There are games that stick in the collective minds of fans. Some of them because they have a huge impact on the fortunes of a team, such as those that clinch a playoff spot or end a playoff run. Some of them are because of particular special plays such as the Metcalf Two Punt Return game in 1993. Some are because of the weather and special endurance it takes as a fan to be at such a game. But sometimes, all of these elements combine to make a game truly memorable. I have a feeling this game will long be remembered as a classic in Browns lore.
Given the conditions, it's much harder to evaluate the performance on a pure football basis. Some of what lies below may be less than objective. Nevertheless, let me share these thoughts with you on an unusual game.
Given the conditions, I expected the Browns to run, run, run, and to be blunt, I saw that as favoring Buffalo with their success in the running game in recent weeks. To my surprise and delight, the Browns came out throwing. The stat line showed just nine completions in 24 attempts, 18 of those in the first half. Is it just me or did those nine completions seem like a lot more? They had a huge impact on the game. Given the weather, the Browns managed to keep the passing game surprisingly effective.
Funny thing, Derek Anderson's performance didn't look all that different from the games we've seen throughout the season. Browns receivers were open a lot, but either the ball didn't get there or sometimes the receiver could not catch it. You could see the wind taking the ball at times, especially on the shorter out throws. The Browns really tried to get the ball to Kellen Winslow, but he seemed to have trouble adjusting to the elements. Braylon Edwards, on the other hand, made some incredible catches that would have been impressive if it had been 75 degrees and sunny. You also had to love the "sometimes it's better to be lucky" deflection off Edwards to Joe Jurevicius for a 25-yard gain.
While Anderson's passes have a tendency to be a bit inaccurate even in good weather, the receivers have been masterful all season long in making little adjustments to make the catch. This a huge change over most of the players the Browns have had at the receiver position since The Return. They had better be open and the ball had better be perfect, or it's incomplete. During 2007, the receivers have consistently caught balls when they either weren't open and when passes were not perfectly thrown. In a game like this one, it was difficult for the receivers to make those adjustments. A lot of passes that would probably have been caught most days went incomplete because the receivers simply could not get traction to adjust. Still, Anderson's ability to throw medium depth passes in these conditions with good accuracy was impressive.
All that being said, let's talk about the guys that really did the job. The Browns offensive line, plus Lawrence Vickers and Steve Heiden, were on their game. It's hard for me to single out anyone. Joe Thomas is amazing for a rookie. Eric Steinbach is the consummate pro and did a great job. How many times was Hank Fraley 15 yards downfield on running plays? And the Browns ran effectively to the right as well behind Ryan Tucker and Kevin Shaffer. Vickers has been great all year, but I think this game was Steve Heiden's best performance of the year. If you have a recording of the game, watch him in the fourth quarter when the Browns were running to kill the clock. Just fabulous.
Finally, there is Jamal Lewis. On the radio postgame, they described a sign that had Jamal Lewis on it with a gas gauge pointing to full. That pretty much sums it up. As usual for Lewis, as the game wore on, his runs got longer. Because he is a step slow these days, the bad weather made him seem a little faster. Jason Wright also had some nice change of pace runs. Once again, the quickness differential between them caught the Bills off guard.
The offense didn't score a point in this game. Yet, it was effective. If the Browns can get the chance to play in January, I like their chances in any kind of weather.
Where do I even begin? Wow. Just, wow. Players that have done little all season showed up big time. Players that have made plays throughout the year made plays here. This seemed like a true team effort to me.
I've been on the case of Andra Davis, especially the last few games. Well, he sure showed up in this game. He had three tackles for loss, and he was effective several times coming up the middle and disrupting things. This was hands down his best game of the year to date.
Another player that did a fantastic job was Eric Wright, as he returned from injury. It seemed like we was everywhere. The Bills didn't pass that much, but it seemed like he was defending on almost every pass play. He also contributed to the final stop of the game. The Browns are going to be very pleased to have him back.
Kamerion Wimbley had probably his best game of the year against the run. Every time the Bills tried to run wide, it seemed like Wimbley was there, flowing down the line to shut it down.
Ethan Kelley has been only marginally effective since he returned from his injury, but he was a monster in the middle in this game. Really, Shawn Smith, Robaire Smith, and Orpheus Roye all did a very nice job up front. It might have been the first time all year that you could truly say that the Browns controlled the line of scrimmage on defense.
