Passan: A Corner Being Turned?

Rich looks at the Browns loss to Oakland, and sees some rays of hope. Here's a different perspective on last Sunday's last-second loss...

The difference between winning and losing is paper-thin. It's a mind-set that transcends conventional thinking. 

The difference between good teams and bad teams is that bad teams almost always find a way to lose and good teams almost always find a way to win. 

And the Browns have been a very bad team since returning to the National Football League in 1999. That is indisputable. They have taken bad and turned it an art form, with an occasional blip along the way, by losing in strange ways. 

So does that mean the Oakland Raiders are a better team after Sunday's Houdiniesque victory over the Browns? Or that the Browns are the lesser team? 

What it means is that the Browns took a major step closer to becoming a winning team even though the scoreboard said otherwise. It means the Browns might not be quite ready to turn a corner, but they're approaching it. It's in the crosshairs. 

That the Browns, as awful as they played in the first half, came back and made a game of it tells me something: There is more fight in them than any Browns team in the last nine seasons. 

When the Raiders took a 16-0 lead and the Browns looked as though they would have trouble beating St. Ignatius, how many of you gave up? Probably more than are willing to admit it. But the Browns didn't give up. 

How many times can you recall them overcoming a 16-point deficit and actually taking the lead as they did against the Raiders?  

That's progress. 

This wasn't one of those losses where you walked away, shaking your head, muttering to yourself, "Same old Browns. Is this team ever going to learn how to win? Why does it always happen to us? What else can go wrong?" 

No, this one didn't do that because the Browns put themselves into a position to win, something they don't do often enough. This time, there was a very real chance to win. 

In the past, they usually were in a position when the other team had the ball in the final moments of a close game and plunged the dagger. This time, they owned the ball. And the fact they didn't win doesn't cloud the notion that better days are ahead. 

The loss opened up the gate of hope and let in a ray or two of encouragement shine. This was a game that could have been won and should have been won despite some major flaws with the defense and an inconsistent offense. To even be in that position has to be heartening to Browns fans. 

In the past, this club has been beaten – and beaten up – so badly physically and psychologically, there was not even a sliver of hope. Idealistically, yes. Realistically, no. 

But that appears to be changing. While the game Sunday ended up on the wrong side of the won-lost column, it didn't seem like it. This loss offered too much encouragement to be written off as just another setback. No, this one offered several glimmers of hope, several peeks into what might turn into a season of surprises. 

Sure, the run defense was terrible as it continued its non-violence approach – Tackling? What's that? – against the opposition. That hasn't changed and probably won't until Phil Savage finally opens his eyes and does something about it. 

At the same time, if it hadn't been for some solid transition defense that bailed out the offense, this one would have gotten out of hand early. Two Derek Anderson interceptions gave birth to Oakland drives deep in Cleveland territory, but the Raiders squeezed only six points out of them.

And sure, the offense staggered at times like a punch-drunk boxer. What else do you expect from a quarterback in his second season as a starter? What's that you say . . . 300-plus passing yards . . . five touchdowns . . . a victory? 

Get serious. 

What you saw was Anderson floating back down to earth with what most likely will be the norm for him as long he keeps Brady Quinn on the sidelines.  

He'll make some good throws like the ones he made to Kellen Winslow Jr. and Joe Jurevicius on what sure looked like the winning drive against the Raiders with no timeouts in the final minute of the fourth quarter. And he'll make some awful throws like the two interceptions that gave the Raiders the six gift points. 

But he is also the kind of quarterback you have to stick with because you never know when he'll get hot. He has the ability to rally his team, as evidenced by that last-minute drive. 

But that's not why the Browns lost this game. They lost it because they could not shut down the Raiders on third down.  

Even before Phil Dawson's game-winning field-goal attempt was blocked, the defense had a chance to give the offense even more time than the 64 seconds it had to get into position to win the game.  

Like the third-and-23 at the Oakland 41 with 10 minutes remaining. How in the world did Lamont Jordan get loose for a 27-yard gain on a screen pass?  

Or the 20-yard pass to Jerry Porter, who beat the usually reliable Leigh Bodden on third-and-9 at the Oakland 22 with a little more than two minutes left?  

Get the offense back on the field in either of those situations and Anderson would have had at least two minutes to work with instead of 64 seconds. And no telling how much deeper he could have gotten into field-goal territory and shortened Dawson's attempt. 

Even so, moving 69 yards in a minute with no timeouts and getting to the Raiders' 22 was very un-Browns like.  

Fact is they did everything right in the last minute except win the game.  

The light that appeared to be so dim following the season-opening loss against Pittsburgh now has some glow to it. How much more brightly it shines will be determined this Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens, whose secondary was shredded by Arizona's Kurt Warner a couple of days ago. 

That they didn't play well against the Raiders and yet were in a position to win doesn't exactly speak volumes for the Browns, but they had to know how close they were to sneaking out with a victory. 

That they came out and played hard after falling behind for the second game in a row gives rise to the feeling – let's not call it a belief right now – that maybe, just maybe, this team is beginning to get it. 

We'll know for certain after what could turn out to be a pivotal game this weekend.  

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