Bye weeks can be tricky. There is a weekly rhythm to the football season, and by taking one week off, you can come back feeling as rusty as the Tin Man after swimming the English Channel. (It's called a simile, Barry. Look it up.)
During the Browns' bye, I was totally consumed with watching the Tribe blow their 3-1 ALCS lead to the Boston Red Sox. As I watched each broadcast of the Tribe's Beantown Beatdown, my eyes were bleeding like a roadside statue of the Virgin Mary. And then I also had to come to grips with the whole Paul Byrd HGH-user scandal. Without HGH, would his fastball even get a speeding ticket? And while it's a circumstantial leap, doesn't the Byrd case make you think that pretty much everybody was using this stuff during that era? It's one thing to prove, or even suspect, that Popeye and Bluto were on the juice. But Olive Oyl on the "flaxseed oil"? Wimpy saying, "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for an HGH today?" (To a dentist?)
Anyway, after all that, I had to suddenly get myself back into a football frame of mind. It wasn't easy. Just thinking the thought "3-3 Cleveland will be playing game seven on the road" gave me acid reflux.
Since WBNS made its usual charitable decision to spare Columbus-area bars and restaurants an influx of warring Yinzers and Cincituckians, the Browns were not on local TV down here. With Cincy-Pitt on free TV, and Browns-Rams only available through Sunday Ticket, this allowed fans of all three teams to watch their teams in the manner that best suited them:
* Tick-bitten Yinzers were able to spend their "Sundy" at home putting "aluminin foil" on the rabbit ears, allowing them to see fuzzy depictions of "black ‘n' yella" blobs that appeared to be Da Stillers.
* Cincitucky fans were able to record the game on the DVR. Then later that evening, after a productive and enjoyable Sunday, they were able to watch the game in fast forward since they knew the Bungles were going to lose anyway. (This is how my good buddy Flick watched most of the game. He used to slowest fast-forward setting on the remote. Seriously.)
* Cleveland fans were able to spend a nice afternoon publicly eating and drinking beer with other Browns fans, free from the annoyance of mingling with rival tribes of river people.
Things got off to an ominous start on Sunday. Like I said, those bye weeks are tricky.
For beginners, my friend Remo had ordered a basket of fries and was drowning them with vinegar. As we were talking, he blindly reached for the vinegar bottle. (Apparently his fries weren't Massengill-y enough for his liking.) As he doused his fries, he felt the liquid rushing out of the bottle much too quickly. That's because he was mistakenly dumping his beer bottle all over his fries.
Not a good start. He still ate the fries though. And when he was done, there was a good 3/4-inch puddle of beer at the bottom of the fry basket. Incredible.
Things got worse when he wondered where his wife was at, since she was supposed to meet us. He took out his cell phone to call her, only to find that he had missed several calls. From her. It turns out that she couldn't find her keys. And why is that? Because Remo had two sets of keys in his pocket.
As he left to go home to give his wife her keys, I told him, "I hope the Browns get off to a better start than you have."
So much for that.
The Browns went down by 14 so quickly that I thought they were playing the Red Sox. But it's a funny thing with these new Browns. Trailing 14-0, I was mildly annoyed, but still wasn't overly concerned. As I explained at the table, the Rams are probably going to need 30 points to win, so what's 14-0? Anderson and company can get that back before halftime.
It was the strangest feeling. For most of the last 17 years, a 14-0 lead on the Browns might as well have been infinity-0. Year after year of pushover lineman getting blocked into lead-footed running backs, or failing to protect noodle armed quarterbacks throwing to butterfingered receivers who rarely got open anyway. And that was before Maurice Carthon came along to add a dash of surly incompetence to the mix.
But now... holy smokes. Instead of being a decent homestand, scoring 14 points is now a decent quarter. Sure enough, the Browns had erased the deficit by halftime, and went on to win 27-20. Strange days indeed.
Some thoughts on the game…
* Braylon Edwards may have had the greatest day catching the ball that I have ever seen from a Browns player. The degree of difficulty on almost all of his catches was off the charts. He was stealing balls from defenders, dragging toes down the sideline, catching fades while wearing a cornerback, changing direction and snagging balls just inches from the turf. The one catch that was sort of easy ended with a Winslow-esque display of Sooper Soldja Strength on the run after the catch…and then a 15-yard penalty for Unnecessary Ruddness. It was that stupid penalty and his drop of a game-clinching first down in the final minutes that prevent me from calling that the greatest performance I have ever seen from a Browns receiver. (Instead, it's the merely greatest catching performance.)
