Browns-Vikings: Locker Room Notes

From a now-quiet Cleveland Browns Stadium, Steve King offers some final notes...

CLEVELAND – The Browns insist last year is gone and forgotten and they've turned the page to this year.

But what happened Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium in the 2009 regular-season opener looked eerily similar to what had happened throughout almost all of 2008.

That is, the Browns defense, before wearing out at the end, did enough to keep the team in most games, but the offense generally did not keep up its end of the bargain.

And so it was again as the offense was offensive in a 34-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

The good news for the offense is that it stopped its long touchdown drought. The Browns did not get into the end zone on offense in the final six games of last season, and for most of Sunday.

The bad news is that when they finally scored, as Brady Quinn threw 26 yards to tight end Robert Royal, it came with just 28 seconds left. The game had been over for a long time by that point. The Browns need to score when it matters.

Thus, the Browns came within 41 seconds of going 29 straight quarters without an offensive TD. Their last one occurred with just 13 seconds elapsed in the fourth quarter of the Nov. 17 game at Buffalo when Jerome Harrison burst 72 yards up the middle for a TD.

Harrison did not suit up on Sunday because of a knee injury. There seems to be some kind of message there.

A big deal that the Browns finally scored? Some big monkey that the Browns wanted to get off their backs?

No, not really, according to Brady Quinn, who was the starting quarterback, to the absolute surprise of no one.

"It's not anything that we were thinking about," he said. "It's something you guys (the members of the media) look at to create all those cool little facts."

Such as the Browns went 434 minutes, 19 seconds of game action without an offensive TD. That's over half a season, for a total year, without overtime, is 960 minutes.

It looked as if the offense was going to score a lot sooner on Sunday. The Browns recovered an onside kick attempt by the Vikings at the Cleveland 49 to start the game, yet got only as far as the Minnesota 20 before settling for a 37-yard field goal by Phil Dawson.

They moved to a first down at the Minnesota 6 midway through the second quarter following a pass interference call. But they got stopped at the 1 and had to settle for another Dawson kick, this one covering an extra point-like 20 yards, after wide receiver Joshua Cribbs, operating at quarterback out of the shotgun on both second and third downs for some strange reason, netted just one yard on two keepers.

They did get a TD for a 13-10 halftime lead, but it came on Cribbs' scintillating 67-yard punt return. Too bad they didn't take advantage of those other two golden opportunities to score offensively.

But while the Browns struggled as they did, getting just 89 total yards at halftime, the fact they didn't turn the ball over is why head coach Eric Mangini said the first half was much better than the second.

"You can't play just a half of football, and that's what we did," he said.

For while the Browns had nearly twice as many total yards in the second half, 179, they turned the ball over twice on Quinn's interception and fumble, which were converted by the Vikings into a TD and field goal, respectively.

"Brady had some positives in the first half," Mangini said. "But the primary job of the quarterback is protecting the football, and you can't turn the ball over twice."

Said Quinn, "I was trying to make a play on the interception. On the fumble, the ball just slipped out of my hand."

Embarrassingly so, like Miami Dolphins Garo Yepremian's pass against the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl VII in January 1973.

"You've got to take your hat off to the Vikings. They have a good defense," said Quinn, who was 21-of-35 passing for 205 yards, the TD and the pick for a mediocre 74.1 quarterback rating. "But at the same time, you have to have accountability on your end. These are all things we can fix."

But don't blame only Quinn. He has plenty of company. The offensive line struggled, giving up five sacks for 26 yards for losses. And even when he wasn't getting sacked, he had Vikings in his face.

In addition, the running game averaged 4.5 yards a carry, but the Browns didn't use it much for whatever reason. They also didn't stretch the field much – vertically at least – with the pass. Much of their offense consisted of short, sideways throws.

"Minnesota has a pretty effective pass rush. They got a lot of sacks, and you have to account for that," Mangini said of the east-west, instead of north-south, passing scheme.

He added, "I think this offense can be successful. At points in the game, we did move the ball."

But only at points, not consistently.

Just like 2008.

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INJURY UPDATE: The Browns apparently came out of the game with just one notable injury, as James Davis left with a shoulder problem. It was a rough weekend for the running back. He was involved in a car accident on Saturday, injuring his head, and was listed as questionable for the game.

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SAME TIME, NEXT COACHING CHANGE: Mangini's debut resulted in a 14-point loss. So did that of his predecessor, Romeo Crennel. He debuted in 2005 by losing to the Cincinnati Bengals 27-13, which was the score on Sunday before both the Browns and Vikings tallied down the stretch.

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IN A RUSH: Here's something that went right for the Browns. While Minnesota was getting to Quinn five times, Cleveland sacked Brett Favre on four occasions. So in just one game, the Browns nearly 25 percent of their entire 2008 season total, when they set a franchise record with only 17.

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NUMBERS GAME: The Browns list their attendance for home games by tickets distributed. Sunday's "crowd" was 70,560, the second-smallest of the expansion era. The only one smaller was 69,871 for the 2005 season finale against the Baltimore Ravens in frigid conditions. Sunday's weather was nearly perfect, 70 degrees at kickoff with sunny skies and a light breeze out of the northwest to make it extremely pleasant.

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QUOTABLE: "As a defense, you've got to be able to stop the run. That's the key to your defense. That's your baby. We know we're a better team than this. Now we've got to go out and prove it." – Browns inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on the fact the Vikings rushed for 225 yards, including 180 from Adrian Peterson.


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