If you need any further proof that the world has gone mad, I can tell you that I, a typically pessimistic Cleveland sports fan, did not even bat an eye when the Browns went down 21-6 to the Seattle Seahawks. Don't get me wrong, I was annoyed. But I wasn't worried.
Knowing the Browns would be getting the ball to start the second half, I told myself not to even worry unless the Browns failed to produce 10 points in the final drive of the first half and the opening drive of the second half. If they could close the gap to at least 21-16, they could win the game so long as the defense would limit Seattle to field goals during the offense's inevitable TD onslaught.
Well…the Browns closed to within 21-16. The defense held Seattle to field goals. The offense scored more touchdowns. Cleveland 33, Seattle 30, overtime.
It's surreal to be that confident in the Cleveland Browns. It's even more surreal to have that confidence rewarded.
My friend Steph likes to compare me to Tina Turner, whereas Cleveland sports teams are Ike. When the Indians jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the American League Championship Series, she would leave me messages like, "I see Ike just bought you a fur coat. Don't fall for it, Tina. You need to leave right now before he hits you again." Sure enough, the Tribe dropped three straight games, and Steph was offering to assist me with making a clean break once and for all. ("Listen to me, Tina. You don't deserve to let this happen to you time and time again. You need to leave Ike for good, and you need to do it right now.")
I haven't gotten any Ike & Tina calls about the Browns yet. However, given my unwavering belief that the Browns' offense can overcome just about anything, I'd imagine that, win or lose in Pittsburgh, an "Ike & Tina" call is right around the corner.Let's hope it's a "fur coat" call and not a "here's a list of shelters" call.
A few thoughts on the Seattle game…
* I much prefer "Dr. Phil" Winslow to "Evel Knievel" Winslow. So what if the guy is recommending hugs to opponents and getting weepy after victories? At least he's confining his daredevil antics to the playing field, where he appears to be indestructible, no matter how destructed he may actually be. Bad knee? Separated shoulder? 11 catches for 125 yards? Is there any tougher player in the NFL right now? It's to the point that an opponent could rip one of Winslow's arms out of his socket and beat him with it as he ran down the field, and he'd still make a one-handed grab for a first down. Heck, just to show how little it bothered him, he might even retrieve his dismembered arm and signal first down with it.
* I know that earlier in the year I compared Romeo to a taxidermic moose, but moose must have big balls. Full credit to Romeo for going for it on 4th and 1 early in the 4th quarter with the Browns trailing 24-16. The announcers suggested going for the field goal, but Romeo obviously knew that the key to winning the game was to let the offense do all it could to win it. At that point in the game, the offense needed to gain ground on Seattle, not hold serve in a field goal battle. (And having watched Marvin Lewis wuss out a few weeks in a row for Cincinnati, it was refreshing to see a coach have faith in his team.) Not only did the Browns go for it, but they hit Winslow downfield for a 13-yard gain. What an incredible display of moose balls.
* As Seattle marched down to the two yard line to kick the tying field goal at the end of regulation, I cursed the dreaded prevent defense. But then it occurred to me that the Browns may have been playing their regular defense, as the differences are indistinguishable. Were there only three guys not pressuring the quarterback instead of four? Were the corners lined up 12 yards off the line of scrimmage instead of 10? These differences are much too subtle for me to pick up on in the heat of the moment.
* The only time I thought the Browns were going to lose was when Seattle won the coin toss and got the ball at the start of overtime. But then the defense made its second heroic fourth down stop in as many weeks. Unbelievable. The Browns are probably dead last in every defensive statistic except for 4th & 1 defense. I bet Marvin Lewis can't wait until the Bengals play the Browns again, just to get those "quit wussing out on 4th & 1" people off his back.
* What a day for Jamal Lewis. 20 carries for 37 yards….and FOUR touchdowns? What's the baseball equivalent of that? 0-for-3 with 4 RBI? It was like one of those Travis Hafner games where he whiffs once, gets a couple of RBI groundouts, draws a bases loaded walk, and hits a sac fly.
The Browns are 5-3. (I just like to type that sentence sometimes.)