* In a way, I am almost relieved that Braylon made some gaffes. Anything to keep that guy fired up and wanting more. It sounds like he handled the helmet incident as perfectly as anyone could hope, and you just know that the late drop has been a driving force for him this week. It's scary to think what could be next. This guy has evolved into the most dangerous receiver in the NFL who doesn't get to pad his stats by running end zone routes with 30-point leads.
* Before Steven Jackson hurt himself, the Browns' defense looked horrible didn't it? They are seemingly incapable of stopping the run. They need to sign a guy who can stop a fleet runner in his tracks. It's time for Phil Savage to pick up the phone and call Joel Skinner.
* A few weeks ago, I compared Leigh Bodden's performance to that of a striker in soccer. Against Cincy, he did nothing but then came up with the huge play at the end that won the game and erased all of the other bad plays he made. Against, St. Louis, the defense as a whole was like that. In the final minutes, they made a potentially game-saving stop on 4th and short, and then when the offense couldn't kill the game, Bodden ended it with another last-minute interception. When the team needed the defense to actually do something in crunch time, they came up huge twice. They're like a student who aces the final exam to avoid failing a class. It's equal parts relief and annoyance.
* Boy did the Browns commit a lot of penalties. But that wasn't all bad. In fact, it may have been part of the game plan. I am convinced that a covert directive to give Derek Anderson more field to work with was the reason that the Browns offensive line had more false starts than that Chaka Khan song from the 80s.
* I know the NFL is really into this new captain system that they have, but I think it's awkwardly executed. By having a patch with places for four stars, yet only being able to award one star for the first year of captaincy, the uniform patch is very strange with three "empty" stars to the right of the one gold star. It looks like the captains are low on gas or something. Or that they got a crappy movie review. ("Throughout the course of the film, Andra Davis missed several arm tackles while being a step behind the play. I give it one star out of four.")
What a big game this week. I am so used to the Browns being the trap team, that it's surreal to see the Browns going about their business while trying not to look forward to next week's showdown with Pittsburgh. The Dolphins and Rams were trap games based on records, and the Browns did well to win the games they should have. The Seahawks game is a trap game based on proximity to the Steelers game. Let's hope the Browns keep their Wedge-like focus on the task at hand.
Of course, there could be complications now that Charlie Frye is sharing his encyclopedic knowledge of the Chudzinski playbook. I, for one, am not concerned about this. There are two possible scenarios:
1. Frye tells the Hawks that the Browns will be throwing the ball in the general area of Braylon Edwards, expecting him to make a play. Well, um, yeah. What can the Seahawks really do to stop that? Leave Winslow and Jurevicius open?
2. Frye tells the Hawks of the myriad plays whereby the Browns snap the ball to the quarterback, whose job it is to stand there and not make a decision until such time as he is sacked. This does not worry me as all those plays were scrapped about 20 minutes into the season opener.
And just so you know, the Steelers fans at the office are putting up a brave face, but I can tell that they're getting a little worried. The woman who sits next to me suffered a fantasy football defeat when her opponent picked up Derek Anderson. I said, "It's probably been awhile since you felt the sting of defeat as a result of the Browns, but just know that it's only the beginning."
I was then told by another office Steeler fan that the Browns couldn't beat the Steelers because they won't be able to stop Fast Willie. "Who cares?" I countered. "They wouldn't even be able to stop Slow Willie, or Pegleg Willie, or Double Amputee Willie Who Has To Run With His Arms. Willie can do what he wants. We'll get it all back within five passes. Just hope the Browns don't get the ball last."
I don't know how much of that I actually believe, aside from the Double Amputee Willie part, but all I know is that for the first time in forever, it's kinda nice that when I offer up a little smack-talk bravado about the Browns, it leaves the other person legitimately unsure as to whether or not I am joking.
Until next week,
Steve Sirk, once Art Bietz's co-conspirator at the TruthCenter, has taken to sending a weekly letter to "home base" about life as a Browns fan struggling in the NFL mixing pot of Central Ohio. At some point in life, Sirk determined that suffering through the nexus, dips, valleys, and various low points of being a Cleveland sports fan within geographic proximity of Cleveland itself did not create sufficient emotional pain. Sneeringly dismissive of even basic survival instincts, Sirk elected to reside in Columbus, Ohio, so that he could better be surrounded by fans of winning franchises who could mock his very existence. If you wish to contact an individual of such clearly questionable judgment, you may do so at email@example.com