Passan: One for Rod Serling

For your consideration: A game of "football" being played in front of everyday fans. It could be any stadium, any two teams, any normal Sunday on a football field in an American city. But it's not. Because this game is being played in... The Twilight Zone.

Rod Serling left this mortal coil 32 years ago, but I swear his fingerprints were all over that bizarre and distinctly weird overtime victory by the Browns Sunday in Baltimore.

I could have sworn I heard "doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo" all game long as the Browns and Ravens painted one of the strangest football games in a long, long time.

Serling, whose science fiction anthology series "The Twilight Zone" dealt with the bizarre and macabre, has an Ohio connection, having graduated from Antioch College in Yellow Springs. No question he dropped in on this one from the Twilight Zone. Probably a Browns fan.

How else can anyone explain what took place as the Browns snapped a 10-game road losing streak to AFC North teams. Surreal doesn't begin to describe it. To wit:

  • Phil Dawson's game-tying field-goal attempt that wasn't a field goal that turned out to be a field goal.
  • The Browns coming from behind with less than 30 seconds left in regulation and forge a tie that sent the game into overtime.
  • The Browns creating three turnovers in one half and putting three measly points on the scoreboard.
  • Two corrected calls go the Browns' way in one game. When was the last time that happened?
  • Six sacks in one game, giving the Browns 10 in the last two games after just seven in their first eight games. What's going on here?
  • Derek Anderson giving his best imitation of Charlie Frye. Until the final 26 seconds of regulation and overtime, that is.
  • Brodney Pool taking an interception 100 yards for a touchdown that many believed broke the Ravens' backs, if not their hearts. It didn't.
  • The mother of all long, ill-fated drives at the end of the first half (13 plays, 42 yards and six penalties). At least it netted a field goal.
  • The Browns' defense holding the Ravens without a first down until the final minute of the first half. No kidding.
  • Serling must have wanted a more competitive game because it appeared as though he slipped some Sominex to Todd Grantham's guys in the dressing room between halves and they snoozed while the Ravens grabbed the lead in the second half.
  • Ed Reed of the Ravens, who should know better, fair catches a Dave Zastudil punt at his 4-yard line, giving the Browns field position, leading to a go-ahead touchdown.
  • Serling must be a Joshua Cribbs fan. How the amazing Cribbs got through all that traffic on his kickoff and punt returns to consistently put the Browns in good field position is the stuff of which science fiction is made. Why the Ravens kept kicking the ball to him is puzzling.
  • When is a victory not a victory? When is a loss not a loss? When Rod Serling drops in. How bitterly disappointing this one must have been to Ravens fans.

The test of a good football team is to win games they have no business winning. Based on their performance Sunday, the Browns are extremely close to becoming a good football team.

Unfortunately, they had the concentration level of a third-grader against the Ravens. How else can one explain all the false-start penalties? Hank Fraley and Eric Steinbach must not have been invited to that party. Everyone else on the offensive line was. That kind of stuff is inexcusable.

This was the ugliest of victories as the Browns had most of their fans reaching for the nitroglycerine tablets most of the second half.

And when Phil Dawson's last-second field goal attempt in regulation was guided seemingly by Serling's hand and kissed the curved portion of the goal post's stanchion inches behind the crossbar after ricocheting off the left upright, who else could have tapped the back judge stationed underneath the right upright and said, "Hey, that was good. Say something to your referee."

This victory should have been easier. A lot easier. Any team that creates four turnovers and records six sacks should win handily. All it needed was a decent performance by the offense. It didn't come close. Maybe Serling likes tight, keep-'em-guessing type games.

When you limit your opponent to no first downs through the first 29 minutes of the game and take the ball away from them three times, twice inside their 30-yard line, you should score more than three points. The Ravens, in essence, said, "Here, take it." The Browns, in essence, said. No, thank you."

Two weeks ago, the Ravens handed the ball over to the Pittsburgh Steelers on four occasions in the first half. The Steelers said, "Thank you very much" and scored four touchdowns. The Browns have to play that kind of cutthroat football if they want to rise to the level of the Steelers.

Anderson, for whatever reason, has regressed in the last six quarters. The Steelers last week and the Ravens Sunday, to a lesser degree, took Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow Jr. out of the game with blanket coverage over the top.

If you're going to beat us, they said, we're going to tie one hand behind your back. All they left was Joe Jurevicius, who is not going to break anyone's heart.

Anderson's timing was off just enough to play with his confidence. The Ray Lewis interception for a touchdown would have been a completed pass to Jurevicius had Anderson released the ball a half second earlier. Lewis was sitting in a zone and Jurevicius crossed in front him. The ball was late. All Lewis had to do was catch the ball and run.

Still, it all came down to the final 26 seconds of regulation and Anderson delivered. It doesn't, however, soften the notion that maybe National Football League defensive coordinators are catching up to him and coordinator Rob Chudzinski.

Perhaps it's time Chudzinski adjusted to the adjustments said defensive coordinators have made to his style of offense. Perhaps it's time throw a few more wrinkles into the game plan. The worst thing an offense can do is become predictable.

This team has nice pieces and parts that make up a solid and very effective offense. There is a lot of talent out there. It's time to take it to a new level.

On the other hand, it's nice to see the defense come alive. It looks as though the Browns defenders, particularly Sean Jones, who had a strong game, enjoy the increased blitzing called for by Grantham. Or is it coach Romeo Crennel calling the shots now?

You can see how much more effective it is. Six sacks, a few knockdowns, a multitude of hits and several hurries says it all. The only time Kyle Boller torched the Browns was when they fell back into a zone. That's defensive football. And they don't play it well.

Unleashing the aggressiveness of the offense has paid off. Nothing wrong with applying the same philosophy to the defense. Slowly but surely, there are major signs that it's beginning to work.

Up next, a Houston Texans team that should not be underrated. They've got their quarterback and top receiver back and are very capable of putting up big numbers. This will not be a gimmee.

Maybe Serling can be recruited for at least one more week in this season of the unbelievable. Doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo-doo.

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