That's not to say others didn't contribute. There was a touchdown-saving tackle by Brodney Pool. Passes broken up by Leigh Bodden and Brandon McDonald. Even McDonald's "bad" play on the final drive was one where he slipped when the receiver made his cut, but he recovered to make the tackle. How about Chaun Thompson on that final play? The knock on him has been them mental part of his game, but he sure sniffed out that screen pass. Sean Jones made some good plays in the running game.
My biggest takeaway from this game is the issue of speed. Under normal circumstances, the Browns have struggled. With tough playing conditions slowing down the game, the defense looked much better. This leads me to conclude that a lack of speed is part of the issue the Browns must consider this offseason. Now, this may be physical speed or it might be more "mental speed". In other words, players seem slower than they are because they are thinking too much and don't have the scheme down. This has been something that has been noted throughout the season, especially in the secondary, and this game indicates to me it is still an issue, though it is improving.
The Browns specialists did a fantastic job in terrible conditions. Phil Dawson's two field goals will stick with me for a long time. On the first, he aimed outside the upright and you could see the ball arc back and through. On the second kick, I could not believe the Browns even attempted it. That was flat out amazing and my favorite picture from the game was the snow dropping off the "Dawson Bar" when it hit the stantion again!
Despite falling and having a seven-yard punt, Dave Zastudil did a great job on the rest of his kicks. This came on a day when field position was critical. Even the bad punt didn't hurt.
And what about Ryan Pointbriand? A couple of his snaps were a little off, probably because they were caught by the wind, but he did not make a mistake on a day where any kind of mistake on special teams could have turned the game.
The best thing I can say about the return game was that Joshua Cribbs was wise enough to stay away from most of the kicks. It's hard to fault the coverage teams for not snuffing out the fake punt given the conditions. It was great day to run a fake because it was hard for people to react to it.
Romeo Crennel said the Browns would play their best game of the year Sunday. They came out and delivered despite horrendous conditions.
The offensive game plan was very well thought out. Given the conditions, I'm not sure what more you could do. Despite the fact that Jamal Lewis had 163 yards and was great in this game. If it were me, I'd have sprinkled in Wright a few more times to keep the Bills off-balance. It seemed like negative runs killed several drives on a day when it was going to be hard to pass in long yardage situations.
Other than going into the prevent again at the end of the game, the defense was brilliant. I know I've said this week after week, but when the Browns try to drop eight men and play coverage, they fail every time. In bad weather when it is hard to stay with the receivers, that seems like a bad move even on paper. But, in defense of Crennel or Grantham or whoever made that call, even when the Browns sent guys on that final drive, they weren't generating the same pressure thy had earlier in the game.
If you were at the game, you deserve special mention. For many of you, it wasn't just standing out in the cold and the wind. It was the treacherous conditions getting back to your vehicles and driving home. I salute every one of you! Most of the games have felt like the 1980s all over again. That's a big reason why the Browns are 6-1 at home.
In nasty conditions, the Browns came out and got the win. Some may call it ugly. To me, it was a masterpiece. By winning, the Browns pretty much eliminated not only Buffalo, but Houston and Denver as well. Unfortunately, the Chiefs blew a lead against the Titans, so the Browns have not clinched yet.
The upcoming game against the Bengals is really a must-win for the Browns. Lose and not only is it questionable if you reach the playoffs, but pretty much everything the team has played so hard for goes for nothing. Win, and nothing is left to chance, the playoffs are a certainty.
In addition, the Browns will know long before the game if the Steelers have stumbled against the Rams. A loss by Pittsburgh would give them Browns control of their own destiny for a home playoff game. Even if Pittsburgh wins in St. Louis, it is no sure thing the Steelers will beat the Ravens the following week. The Browns need to keep the pressure on the faltering Steelers.
Regardless, the Bengal game now becomes the biggest game of the year. Perhaps history will repeat itself and the Browns will clinch there as they did in 1980 and 1986. I repeat, as you win, the games just get bigger! It's all on the line in this one.
It's been a long time in coming, but congratulations to Joshua Cribbs and Braylon Edwards on being selected for the Pro Bowl. The four first alternates were every bit as deserving as well. In particular, Eric Stienbach and Kellen Winslow have every right to feel snubbed.
A trip to Cincinnati. The Browns started them on a downward slide back in September that continues to this day. Will the Bengals be looking for revenge or have they packed it in already?
The season is short. Bark hard!