Rich's Rant: Phil & The Football Gods

Rich Passan ponders the role of fate and supernatural demigods in the process of playing NFL games. A pass rush may also be important, as it turns out.

Of course, there are no such beings as football gods. But after the Browns' improbable and almost surreal 29-27 victory over the Buffalo Bills Monday night, one has to at least wonder whether they exist in some form.

The game-winning field goal by Phil Dawson, for example. Fifty-six yards? Straight as a taut string. A no-doubter. Longer than he had ever successfully kicked any field goal, let alone a game-winner, in the National Football League. The football sailing majestically through the uprights with room to spare. He would have hit from 66 yards.

Where in the name of Lou Groza did that come from? Unreal.

In a similar situation just a few weeks ago, Dawson was wide right with a 54-yard attempt against the Washington Redskins that would have tied that game with a half minute left in regulation. Why wide right?

Football gods? On the Redskins' side in that one?

And then Rian Lindell with a much more makeable 47-yarder to give the Bills their game-winner moments later as Browns fans, almost in unison, silently lamented, "Not again."

Two straight blown double-digit leads that had morphed into losses and now this. Another large lead evaporating and heading toward a record third straight loss in this manner. The indignity of it all. Until . . .

Wide right. Unreal.

Another case of someone or something steering the football toward victory for the Browns and away from victory for the Bills.

Football gods?

The kind, it seems, that apparently take pity on a large, loud and supremely devoted group of fans who live and die with the exploits of a certain professional football team on the southern shore of Lake Erie.

Wasn't it bad enough Cleveland Browns loyalists had to suffer through the toughest consecutive losses in team history the last two weeks? Gotta throw 'em a bone once in a while.

How else can one explain the Browns creating four turnovers against the Bills, scoring just nine points off them, playing poorly just enough to lose the lead and yet winding up with the victory?

When you start three of the first four possessions at your 44 and the opponent's 49 and 12 and score just six points when 21 are begging to be put on the scoreboard, flags of concern are raised. Then those fears are allayed temporarily with a 96-yard scoring drive on possession No. 5 and the double-digit (13-0) lead. Go figure.

How'd that happen?

Just another case of the football gods toying with the Browns, right? They giveth and, of course, taketh away.

How else can one explain the Browns' flag-football defense turning Buffalo running backs Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson into the second coming of Walter Payton and Barry Sanders with science-fiction tackling and yet winning the game? It seems Browns defenders have extreme difficulty in attaching themselves to the basic fundamentals of the game.

And how else can one explain Romeo Crennel throwing the red challenge flag at precisely the right time in the game to render Brady Quinn's worst mistake of the evening with seven minutes left in the game nothing more than a bad memory with a good ending?

What possessed the Browns' coach to question Ko Simpson's interception of a Quinn popup? And win the challenge? He normally doesn't make smart decisions like that.

Football gods? Whispering to Crennel? Who's really on the other end of those headphones? It really makes one stop and think. At least for a little while.

Early on, the Browns' Jekyll & Hyde defense did everything to help win the game with three interceptions in the first 13 Buffalo snaps and the Cleveland offense responded by doing everything it could to help keep the Bills in the game. The Browns' first 14 snaps produced 34 yards.

Not exactly the snappy offense Browns fans had hoped for with Quinn, inconsistent but strangely efficient most of the evening, now entrenched as the starting quarterback.

And it was nice to see coordinator Rob Chudzinski reintroduce some imagination and creativity to his offense. A misdirection play here, a naked bootleg by Quinn there, an inside handoff to Josh Cribbs for a touchdown.

It's about time.

And now that he has shown he can bust the long one, maybe Jerome Harrison will earn significantly more playing time and allow three-yards-and-a-chunk-of-turf Jamal Lewis to spend more time on the sidelines.

Don't know what else Harrison has to do to persuade Crennel and Chudzinski that his playmaking abilities should be rewarded with something more than a seat on the bench. The football gods haven't figured that one out yet.

They, however, have forgiven cornerback Brandon McDonald for that horrendous game against Denver. Crennel sat him for just one series as punishment and the second-year man responded with a strong game as the Cleveland secondary played well all evening.

They had to because the non-existent Cleveland pass rush remained non-existent. You can't expect the football gods to fix everything in just one game.

Buffalo quarterback Trent Edwards had time, but was forced to throw mostly to his running backs and tight ends. McDonald and fellow corner Eric Wright combined to keep solid Buffalo receiver Lee Evans off the score sheet. Not an easy feat.

No, this one had some strange fingerprints on it. It was a game the Browns could very well have lost, but somehow didn't.

Football gods? After what happened Monday night, it's almost enough to make you marvel. And then believe.

At least on this one evening.



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