In a meaningless finale, the Browns played a somewhat lackluster game. Still, it was plenty to dispatch the 49ers behind their fourth quarterback of the season, journeyman Chris Weinke. There were some stat-padding, record-setting moments, but there were lots of chances to do more. Let's examine the performance more closely.
With the possibility of a playoff appearance, probably the most important thing the Browns needed was a good performance from Derek Anderson to restore his confidence after throwing four interceptions in Cincinnati. While Anderson made some nice throws, he once again threw inaccurately several times. Worse, Anderson continued a trend that seemed to become worse in the final few games: locking onto a receiver. After a great punt return put the Browns on a short field, Anderson had a stack to the left, but watched Winslow going to the right from the snap. Winslow was never open, and the ball was intercepted. If he had thrown the ball longer and/or higher, at least Winslow could have fought for it. Instead, a scoring opportunity was lost. This was the story of the day. Numerous opportunities were left on the field by the offense.
After Anderson hit his hand on a helmet, the Browns brought in backup Brady Quinn for his first action of the season. He seemed a little nervous, as one might expect, but he warmed up and began throwing some strikes. In fact, Quinn should have had a touchdown on his drive, but for dropped passes by both Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow in the end zone. Edwards would have had to make a pretty tough catch, but Winslow had the ball right in his gut and lost it. This continued another disturbing trend in the later games of the season – dropped passes. Still, Quinn had a nice outing in limited action. Too bad he did not get more of a chance.
Edwards had a nice catch on a post pattern when he was wide open and broke Webster Slaughter's single-season receiving yardage record. It was also his 16th touchdown of the year, extending that record. Winslow made some nice catches along the way. Perhaps the best was a nice sideline catch when the Browns were running out the clock. Joe Jurevicius was quiet. Steve Heiden caught the first complete pass in Quinn's career. Joshua Cribbs had a nice run on a direct snap wiped out by a phantom illegal shift penalty.
The running backs had a big day. Jamal Lewis topped 100 yards again with 128. He was getting a lot of yards on first down, something we have not always seen this year. Jason Wright had a great run up the middle off a shovel pass. Jerome Harrison got a chance to carry the ball late when the Browns were running out the clock, and he got some tough yards. While Lawrence Vickers has had an outstanding year blocking and once again converted a short-yardage situation, he has got to learn to catch the ball when it is thrown to him.
The offensive line once again gets kudos. Anderson was sacked just once and was rarely even pressured. The line has been the thing that has made the offense go all year.
While a lot of good things happened, dropped passes, inaccurate throws, and mental mistakes caused the Browns to leave a lot of plays on the field. The Browns could have scored well over 30 points in this game.
While the 49ers offense was one-dimensional all day, the defense still managed to keep up the pressure throughout the game. Despite a depleted defensive line, the Browns managed to hold the talented Frank Gore under 100 yards. The 49ers weren't able to do much in the passing game all day, but the defense was helped by the fact that Weinke consistently missed open receivers and can't throw the long ball.
The Browns once again employed a multiple linebacker look on passing downs to help out the line. The Browns also used Bobby Hamilton, a veteran signed this week to help out given that Ethan Kelley was on IR and Orpheus Roye was ailing. Hamilton had a decent game. Both Shaun Smith and Robaire Smith played well. Shaun Smith has shown improvement, especially in the second half of the year. The 49ers took advantage of times when Simon Fraser wasin the game, running at him. With the injuries and lack of depth, you have to view this as a solid performance by the defensive line.
The linebackers were another story. Kamerion Wimbley capped a disappointing season with a poor performance. He missed tackles, overran plays, and was largely ineffective. Andra Davis was mostly invisible again. On the other hand, Willie McGinest had a strong game as did D'Qwell Jackson. He has seemed to get better and better since returning from injury. Leon Williams and Chaun Thompson also contributed in more limited action.
The corners played a good game. While 2007 was largely a disappointment for Leigh Bodden, he made a lot of plays in the last two games. He just missed an interception and was around the ball a lot. He even made tackles in the running game. Likewise, Eric Wright and Brandon McDonald were also solid. Sean Jones was often on the line because the Browns did not respect the passing game of the 49ers. He had one particularly great tackle in the backfield on a run and broke up a pass on fourth down. I'm calling out Brodney Pool, however, for at best overrunning a couple of plays. It looked to me more like he was avoiding contact.
The Browns had five sacks, one of their better games of the year in that department. A lot of that pressure came from the linebackers, which is a positive sign in the 3-4. But once again, the Browns often brought pressure but did not get to the quarterback on many occasions.
Despite some problems here and there, you have to consider this a good outing by the defense, even if it was against a team with a losing record looking to close out its disappointing season.
Joshua Cribbs. Wow. What an amazing performance! A punt return for a touchdown. Another for 53 yards. A kickoff return for a touchdown, though it was nullified by a phantom holding call. On top of all that, four special teams tackles. Nick Sorenson also deserves mention for a great day on special teams. Phil Dawson had a long field goal, but he also had one blocked, though that looked to me like the fault of the line. His kickoffs were pretty good for late in the season. Dave Zastudil had a decent day punting. Other than one lapse, the coverage teams generally did a very good job.
The Browns were in a tough position in this game. Unless the Colts and Titans were to tie, the game was meaningless. Yet, you have to take care of business just in case. Since the Browns did not control their own destiny, they had to play as if there would be another game, though as it turned out, there was not. After a downer of a game against the Bengals, it would be hard to be foused. Yet, the Browns played well enough to win against an inferior opponent.
The Browns went with more of a "run first" game plan. While it worked out OK, the tendency to run on most every first down did hamper some possessions.
The Browns won their seventh consecutive game at home and closed the year with 10 wins. While a playoff appearance would have been nice, there were plenty of positives. For me, the best was that football on the shores of Lake Erie was fun again.
An offseason with many critical decisions to make. The Browns will have to make big decisions about players that were key elements of 2007. It should be interesting.
The season is short. Bark hard!