Taylor's Pregame 12-Pack

Pre-game checklist: Tickets or TV tuned to the game... Liquid refreshments... Favorite Browns shirt/socks/hat/etc... John Taylor's Pre-Game 12-Pack. Right here. It's your indispensable pre-game accessory, provided in ean easy-to-open container...

Thoughts, notes, questions, suggestions and random snottiness as the Cleveland Browns attempt to get right back into the thick of the playoff hunt versus the ill-begotten and bastard franchise known as the Baltimore Football Ratbirds.

  • Given the way this 2008 season started -- the three straight losses; the mounting injuries; and the abysmal play at the quarterback position coupled with poor execution all across the offensive board -- did anyone envision this Week Nine tilt to be absolutely dripping with playoff implications?  If you did, you are a better man than me.  Then again, you probably are anyway, even independent of how you viewed this game six weeks ago.

  • It is physically impossible to overstate how huge this game is for the Browns.  Game versus a team with a one-game lead in the wild card race?  Check.  A game versus an AFC opponent that could be critical to playoff tiebreakers?  Check.  A game against an AFC North foe that again could be critical to playoff tiebreakers?  Check.  A game versus the city that ripped our city's hearts out and will never, ever be forgotten or forgiven?  Huge check.  Again, in this season of seemingly must-win games week-in and week-out, this is the biggest game of the year by far given all of the playoff and extraneous forces colliding on the turf at Cleveland Browns Stadium.

  • Derek Anderson, you're on.  Make me and a million other people in the Northeast Ohio area slide up to the dinner table and prepare for a heaping helping of crow.  I don't want to be right about your future at the position; being correct would mean yet another wasted season.  I want to be wrong.  I want to have it shoved in my face on a daily basis.  I want to see a playoff berth regardless of who's under center.  This offense goes as you go.  And it's time for you to go.  Right here, right now.

  • Provided he can get the ball thrown in his general vicinity on a consistent basis, there is the potential for Kellen Winslow to go the f*** off this afternoon.  In a good way.  My spies in Berea have told me that the tight end had a great week of practice and is even more focused than he is normally, which is a scary thought in and of itself.  One source said "he's practically foaming at the mouth" to get back on the field.  For the time being, Winslow has seemingly put aside the October soap opera this organization endured and is focused on one thing: winning and helping this team's push for a playoff berth.  And that is a very positive development for the rest of the season.  If it holds, of course.

  • Take this to the bank: the Browns will NOT allow rookie quarterback Joe Flacco off the hook and get comfortable in the pocket this time around.  To a man, this coaching staff realized the error of their ways in the first go-around in Week Three and will not repeat it again.  Stunts, blitzes, masking of coverages will all be the soup du jour on defense today.  There is one goal and one goal only this afternoon, and that's to confuse the first-year signal caller at every turn.

  • If Lawrence Vickers is unable to play Sunday -- as of the writing of this piece, he's listed as "doubtful" with an ankle injury -- it will be a big blow to the offense in general, and to the running game in particular.  Charles Ali is an intriguing prospect at the fullback position, but he's not the multi-dimensional player that Vickers is.  It's not looking good for Vickers making an on-field appearance much less even being close to 100%, but the Browns are still holding out hope that pre-game warm-ups will come and Vickers will be a go.

  • Earlier this week, a source close to Josh Cribbs told me that, somewhat slowly but surely, the return specialist/wide receiver is nearing 100% health.  The high ankle sprain has slowed him down for the first half of the season, but the rate of recovery has increased its pace recently to the point where he should be at full strength for the stretch run in the coming weeks, if not sooner.  As in today sooner.  A healthy Cribbs would be a welcome addition to the Browns as his ability to flip field position last year -- let alone putting points on the scoreboard -- was a huge part of the offense's confidence and success.

  • (Looking at watch, tapping on it lightly) Any day now, Kamerion Wimbley.  Any day.  We're in kind of a rush, though, so you might want to hurry it up just a wee bit.  A few more games, and we're gonna have to leave without you.  We don't have all day, ya know.

  • I haven't been this excited to see a pair of Browns cornerbacks perform on the field week-in and week-out since... well, you know when.  It is very comforting to hear scouts and front office-types across the league, in near unanimity, rave about the futures of both Brandon McDonald and Eric Wright in this league.  Phil Savage has taken his lumps recently, but he and his staff seem to have nailed down one critical position for the foreseeable future.

  • To be honest, the defense as a whole has me anxious to watch on a weekly basis.  There are a lot of young and talented individuals getting an opportunity for valuable playing experience due to the rash of injuries at various positions.  It is a credit to first-year coordinator Mel Tucker and his entire defensive staff that we can head into a game with myriad playoff consequences -- even given the injuries -- and still carry a significant degree of confidence that that side of the ball will keep the Browns in the game.  That being said, buh bye, Andra Davis.  I ain't gonna stop beating THAT drum.  Look out, China; I'm headed your way...

  • Kudos, DickRod.  First losing season since 1967.  Couldn't have happened to a classier head coach or better institution of higher learning.

    (Sorry, just had to get that in there.  Wait.  No I'm not.  F scUM)

  • Bottom line? Critical, crucial, urgent, essential, imperative, vital.  Ascribe any of those adjectives to this game, and it still doesn't begin to do justice to the magnitude of this afternoon's events.  Pressure?  Oh yeah.  That's why they play these games.  And why I'm ready to hit somebody just writing this.

Last Call: Browns 24, Rats 17 -- Four out of five.  Getting back to .500 in the North, and a game above median in the American Football Conference.  Oh yeah, that's how the Browns will roll out of today.  I think.  Maybe.  Feh, who knows.  Just grab those beers and hold on tight; it's gonna be an interesting ride from here on out.

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