Brandon McDonald and the Browns have been one in the same in 2009.
That is, both have had seasons they'd like to forget.
Even in having won three straight after their 23-9 decision over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday at Cleveland Browns Stadium, the Browns are still just 4-11 with one meaningless game left, next Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars at home.
This is certainly not the season Eric Mangini imagined having when he took over as head coach of the Browns about 11½ months ago.
And as for McDonald, he seemed to be one of the rising stars on the Browns – and in the NFL -- heading into this season after what he did in 2008, when he started 15 of 16 games and tied for fourth in the AFC and sixth in the league with five interceptions. Two of the picks came late in the season against the Philadelphia Eagles. He returned one 98 yards – without scoring a touchdown – and another 24 yards for a score. The 122 return yards set a franchise record for a game.
But none of that promise had surfaced in 2009. He has started just 10 of the Browns' 15 games, and did not start Sunday. It's been getting worse instead of better as he has failed to start four of the last six contests.
Part of the reason for that is that, before Sunday, he had failed to get even one interception. That's a death knell for a cornerback, unless they never throw your way, which is hardly the case with McDonald. Yes, teams are going at him, and they've been successful. He has been burned so many times on passing plays that he has never quit smoldering.
All that changed Sunday, though. He came through when the team needed him most, making the play of the game with an interception deep in Cleveland territory in the fourth quarter with the verdict still very much in doubt.
For all of the good things Jerome Harrison has been doing lately, he had fumbled the ball away at the Oakland 4 with five minutes left in the third quarter just as it appeared the Browns, already ahead 20-9, were going in for a TD that would have given them a commanding 27-9 lead and put the game away. At that point, all the momentum shifted to the Raiders, and two series later, they began taking advantage of it, using former Browns quarterback Charlie Frye's 4-for-4 passing for 58 yards to move from the Oakland 20 to a third-and-9 situation at the Cleveland 24 early in the fourth quarter.
Working out of the shotgun, Frye threw short left for wide receiver Johnnie Lee Higgins, who had caught a 33-yarder on the first play to get the drive jump-started.
But this time, McDonald guessed right on what was coming, a quick out pattern. He stepped in front of Higgins to make the interception at the Cleveland 14 and raced 39 yards down the sideline in front of the Raiders bench to the Oakland 47. He nearly took it all the way, in fact.
"I thought I was going to score, but then I had to cut it back and they caught me," McDonald said.
No matter. The play, which occurred with 11:31 left, took the wind out of the Raiders' sails for good – "It took their momentum away," McDonald said – and put the wind back into McDonald's sails for maybe the first time this season.
"It was a big confidence booster for me," McDonald said. "It's been frustrating to play all this time and not make a big play until today."
Added Mike Adams, who started in his place on Sunday, "I got chills for B-Mac when he made that play. It's been an up-and-down season for him."
Now it's on an up for both McDonald and the Browns. Neither one can erase all the bad things that have happened overall this year, but something can be said for finishing strongly.
Especially with a new team president, Mike Holmgren, ready to take over.
Said McDonald, "Hopefully, the way we've been playing lately will impress him, but I can't say for sure because I really don't know anything about him."
But Brandon McDonald, Mike Holmgren now knows something – something good, that is -- about you.