Passan: Signs of Life

The Browns have no one else to blame for going 0-4, but fans can take pleasure in their improvement.

The Browns have no one to blame but themselves for their latest loss.

And yet, let it be said that they have approached a positive point in what thus far has been one of the least memorable starts in club history.

It's not often team loses a game on the scoreboard and yet feels good about the way it played. Sunday's last-second 23-20 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals is such a game for the Browns. It unearthed some positives about this team that many people doubted existed.

There is no question the Browns, for the first time this season, arrived ready to play a football game. Their level of bellicosity started high and remained there throughout the game, especially on defense and special teams.

They seemed to play with a sense of urgency. You could tell by their body language. Their gait was bouncy, more confident. Shoulders didn't droop even when the Bengals shot out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. If anything, it angered them.

There appeared to be a level of confidence that was absent in the first three games of the season. It was almost as though they knew this game was not going to get away from them. They actually looked like a competitive football team for the first time in the last 10 games.

From the opportunistic offense to the determined defense to the brilliance of the special teams, most notably the vital contributions of Joshua Cribbs and Shaun Rogers, the Browns finally looked like a team.

The offense, under the leadership of Derek Anderson, moved the ball much better than at any time since the 29-27 victory in Buffalo in game 10 last season. It just functions better when he's under center.

Anderson is a gambler and gamblers tend to make mistakes like throwing an interception in the end zone to snuff out a possible scoring chance. That's because he has immense confidence in his ability to squeeze the ball into the tiniest of openings. He's a risk taker on a team that doesn't have nearly enough of them.

For whatever reason, the Browns move the ball better with Anderson in control than it does with Brady Quinn, a much more tentative quarterback. Anderson might take chances, but at least he gives his team a better chance to succeed. He experienced a three and out only three times in 16 possessions against a pretty good Cincinnati defense.

There is no question his presence opened up running lanes for Jerome Harrison all afternoon since the Bengals were unable to overpopulate the box. And you have to think the offensive line has to love blocking for the big guy whose quick release makes it that much easier for the plug uglies up front to do their job.

It also appears as though Anderson has found a new receiver to play pitch and catch with in Mo Massaquoi, the beneficiary of the Bengals rolling their coverage toward Braylon Edwards. The rookie had little trouble getting open and provided a nice target for his quarterback, catching everything thrown his way.

Now if Edwards can get untracked and Massaquoi proves that Sunday was not a fluke, future opponents have one more problem with which to be concerned.

His performance against the Bengals assures that Anderson will be – and should be – the Browns' quarterback for the foreseeable future. No more controversy. Those days are gone.

Maybe Quinn can learn by osmosis by watching how Anderson runs a game. Perhaps he'll notice Anderson is fearless when it comes to throwing the ball downfield.

One fact remains firm: Anderson makes throws Quinn is incapable of making. And that's why he's the best quarterback on the team.

Is he a great quarterback? Absolutely not. Is he a very good quarterback? No way. But he is the best quarterback on the Browns' roster right now. And it's not even close.

For the record, let it be noted the Browns scored two offensive touchdowns. Quite an accomplishment for a team that had scored just one in the previous nine games.

Let it also be noted, however, that there is no way the Bengals should have even been in a position to win this one had the Browns' offense taken better advantage of a couple of gifts by the Bengals' special teams with the score at 14-14.

When you begin drives at your opponent's 18-yard line and 14-yard line, courtesy of breakdowns by Cincinnati's special teams late in the game, you expect more than two Billy Cundiff field goals. Especially when your defense has all but shut down the Bengals up to that point.

Wonder if offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has ever heard of the quarterback sneak when you're third and inches at the opponent's 9-yard line in a tie game? Anderson could have fallen forward for those precious inches instead of Eric Mangini deciding to settle for the first Cundiff field goal on fourth down and inches.

Field goals are nice, particularly when they put you ahead in a game no one gave you a chance to win. But those field goals also kept it a one possession game and allowed the Bengals to hang around.

Touchdowns are almost mandatory at that stage of the game, especially considering where the Browns began those drives. Anything less is unacceptable.

The Cleveland defense, meanwhile, made Carson Palmer look very normal after the Bengals dominated the first 15 minutes. At one point, Cincinnati went seven straight series without a first down, including six three-and-outs while the Browns sneaked into a 20-14 lead.

Rob Ryan's defense, playing with an attitude and swagger that has been sorely MIA, totally confused the normally unflappable Palmer, whose indecisiveness neutered a pretty good offense. He cleverly mixed his coverages to baffle the Bengals quarterback.

But there's just so much you can ask of the defense, which added another three and out in overtime, and it tired badly on the final drive. Palmer found holes in the secondary on a couple of third-and-10s and the defense totally lost contain on Palmer on his improbable 15-yard scramble on fourth and eleven that saved the game for the Bengals.

Too bad because this one, even it had ended in a tie, felt almost like a victory. As it is, there's still nothing about which to become too upset.

The team showed life just when it looked as though the corpse was being readied for the funeral. And if the Browns play next Sunday in Buffalo the way they played against the Bengals, then maybe there's some hope for this team, which had fallen so far off the competitive map, it had no zip code.

And now, the approaching corner is the one the Browns need to turn in order to get back to feeling good about themselves.

One game isn't going to foretell anything at this juncture, but if they feed off the positive and finally break through in the win column against the Bills, the last team they defeated 10 games ago, then perhaps there might be some salvation to this season.

First, this team has to realize it is capable of making plays on both sides of the ball. It proved that Sunday against Cincinnati. Now it has to go out and make certain it wasn't an aberration.


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