Faster than Santa Claus can distribute toys on a busy Christmas Eve, Derek Anderson single-handedly delivered a bagful of early presents to the host Cardinals Sunday afternoon. Those gift turnovers would eventually be the deciding factor in Arizona's 27-21 victory, a game that included the now-normal amount of last-second dramatics to which Browns fans have become accustomed.
Anderson's game-ending pass to Kellen Winslow Jr. nearly resulted in yet another dramatic victory for the Browns. But when the officials refused to rule Winslow had landed out of bounds as a result of being pushed by the Cardinals' defenders, the Browns were sent home with a loss that could prove critical in their drive for the playoffs.
If Browns fans thought they got a bum call on that play, they should take solace in the fact coach Romeo Crennel's team got what appeared to be a huge break on a 67-yard touchdown pass from Anderson to Braylon Edwards earlier in the game.
On that controversial play, replays appeared to show that Edwards' leg had been hit by a Cardinals defender as he was going down. Edwards got up and raced untouched to the end zone. The Cardinals challenged the on-field ruling of a touchdown and, much to the dismay of Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, the call was upheld.
The fact of the matter is this was a game that never should have boiled down to a couple of questionable calls. This was a game in which the Browns clearly had superior talent. They have no one to blame but themselves, in particular Anderson, for failing to beat an inferior opponent.
Bad Santa Anderson was guilty of intentional grounding on the game's first play. Next he gift-wrapped a terrible pass that was intercepted by Roderick Hood, who dashed 71 yards for a touchdown. Anderson then capped off probably the worst six-minute span of his young career by fumbling, and losing, a snap from center Hank Fraley that led to yet another Arizona touchdown.
Quicker than you could shout ho-ho-horrible, Anderson had put the Browns in a 14-0 hole out of which they never could completely dig themselves, partly because Anderson was not yet done with his charity work.
In the second quarter his overthrow of a triple-covered Edwards was once again picked off by "Robin" Hood, giving Anderson three turnovers on the Browns' first four possessions.
Then, in the third quarter, return ace Joshua Cribbs wore the Santa cap when he tripped over teammate Dave Holly's legs and muffed a punt that was recovered by ex-Brown Ralph Brown. That set up the Cardinals' third and final touchdown late in the third quarter.
When all was said and done, the Cardinals had 21 points off Browns turnovers and the Browns had gone from being in prime position to make the playoffs to a team that will now probably have to win three of its final four to make the post-season party.
While the schedule certainly seems favorable for the 7-5 Browns, next Sunday's game against the Jets no longer seems quite as easy as it did a few weeks ago.
The Jets are playing much better ball, evidenced by their unexpected victory over the Steelers a few weeks ago and Sunday's romp past the Dolphins. If the Browns go into the Meadowlands and play Santa Claus once again, they'll likely be returning to Cleveland to play Buffalo in what easily could be the biggest game of the year.
Buffalo, at 6-6, is just one game behind the Browns and a head-to-head victory in this game could prove critical for either team. In addition to the Browns, the Bills host Miami and the Giants and play at Philadelphia.
The Browns play at Cincinnati, another team that is playing better as of late, and then at home against a San Francisco team that probably won't have a great deal of interest in winning.
Jacksonville, at 8-4, appears to be in the driver's seat for one of the two AFC Wild Card berths. Their final four games are home against Carolina, at Pittsburgh, home against Oakland and at Houston. At worst they should go 2-2 and more likely 3-1.
Tennessee is now tied with the Browns at 7-5 for the second Wild Card spot. The Titans host a hot-and-cold San Diego team, followed by a trip to Kansas City, home against the Jets and then finishing at Indianapolis.
The law of averages probably called for the Browns to have a mistake-marred game like they played Sunday against the Cardinals. The key for them will be to not have a repeat performance any time soon.