to right the ship. An interception and five sacks, some of which were the result of Frye taking too long to get rid of the ball, pretty much put Anderson in a mop-up role by the time he took over midway through the second period.

That was not a true test of Anderson's ability by any means. It was a totally different case against the Bengals.

Make no mistake, he wasn't perfect by any means. He fumbled once; had one pass intercepted; threw at least one other ball that should have been picked; and threw several passes that were far off the mark, including one to a wide open Jurevicius in the end zone.

But those were the exceptions and probably the result of some rustiness. Aside from his three starts last year, Anderson has spent the virtually all of his NFL career watching from the sidelines.

Sunday's offensive explosion against the Bengals not only ended the Browns' long North Division losing streak that dated back to the end of the 2005 season, but it also bought some time for the continued development of Quinn.

Had Anderson gone out against the Bengals and stunk up the place, you can bet the fans and media would have spent this entire week calling for Quinn to be inserted as the starter next Sunday.

Now, for at least another week, Quinn can do some much-needed studying of coordinator Rob Chudzinski's offense. 

In fact, if Anderson happens to play a few more games like he did Sunday, there may not be a need to insert Quinn at all this year. That would be a win-win situation for the Browns because it would mean the team is successful and Quinn is learning without fear of his being put in a bad situation on the field.

The reality of the matter is that the Bengals do not have a good defense. Even though Anderson has very little mobility, for some reason they did almost nothing to get any rush on him. When the Bengals did rush a linebacker or defensive back, the Browns' offensive line and running backs were able to pick up the blitzers very effectively.

The Browns also got another outstanding performance by kickoff return man Joshua Cribbs, who broke off two long returns in the first half. He is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

The one negative on the day was a second straight subpar performance by the defense, which has been surprisingly ineffective in the two regular season games. Far too often Bengals receivers looked to be running all alone in the defensive backfield while Rudy Johnson gained 118 yards on 23 carries, good for an unacceptable 5.1 yard per carry average.

The defense will need to tighten things up very quickly, because common sense tells you the offense will be hard pressed to continuously out up numbers the way they did against the Bengals.

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