Passan: A Thirty-Year Flashback

The 2007 Browns remind Rich Passan of a certain Browns team of the almost-distant past. There's one missing thing, though, and it's a major part. Here's the take from a veteran Cleveland sportswriter who has tracked the Browns for decades...

Call me delusional, but this edition of the Browns on offense is eerily mindful of a team that played in the old Stadium nearly 30 years ago.

Back then, there was the big tight end (Ozzie Newsome); the big receivers (Dave Logan and Reggie Rucker); the short but powerful running back (Mike Pruitt); the scatback (Greg Pruitt), an offensive line whose left tackle was a converted tight end (Doug Dieken); and a magical quarterback who tied it all together neatly (Brian Sipe).

Fast forward to modern day with the big tight end (Kellen Winslow Jr.); the big receivers (Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius); the short but powerful running back (Jamal Lewis); the scatback (Jason Wright and/or Jerome Harrison); an offensive line whose left tackle is a converted tight end (Joe Thomas); and a magical quarterback who ties it all together (Derek Anderson).

If that wasn't magic dust that swirled around Cleveland Browns Stadium Sunday and screamed "Kardiac Kids" in the surreal comeback victory over Seattle, I don't know what magic is. It was Disneyesque.

The only difference between the two teams, albeit a huge one, is that the original Kardiac Kids in 1979 and 1980 played something that is quite foreign to the present-day Browns: Defense.

Is there any question that Anderson, the accidental quarterback, has the same gunslinger mentality that enabled Sipe to become the one of the National Football League's best quarterbacks for a couple of years? A half a foot shorter than Anderson, Sipe was a fearless competitor. He feared nothing.

After watching how Anderson calmly – almost calculatedly – brought the Browns back yet again from a large deficit to win against the Seahawks, thoughts of Sipe flashed through my mind. He's a taller version of one of the most popular quarterbacks in Browns history.

Sipe, a low-round draft choice, overachieved. Anderson, a low-round draft choice, has overachieved beyond the wildest expectations of even the most ardent Browns fan. His growth the last seven weeks has been stunning.

He loves to throw the ball, no matter where the Browns are on the field. And offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski isn't afraid to let him do it. In fact, it looks as though he is eager to feed passing plays to his young quarterback.

The most important part of Romeo Crennel's job as head coach of this team is to stay out of Chudzinski's way and let the coordinator and his crew continue to bail out the defense.

(And props to Crennel for that gutsy call to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the Seattle 15 early in the fourth quarter. Had he settled for a field goal at that point, the Browns probably would not have won this one.)

In his recent growth spurt, Anderson has shed a label that has been attached to him for too long. He no longer locks on to his receivers. His checkdowns and progressions aren't perfect, but they're a lot better than they were a few weeks ago. And he can throw all the passes – slants, skinny posts, hitches (that two-pointer to Jurevicius in the fourth quarter was pinpoint perfect), screens, go routes, out routes. Runs a nifty naked bootleg, too, every once in a while.

The inconsistency that pockmarked his earlier performances has disappeared. After throwing his third interception in the New England loss, he went 81 passes before throwing his next pick when he tried to squeeze a short pass to Lewis in the first quarter against Seattle and Darryl Tapp made a terrific athletic play for the interception. In between, he threw eight touchdown passes.

Against the Seahawks, he didn't have to throw touchdown passes, although it would have helped if Winslow, who played courageously and magnificently, had held on to a perfect scoring pass late in the fourth quarter.

With the help of his splendid receivers and peerless offensive line, which protects him as if he was gold, Anderson spent all afternoon and evening setting a pretty nice table for Lewis' four touchdown runs, proving one doesn't have to throw TD passes to be effective.

He is settling into his role as this team's offensive leader quite nicely and is no longer learning at a snail's pace how to play the game. He's approaching warp speed. The game appears to have slowed down for him. The mutual trust between him and his receivers is astonishing.

The Browns now know they can move the ball. It's no longer a matter of hoping. And Anderson is the main reason for that feeling.

No deficit, it would appear, is too great for him to overcome. Even as the Browns' defense and special teams hemorrhaged points, Anderson remained cool and unflustered against the Seahawks. There seems to be a calm reserve that suits him well in his chosen profession.

Watching him operate, you just knew that somehow, some way, he was going to get the job done. He did not panic, his teammates did not panic, his coaches did not panic.

Anderson has become the quarterback Browns fans wanted Tim Couch to be; wanted Charlie Frye to be. Frye had to be watching disbelievingly as Anderson brought the Browns back against his Seahawks.

Beating the snot out of winless Miami and St. Louis in the last two games raised an eyebrow or two around the NFL. But scoring 33 points against a very good Seahawks defense that permitted just 15.5 points a game in their first seven games had to make more than just a few people suit up and take notice. Real close notice.

In the process, the Browns sure have become a fun team to watch, particularly on offense. Too bad they can't play solid defense except on fourth down. Can you imagine where this club would be with any kind of a decent defense? Not great defense. At this point, decent will do just fine, thank you.

This Sunday, it's the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only team that has shut down this offense this season, thank you very much Charlie Frye.

Based on what has taken place since the Steelers humiliated the Browns and their fans in the season opener at CBS, it's safe to say that any resemblance between the team the Steelers will face this time and the one they drilled in the opener will be purely coincidental.

The Browns are now right at the corner of where they hope to be and where they expect to be. We'll know how far they've turned that corner by late Sunday afternoon at the confluence of the three rivers in Pittsburgh.

Until the results are in for that one, any utterances of the P word – except Pittsburgh and payback – are off limits.

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