Passan: Not Quite Yet

The Browns loss to the Cardinals in the desert showed a number of things about the still-developing squad, according to Rich Passan. While the Browns shot to win in the last seconds was remarkable, the game also showed how far the team has to go...

The Browns should have known when the 2007 schedule was released that their trip to Arizona would turn out to be something out of the ordinary. 

The Cardinals, you see, do not play normal games. Strange things happen to them, especially at home. Missed chip-shot field goals, dropped passes in the end zone, lost fumbles in their end zone, awful time management, penalties when you least expect them.  

Peculiar, bizarre, agonizing losses fall under the category of standard operating procedure. Happens all the time in the desert. Fans are used to it. 

That's why it wasn't shocking the Browns still had a chance to win a game they had no business winning in the final two minutes Sunday against the Cardinals.  

You don't deserve to win when you turn the ball over four times (leading to 21 Arizona points), revert to playing sloppy defense (can't anyone here tackle?) and commit stupid penalties (that's you, Leigh Bodden, Brodney Pool and Simon Fraser). Not when Derek Anderson is clearly off his game. Not when the usually reliable Joshua Cribbs fumbles a punt. 

The Browns tried to hand the Cardinals the game on a diamond-studded platter, but incredibly still had an opportunity to win at the end. 

The Cards said, "Let's prolong the agony," when the Browns' defense, in their only shining moment of the afternoon, put on a gallant goal-line stand in the final minutes and forced a field goal that took a tie out of the final equation. 

"Not again," the Cardinals and their faithful must have felt as Anderson moved the Browns into position to win the game in the final 90 seconds. "How are they going to lose this time?" 

The Cardinals appeared to be in panic mode in the final 30 seconds as Anderson pushed his men closer to what didn't turn out to be the winning touchdown. And who could blame them?  

We've seen this before. Anderson marching the Browns down the field resolutely in the final moments of a game. We've seen it against Oakland, Baltimore and Seattle. And two of those games – it should have been all three – turned into victories. 

Even though Kellen Winslow Jr. did not catch the game-winner (according to the officials on a highly questionable call) on the final play of the game, it proved this team can always be counted to come back. There's something to be said for that.  

In the past, shoulders slumped when something went wrong. Tempers flared. Fingers of blame pointed every which way but the right way – at themselves. That's the mentality of a loser. And until this year, that's what the Browns were. 

This season, it's a completely different landscape. The Browns now seem to welcome hard times, seem to thrive on adversity, seem to relish the challenge of overcoming obstacles. And they damn near did it again against the Cardinals. 

However, it should never have come down to a questionable call. The Browns inexplicably shot themselves in the hind flanks too often against the Cardinals and took themselves out of the game.  

All Sunday's loss proved was the Browns right now are incapable of winning such games on a consistent basis. They pulled out previous victories against Baltimore, Seattle and St. Louis after falling behind. Arizona wasn't meant to be. That will come with more experience. The fact they had a shot at all is remarkable. 

It's difficult to win games when the defense, which couldn't get off the field in the second half, lapses into the bad habit of allowing third-and-long plays that either take away good field position or sustain drives that put points on the scoreboard. 

Even though Braylon Edwards' long touchdown catch and run (they caught a break on that one) and subsequent two-point conversion on a wonderfully imaginative play pulled the Browns to within three points at 21-18, it did not work in favor of the defense. The scoring drive took just two plays and the defense, tiring by the play, was right back on the field. 

Quick-scoring strikes are nice, particularly when the offense struggles, but the downside ultimately cost the Browns field position and valuable time on the clock when the Arizona offense wore out the Cleveland defense with a relentless ground game. 

The defense returned to its former form of allowing a 100-yard rusher and failing to harass Kurt Warner, Arizona's ancient, mobile-as-a-tortoise quarterback who was not sacked once. Couldn't stop the running game in the final minutes even though it knew the Cards, without their two top receivers injured, were going to run. 

The Browns did not play well in any phase of the game, including the normally dependable special teams, and still made it close. This team is not good enough to win when it can't protect the ball. Not yet, anyway.

That they were down just 14-10 at the half despite three turnovers is a testament to the resiliency of this club. Gift-wrapping two early touchdowns can demoralize a team. The second would never have been scored had Bodden kept his size 12s away from the football after Daven Holly made a terrific play on Cards wide receiver Bryant Johnson on third down at the Cleveland 37 in the first quarter.  

You don't kick a football unless you're a punter or placekicker. Sure, it's a stupid rule, but it's a rule nonetheless and will get flagged every time. 

That, as it turned out, was a microcosm of the Browns less-than-sterling performance against the Cardinals.  

Some might suggest the Browns took Arizona too lightly. It's safe to say that if they take the improving New York Jets as lightly this Sunday at the Meadowlands and play as they did against the Cardinals, they're in for another lesson-learning week. 

In case you forgot, the Cardinals, who have feasted on the AFC Central this season, beat the Pittsburgh Steelers earlier this season. So did the Jets.  

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