King: This, That, and Tips of the Hat

Steve King reflects back on the Browns bug win over the Pittsburgh Steelers and some unheralded folks who deserve praise as we look back...

A little bit of this 'n that:

Browns head coach Eric Mangini said last Friday he "imagines" that the club will be able to work out a new contract for wide receiver/returner Joshua Cribbs.

In a season where such has been at a real premium, that's great news.

The sooner the Browns do it, the better. Cribbs has become the Browns' best player, and they need to reward him for it by tearing up his old contract and replacing it with one that compensates him for all he does for this team. He is a big part of the foundation the Browns are laying as they try to work their way out of this mess.

Cribbs has become one of the 50 best players the Browns have ever had, and he's the best player on this team. In fact, the Browns have never really had anyone like him – a player who is so good at so many different things.

OK, he has not blossomed as a wide receiver, but that's only because the Browns should have been using him at running back all along. Especially with the mid-season retirement of Jamal Lewis, Cribbs has become – by far – the best running back on the club. He's also the best kick and punt coverage man the Browns have, plus their best returner of all-time.

All this from a rookie free agent in 2005 who had been a slash-type quarterback at Kent State, making his story all the more impressive.

Second only to his contributions is his character. Not only dies he behave himself off the field and serve as an incredible role model for kids and the perfect ambassador for Browns football, but he is a warrior on the field as well. Tough, determined, unrelenting and with a work ethic second to none, he is a throwback player, someone who have fit in, in every era of the Browns. Now, to be sure, Paul Brown, Otto Graham, Marion Motley and Bill Willis might have nearly fainted when Cribbs, with his dreadlocks hanging out the back of his helmet, arrived at training camp at Bowling Green State University in that inaugural season of 1946, but once they saw him play, they would have quickly taken him in as one of their own.

Now the 2009 Browns management, after watching him lead the club to that win over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Thursday night, needs to do the same thing.


Speaking of Cribbs and his play, it's time to give some praise to assistant head coach/special teams coach Brad Seely. Talk about someone flying under the radar. Usually when a team is struggling, as are the Browns, the first thing that falls apart is special teams as the core players are pulled off those units to fill the holes on offense and defense. But the Browns haven't missed a beat on special teams, and it hasn't been easy with the injuries to kicker Phil Dawson and punter Dave Zastudil. Seely deserves a lot of the credit for that in keeping his players together and working hard. The 53-year-old Seely, a grounded, smart, heady guy who is very much respected by the players throughout the team – even those who don't play on his groups -- wants to become a head coach someday. And he'll get that opportunity sooner rather than later.


Hats off to Browns fans – again. There is no fan base like them. Despite the team's horrible season and the brutal weather conditions that night, about 48,000 showed up at the Steelers game. Yes. there were some Steelers fans in attendance, but don't go overboard with just how many, exactly. When the Browns got going and started to seal the deal, the fans really roared – and most of them were making noise, which tells you that almost all of them were rooting for the home team. They deserve a game ball for what they did that night, their raucous support playing a major role in turning the Terrible Towels into Crying Towels as the Steelers saw their playoff hopes end.


After the triumph over Pittsburgh, can we please – please – put to rest the notion that the defense is as much of a problem on the Browns as the offense? That was complete nonsense all along, and it became more so after the Browns sacked Ben Roethlisberger eight times – the most sacks they've ever had against the Steelers – and limited Pittsburgh to just 75 yards rushing. The Browns are all banged up on defense. They're playing with a skeleton crew out there. Yet they performed well and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan coached 'em up once again. Certainly, Cribbs was the individual hero, but the defense was the side of the ball that helped lead the Browns to victory. Is this a great defense overall? Of course not. But it's much, much better than the offense.


Really, all the Browns coaches have done well this year in one particular area, and that is getting the team to play hard. It's easy to go through the motions when you're enduring a season like this one, but the Browns have played as if they're in the playoff hunt. That's an important positive on which this team can build.


The only real negative to come out of the game is how much Brady Quinn struggled. Of course, the weather, especially the wind, played a role in that, but if you're going to be a quarterback in Cleveland, you've got to learn how to deal with Mother Nature. And Quinn has to do that. Going 6-for-19 passing is not going to translate to many victories.


It's interesting to watch teams evolve, and in the case of the Steelers, dissolve. For years and years, they've relied on a power running game to complement their outstanding defense to make for successful clubs. Now they've changed their personality. They've altered who they are. They are a pass-first team, and even with the talented Roethlisberger throwing to a great group in Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller, they're worse off for it. The Browns, along with the Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and the rest of the AFC, hope Pittsburgh doesn't figure it out.


And finally, yes, the Browns beat the Steelers and looked pretty good doing it, but let's not get too giddy about it. The big picture is that the Browns are 2-11 and have been absolutely horrible, especially offensively, in a lot of games this year. They have more holes than a piece of Swiss cheese. They're getting better, but they've got a long, long way to go before they're even just average. They need a tremendous influx of playmakers in the offseason.

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