But here's the thing…their second half schedule is such that they could conceivably finish, say, 12-4, and become The Worst 12-4 Team Ever. I am drooling at the thought.
Aside from the Pittsburgh game, in which they are clearly an underdog, is there any other game in the second half that you don't feel the Browns have a legitimately decent shot at winning? It's not that they are guaranteed to win these games by any stretch, but you'd have to feel good that they legitimately could or should win them.
The AFC North's schedule this year was a blessing. By an unpredictable fluke in the balance of power and the scheduling rotation, the AFC North got both the deplorable AFC East and the abominable NFC West. That's one loss to the Patriots and seven very winnable games. In terms of scheduling, it's like facing the 1947 Boston Braves and always falling in line with the "Pray For Rain" portion of the Braves' rotation while Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain watch from the dugout.
I never thought that a team ranked 32nd in defense could make the playoffs, but there's a realistic chance that just such a team can win 11 or 12 games and do just that. Thank you NFL scheduling rotation! (And awesome Browns offense!)
My friend Z-man has long been annoyed by the tradition that started on Monday Night Football years ago, whereby players introduce themselves and proudly mention the college they attended. Z is a man of many strong opinions, and he speaks almost exclusively in the declarative, so this comes as no shock to me.
When he sees Mr. Millionaire proudly proclaiming he attended State U., it rubs Z-man the wrong way. ("He left school in the middle of his junior year. He should have to say his high school.")
Z-man feels you should only be able to list the highest level of education completed. If your college experience revolves around going to football practice, letting tutors write your papers, and skipping out of classes while slipping into every co-ed rated 9.7 or higher… and then you leave after two-plus years to make millions in the NFL…. well…. you can't proclaim on national TV that you went to State U. as if you earned a degree in zero-gravity brain surgery.
This is one of the things that made Thursday night's MLS playoff broadcast so special. (I know you were unable to watch because you were busy with the radio show and your Tivo was tied up with Gray's Anatomy, which is why I am telling you about it now.)
Anyway, ESPN decided to go the same route and have the players introduce themselves, just like Monday Night Football. It was pretty mundane stuff until the sequence wrapped up with New England Revolution striker Taylor Twellman, who left school early to start his pro soccer career. Here is his introduction, in its entirety:
"Taylor Twellman. University of Maryland. 32 credits!"
Z-man and I nearly fell out of our chairs we were laughing so hard. We call on all NFL players who left school early to be equally as forthright.
(And by the way, with karma on his side, Twellman went on to win the game with a spectacular goal that can be seen here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ElPVma-Wyd0 )
As excited as I have been about there being a legitimate Steelers Week for the first time in five years, I have sort of missed out on it. I was not in the office this week, so I did not get to verbally spar with my Steeler Fan work neighbors.
Then again, pre-game talk is cheap. The Browns need to win this game, and I have learned of a way that they can do it.
In the last two games, the Browns defense has started out atrociously, but then has gotten better as the game has gone along, including some big plays in crunch time. Likewise, the offense has started out slowly, but once it gets a chance to build up a head of steam, it is unstoppable.
My brother Tom has also noticed this trend. After doing several seconds of analysis, he suggested that instead of doing drills, the Browns should actually scrimmage during warm-ups. They should play a good 15-30 minutes of regulation football. That way, they are hitting their stride when the game starts and can blow people out like the Patriots do.
If Romeo institutes this plan before the Steelers game, the Browns will coast to victory. The delirious citizens of Cleveland will rejoice, and the furious citizens of Pittsburgh will light front yard tire fires by launching Molotov cocktails made out of Terrible Towels and unmarked bottles of bathtub whiskey. Yinzers will spend the rest of their "Sundy" shooting squirrels out of anger rather than hunger. They'll be so distraught that they won't even have the appetite to nibble the bugs out of each other's hair.
Let's make this happen, Barry! You've got people on the inside who can get to Romeo. I want him to scribble that 11:30 scrimmage on the locker room white board right now! By 1:00, the offense will be a runaway train and the defense will be playing every down as if it were 4th & 1.
Then, for only the fourth time in 25 games, victory shall be ours.
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