EDITOR'S NOTE: For those who missed his first article last Saturday, Fan Columnist Ryan B. has stepped up to provide a view of the Browns from the perspective of a fan who often sees the glass has half-full rather than half-empty. Ryan responded to a challenge on our Tap Room forum for any fan who felt that some OBR and other media commentators skewed too pessimistic in their view of the team. Thanks to Ryan for stepping up!
For nearly a decade now, Brown's fans have felt a little like Bill Murray replaying Groundhog Day in Punxsutawney. Against the Bills on Sunday, passes bounced off receiver's hands, drives stalled, and all I could think was, "Ned? Ned Ryerson?"
Yeah, I've lived this day before. But then something crazy happened. Something different. The Browns freaking won! And in the words of Mr. Murray, "Anything different is good."
Unfortunately, I don't think the Browns are quite ready for tomorrow. For Bill Murray, seeing tomorrow required putting together the perfect day, and Sunday was not perfect. Phil Connors put in a lot of time, worked hard, and repeated many tasks over and over to achieve his perfect day. So Groundhog Day seems like a fitting metaphor for the hard work, mistake correcting, and team first approach preached by Mangini. I think the Browns are getting closer to tomorrow, and naturally, I have decided to beat this metaphor to death.
As the reality of his demise set in, Phil got depressed and killed himself repeatedly. I for one have died a little inside pretty much every football Sunday for the last year. I think you see where I'm going with this. Let's just say depression followed by suicidal thoughts, check.
The tide started to turn for Phil when he realized he could not save an old bum. So Romeo Crennel is gone… Ok, that sounded a little rough. Look, Romeo seems like a nice man and so did the old guy in the movie, but Phil finally had to accept the fact that there was nothing to be done, move on and become a better team… err… man. I think I'm getting confused but let's keep going.
The journey toward self improvement began for Phil by showing up early, trusting his coworkers, and just doing the work. The Browns have been talking a lot about hard work and the last two weeks, the effort has finally shown through. We have now seen nine straight quarters of football (including overtime). Not perfect football, granted, but honest to god team effort and two competitive games.
Ok, that's a general observation and really only the very beginnings of finally seeing tomorrow. So let's talk specifics. Phil improved his artistic side by learning to play piano, ice sculpt, and read French poetry. The Browns improved their defensive side by learning to rush the passer, play man coverage, and fix their run fits.
How do I know the defense has improved? 11-35 (31.4%). That is the Brown's opponents 3rd down conversion rate the last two weeks. Last year, only one team had an opponent conversion rate that low, and they won the Super Bowl. And, if you are wondering how defense relates to Phil Connors artistic side, all I can tell you is that if anything is as excruciatingly boring as listening to someone read French poetry, it is listening to coaches talk about run fits (look, that's all I've got. I told you I was going to beat this thing to death). So defense, check.
During his perfect day, and presumably many times before, Phil caught a kid falling out of a tree… Ok, we're still working on that one. This team just can't catch anything right now. Every time a receiver bricked another pass, I felt a little like I just watched a child break his leg. So there's that.
But for the sake of keeping this metaphor rolling, let's look at catching that kid a little less literally. When the Browns offense fell out of the tree Sunday, there was the special teams unit. Every time the Bills were pinned on their own goal line, Dave Zastudil would have been well within his rights to yell, "YOU HAVE NEVER THANKED ME!! See you tomorrow…. Maybe." And really, the whole special teams unit just keeps showing up, day after day. Special teams, check.
Much like Phil taking on the thankless job of jacking up a car full of old ladies and changing a tire (this is the last one. I promise), the Browns offensive line is quietly coming together and doing the dirty work. Alex Mack and Hank Fraley have really solidified the middle and even John St. Clair held up well Sunday. The Browns ran the ball on a ridiculously stacked Bills defensive front. So, offensive line, check. Now if only the rest of the offense didn't so closely resemble four old ladies watching the line change a tire.
All metaphors aside, if the Bengals loss was a moral victory, then the Bills win was an immoral one. The Browns basically had to lie, cheat, and steal to come out on top and the outcome certainly could have been different. If Roscoe Parrish had not lost his mind, or the Bills had not committed 137 penalties, or Trent Edwards hadn't forced a throw, then yeah, the Browns may have lost. So maybe the Bills gave the Browns the game. But, for once it wasn't the Browns doing the giving and that is something different. As Bill Murray said, "Anything different is good."