Passan: A Dead Mantra

If our curmudgeonly columnist never hears anyone advocating the exit of DA again this year, he'll be happy...

It's been 11 weeks since the end of the 2007 National Football League season and I'm still trying to understand why so many knowledgeable football fans want to see Derek Anderson in any uniform other than the Browns'.

They have a similar problem trying to understand why General Manager Phil Savage went out of his way to bring back the quarterback who led the Browns to a 10-6 record this past season.

They look for any clue that will provide Savage the avenue to ship Anderson just about anywhere else in the NFL kingdom. The search to rid Cleveland of Anderson stretches even as far as his new contract with fans looking for loopholes, hopeful Savage will exercise one in order to move him. They remain unconvinced he will be a Brown in the coming season.

The hostility is most baffling.

What did this guy do to become Public Enemy #1? He was the quarterback when the Browns lost a football game that would have landed them in the postseason for the first time in five years. That's what. Criminal. Outrageous. Unforgivable. How could he. Get him outta here.

It is understandable a lot of fans are still upset the Browns did not qualify for the playoffs in spite of the most satisfying season statistically since the return in 1999. The big buildup during the season led to the bigger letdown when it mattered most.

It appears as though the loss in Cincinnati in week 16 served as the microcosm of the season. Not the first Cincinnati victory or the season sweep of the Baltimore Ravens. Or the emergence of Braylon Edwards and Anderson. Or the reemergence of Jamal Lewis. Or the dominant play of the offensive line.

No, the fans placed the entire burden of that loss squarely on the shoulders of a 24-year-old in his first full season as a starting quarterback. All by himself. No one else was to blame.

Isn't he the same guy who should get credit for leading the Browns into position to qualify for the postseason in the first place? And isn't he the guy most Browns fans adored early on in his where-did-that-come-from season?

Never mind the fact Anderson's coordinator totally misjudged the playing conditions on that gusty December day in Paul Brown Stadium. Throwing the football in such conditions invited danger.

Even the pass-happy Bengals folded up the aerial game to avoid the inevitable. Carson Palmer threw the ball only 20 times. Anderson put the ball up 48 times. The two interceptions he threw in the final minute of the first half had nothing but Rob Chudzinski bravado written all over them.

Sure, Anderson threw them. But the game was close enough at the end of the first half where Chudzinski didn't have to take any unnecessary chances, especially with the Browns getting the second-half kickoff.

Those back-to-back interceptions Anderson threw – and they were bad, make no mistake about that – turned a 6-0 deficit into19-0 quicker than it takes to make Minute Rice. Those passes did not have to be thrown. No one bothered asking Chudzinski why he dialed up pass plays when runs should have been the call.

As for the interception on the first series of the second half, why was Chudzinski calling a pass play on first and goal at the Bengals' 9? The wind gusts had picked up and Lewis was running effectively.

It's one thing to have confidence in your quarterback. It's quite another to suffer brain cramps when it's obvious the infantry had a better chance of winning the game. And yet, Anderson is the fall guy.

I fully understand that Anderson's second half fashioned a falloff in production. Yet, he was 5-3 in those games. And isn't that the most important statistical column?

I fully understand he had a tendency to force the football into double and sometimes triple coverage. That's part of his approach to the game. He is a staunch believer in his ability to fit the football into tight spaces. Sometimes, he did. Sometimes, he didn't. Nearly half of his 19 interceptions were the result of deflections.

There are those who say his supporting cast made Anderson, not the other way around. I strongly disagree.

One of the reasons Lewis had such a wonderful season is most teams played honestly in the secondary because of the long-ball threat Anderson provided. Rarely did safeties cheat up toward the line of scrimmage, enabling Lewis to find more running room.

As for Edwards, Kellen Winslow Jr. and Joe Jurevicius making spectacular catches for Anderson, that's a two-way street. Most of Anderson's passes to this trio were high enough where only they had a chance to make the catch.

When your receivers stand 6-3. 6-4 and 6-5, respectively, where's the best place to throw the ball? That's a rhetorical question.

And you can never underestimate Anderson's ability to get rid of the ball quickly. You can go no further than the five men who protect him up front for that testament. Only 14 sacks in 16 games. Just two multi-sack games. He makes them look better. Period. Don't for a minute think the offensive linemen don't appreciate that. Makes their job that much easier.

In the minds of a lot of fans, this is as good as Anderson is going to get. He has peaked at the ripe old age of 24. It's all uphill from here.

No, it's not. He's still a baby by NFL standards. His mind is sharp; he still has a rocket attached to his right shoulder; he's just beginning to learn the NFL game. We haven't even seen the tip of the iceberg with him.

Anytime Anderson is on the field, the Browns are a threat to score. He has given the team an ability to do something it has missed for too long a time – play catch-up football. The opponent is never too far ahead with Anderson in charge of the huddle.

That's not easy, especially considering he operated last season without an important safety net – a solid defense. How many more games would the Browns have won this past season with any semblance of a defense? At least a couple. That will change this season now that Savage has finally addressed the defensive line problems.

My greatest concern is that beginning with training camp in late July, fans of Brady Quinn will project their animus toward Anderson and lavish all the warmth on their boy, who hasn't proven a thing. Yet. That's not to say he won't.

But the starting job clearly belongs to Anderson, as it should. It's his to lose. Barring injury, Quinn's role with the Browns won't change. Yet.

This shouldn't be about Anderson or Quinn. It should be about who is the best quarterback to lead the Browns to the next level. Right now, Savage believes it's Anderson. And after what Anderson did this past season, who could blame him?


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